What is a Basketball Dunk? Plus, How Many Dunks in WNBA History?

Larry Hughes dunks

The game of basketball has become faster and requires more athleticism than the original game invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. Players now routinely jump and reach heights above the rim to dunk the basketball. Basketball fans enjoy watching players dunk, and to please the fans, players have invented a variety of creative dunks.

To feature creative dunks, competitions take place at the high school, NCAA and professional levels. The most notable of these competitions is when NBA players compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.

Some of the best dunkers in NBA history include:

  • Michael Jordan: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards
  • Dominique Wilkins: Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers
  • Vince Carter: Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks
  • Julius Erving: Philadelphia 76ers
  • Blake Griffin: Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics
  • LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kobe Bryant: Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nate Robinson: New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans

History of the Dunk

Bob Kurland, a basketball player for Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) is credited with recording the first dunk in college basketball. Joe Fortenberry, while training for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, is recognized as the first player to record a dunk in organized basketball. According to the New York Times, one person described it as:

“He reached up and pitched the ball downward into the hoop, much like a cafeteria customer dunking a roll in coffee.”

The original dunks were known as "dunk shots," then later were labeled "slam" dunks. The National Collegiate Athletic Association enforced a rule that prohibited dunking from 1967 until 1976. The first dunking contest took place in 1976 during the American Basketball Association's All-Star Game.

Two Hands

Generally, a basketball player must be able to grip the basketball with one hand in order to dunk. This grip on the ball is known as "palming" the basketball. However, some players are capable of, and prefer, dunking with both hands gripping the ball. Dunking with two hands makes it less likely that you will lose your grip on the ball or that the ball will be knocked away by a defender.


To execute a windmill dunk, you start with the ball down, swing your arm back, circle it around and complete the full rotation by dunking the ball. The motion of the dunk resembles the rotation of a windmill.


The alley-oop dunk is executed with an assist from another player. Under game conditions, the player who is handling the ball throws it in the general direction of the basket. A teammate catches the ball in flight and throws it down through the basket. To signal an alley-oop pass, players generally make eye-contact prior to the play.

Foul Line

The dunk that begins at the foul line was first completed by Julius Erving at the 1976 NBA All-Star Game and now is widely seen at slam dunk competitions. To execute the dunk, players get a running start from well behind the foul line. When they reach the foul line, they elevate toward the basket with the ball held high and extended well in front of their bodies.

Behind The Head

The behind the head dunk is executed directly underneath the basket, with the player facing away from the basket. The player elevates with the ball held in both hands, extends his arms and throws the ball down through the basket from behind his head.

Put-back Dunk

Put-back dunks occur when a player catches the rebound in mid-air, directly off of the rim or backboard after a missed shot and dunks the ball before landing.

Dunks in WNBA History

Dunks are not as common in the women’s game. In fact, there have only been about 30 recorded dunks in WNBA history. Here is a list of WNBA players who have dunked in a WNBA game:

  • Lisa Leslie, who recorded the first dunk in a professional women’s basketball game as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2002
  • Michelle Snow- San Antonio Silver Stars, Chicago Sky, Washington Mystics
  • Candace Parker- Los Angeles Sparks, Chicago Sky
  • Sylvia Fowles- Minnesota Lynx
  • Brittney Griner- Phoenix Mercury; the WNBA’s All-Time Dunk Leader, with 12 dunks in regular-season games, one dunk in a WNBA playoff game, and five dunks in WNBA All-Star Games
  • Jonquel Jones- Connecticut Sun
  • Liz Cambage- Tulsa Shock, Dallas Wings, Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Stars

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