With Dennis Smith Jr. competing in tomorrow’s Slam Dunk Contest, we count down the best Knicks dunks ever in the illustrative display on athletic ability.
The Kristaps Porzingis trade may have been a fever dream of sell-low negotiating and faith in (hopefully) a wink-wink agreement with one of the most fickle, indecisive athletes of this generation, but it did have one clear benefit for this year. With Dennis Smith Jr. as the new franchise point guard, the Knicks have a participant in the legendary NBA Slam Dunk Contest for the first time since 2009.
(Yes, I’m choosing to ignore the catastrophe that was James “Flight”—heavy on the ironic air-quotes there—White’s 2013 Dunk Contest bid, and I suggest you do the same.)
As a rookie last year, Dennis Smith pulled off a couple very nice dunks, notably a between the legs, changing hands midair 360 jam, but it wasn’t quite enough to carry him to the next round, where Donovan Mitchell beat out Larry Nance Jr. to take the crown.
So while we wait in eager anticipation for what the wood-slanger will show us this year, let’s take a quick look back at the best Dunk Contest dunks ever produced by a New York Knick.
10. Doug Christie goes between the legs for the alley-oop off the backboard, 1996
The 1996 Dunk Contest format was changed so dunkers had a minute and a half to throw down as many dunks as possible. This robbed the contest of much of its showmanship, and Christie was already pretty lacking in that regard. But this is a nice little dunk, even if he cribbed it from Kenny Smith years before.
9. John Starks double-clutch reverse jam, 1992
Not the most impressive or creative dunk we’ve ever seen, but Starks gets extra credit for being a Knicks legend and showing off some hang time here. This would be an amazing in-game dunk. As a Dunk Contest dunk, though, there’s a reason it’s only number nine on our list.
8. Gerald Wilkins rocks the cradle, 1986
Was Gerald trying to get into his brother/fellow Dunk Contest competitor’s head by pulling out the dunk Larry Nance used to beat ‘Nique in the first-ever Dunk Contest two years prior? Let’s say he was. We’ve seen many versions of this dunk over the years, but Gerald Wilkins sure made it look pretty.
7. Kenny “Sky” Walker double-pump knee-slapper 360, 1989
The Knicks’ first ever dunk contest winner, Kenny “Sky” Walker pulled out this two-hand 360 jam and spiced it up even more by not only double-clutching, but giving his thigh a little love tap with the ball. Great coordination, great hang time, great wearing of a gold chain.
6. Gallinari —> Nate Robinson 360 alley-oop, 2010
Gallo flubbed the pass a couple times (the rim mic hilariously picked up Nate shouting “Gallo!” on the second try), but third try was the charm. Like most of Nate’s dunks, it’s most impressive because of the height of the man pulling them off.
5. Gerald Wilkins dunks over a chair, 1986
Going up against his brother Dominique, the Human Highlight Reel himself, Gerald Wilkins must have wanted to do something spectacular. By today’s standards, a short folding chair isn’t the most impressive thing you could dunk over, but these were still the early days of the Contest, so it was probably pretty special in the moment. Plus, the fact that two brothers got to compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest against each other is pretty special in its own right.
4. Nate Robinson leaps Superman in a single bound, 2009
In a wonderful moment of sportsman/showmanship, Nate donned all green and enlisted his competitor, Dwight Howard (whose sticker dunk remains criminally underrated) as a prop. This would rank way higher—after all, Nate jumped over a man almost a foot and a half taller than him—but Nate’s use of his arm to push off Dwight’s back loses him points in the court of public opinion. Still an amazing feat though.
3. Kenny Walker baseline righty cradle, 1990
While Kenny Walker was unable to hold onto his Dunk Contest Champion crown in 1990, he did bust out this dunk, which is a lot harder than it looks. The contortion to finish the righty jam from that beneath-the-backboard angle is honestly a little absurd.
2. Nate Robinson 360 off the backboard alley-oop, 2007
Yes, it took him 10 tries to pull off this dunk. Yes, even he looked disappointed in himself before he finally pulled it off. But Nate Robinson’s four dunk contests were defined by persistence, ambition, and patience. Instead of giving up on him, watching Nate try again and again to pull this dunk off seemed to rally the crowd to his side even more. “Nate, Nate, Nate,” they chanted. Finally, he gave the people what they wanted.
1. Nate Robinson gets the bounce pass alley-oop over Spud Webb, 2006
Always the showman, even as a rookie, Nate knew what people wanted to see. For his piece de resistance, Nate enlisted the help of the man who paved the way for him, 1986 Slam Dunk Contest winner Spud Webb. Sure, that meant jumping over one of the shortest players in league history, but what the dunk lacked in height, it compensated in narrative. It gave Nate Robinson the first and only perfect 50 of his career, which is a little weird for a three-time champ, but whatever, he’s OUR three-time champ!
Hopefully by this time next year, as Zion Williamson prepares to add his name into the pantheon of Knicks Dunk Contest legends, Dennis Smith Jr. will have contributed a dunk or two to the upper echelons of this list. If the 6’3″ point guard wins, the Knicks will lead the NBA with five Dunk Contest victories in NBA history—and the Hawks can win that distinction if John Collins comes out the victor.