There are some basketball fans who believe that the most beautiful play is the pick-and-roll, or a five-pass possession to set up a wide-open 3-pointer. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and we say this: dunks are the most anticipated and awesome play in basketball. And great dunks leave a lasting impression fans talk about for years, even decades. This season marks the 40th anniversary since the NCAA ended a nine-year ban to reinstate the dunk. To commemorate the end of that terrible rule, here’s a celebration of some of the most memorable dunks in NCAA history.
10. Russell Westbrook Goes Flying vs. Cal
Before he started racking up triple-doubles on a nightly basis for OKC, Russell Westbrook lit up scoreboard around the NCAA. Nice leap and reach here in this 2008 dunk against Cal, and while he’s not quite flying through the air totally horizontal to the ground like Superman … he’s close.
9. Darvin Ham Breaks Backboard on Rebound Jam
Jerome Lane (see No. 3) had the most famous backboard-shattering dunk in NCAA history, but Darvin Ham’s glass breaker came on a bigger stage. The Texas Tech forward’s put-back jam in the second round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament not only broke the backboard, it helped spark the Red Raiders to victory over the Tar Heels. His dunk appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
8. Clyde Drexler Jumps Over Player on Fast Break Dunk
You could probably spend an hour watching Clyde Drexler’s greatest dunks from college and the NBA and never get bored. He was arguably the best dunker in traffic in the history of the game. Here’s a perfect example, as “Clyde the Glide” takes the ball on a fast break for Houston in a 1983 Sweet 16 matchup against Memphis State. Andre Turner (who is 5-11) attempts to draw the charge, but Drexler leaps high, twists his body, and soars over Turner’s head.
7. Michael Jordan Rocks the Cradle Against Maryland
Michael Jordan had dozens of great dunks in college, but this 1984 “Rock the Cradle” dunk stand out as arguably his best. It’s not only technically difficult, but it highlights the type of showmanship that would define his NBA career.
6. Grant Hill Soars For One-Handed Save, Slams it Home
Duke beat Kansas in the 1991 NCAA championship game for the school’s first national title, and sensational freshman Grant Hill turned in a play for the ages. As an alley-oop pass from Bobby Hurley appeared headed out of bounds, Hill leaped high, grabbed the pass one-handed and slammed it home. Uproxx.com asked Hill about the dunk in 2016, and he said he was embarrassed by it — for a bizarre reason. “It’s not my favorite (dunk) because I had that bad haircut, and I look back at it, and I’m embarrassed, but it was a great moment,” Hill said.
5. Darrell Griffith: ‘Dr. Dunkenstein’ Goes Around World
You know how the Academy Awards give out a “Lifetime Achievement” award to legendary performers they’ve somehow overlooked in the past? This is our equivalent in honoring the player nicknamed “Dr. Dunkenstein.” Although he stood only 6-4, Darrell Griffith had an amazing 48-inch vertical leap. He also arrived at Louisville the same year the NCAA reinstated the dunk after a nine-season ban. Griffith would quickly help popularize the “new” shot, hammering home a variety of dunks that awed everyone. Unfortunately, there is scarce video evidence of his most spectacular dunks available online. But just check out the above “Around the World” dunk Griffith performed in an NCAA Elite 8 game during their 1980 championship run. Sure, high school players are doing these moves now. But Griffith pioneered many of them, and if you don’t think this dunk was a huge deal at the time, just listen to the announcers’ amazement.
4. Jerry Stackhouse Dunks on Duke
There are so many things to appreciate about Jerry Stackhouse’s dunk against archrival Duke in 1995. His acceleration to the basket is remarkable, and he beats two Duke big men, who both appeared to foul him on the play. And he finishes the reverse one-handed slam reaching out as his momentum carries him away from the basket. Finally, the stage magnifies it, because UNC-Duke is one of the greatest rivalries in American sports.
3. Jerome Lane Shatters Backboard, Announcer Goes Wild
Jerome Lane earned All-American honors at Pitt and went on to play in the NBA, but he’ll always be remembered for “The Dunk.” Lane’s one-handed jam on a fast break against Providence in a nationally televised game shattered the backboard. Announcer Bill Raftery’s exuberant call, “Send it in, Jerome!” only added to the drama of the moment. Strange trivia: Sean Miller, the current coach at Arizona, got the assist on the play.
2. Vince Carter’s Greatest Hits
We’re counting Vince Carter’s entire body of work for inclusion here on this list, because it would be impossible to pick his greatest dunk. There have been many great dunkers in college basketball history, but Carter gets our nod as the greatest for his hops (43-inch vertical leap), court awareness and creativity. A lot of guys can make a highlight-video dunk on a breakaway where they have a few seconds to plan what they’re going to do. Carter could seemingly grab the ball in any scenario and in a split second turn it into a highlight dunk (see Nos. 9 and 7 in above video).
1. Lorenzo Charles’ Dunk at Buzzer Wins NCAA Title
Charles’ grab and dunk is certainly not the most physically amazing slam on this list, but it’s the only game-winning dunk at the buzzer in an NCAA title game. Few people gave N.C. State a chance to beat Houston in that 1983 classic, but the Wolfpack pulled one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history. In a recollection on Charles’ N.C. State web page a few years ago, he recalled the dunk: “I remember when (it) first happened, I figured I would have my 15 minutes of fame and that would be it. Here we are and it is still a conversational piece.” Charles died in a traffic accident in 2011.
One More: WVU Player First to Dunk in an NCAA Women’s Game
On Dec. 21, 1984 6-7 West Virginia center Georgeann Wells became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA women’s game. The achievement made national headlines and the NCAA even honored Wells with a special event. Yet no one knew the moment had been captured on video until a Wall Street Journal reporter doing a 25th-anniversary story on the dunk discovered a copy of the tape.