Ranking all 12 Knicks' appearances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Sam Evers
·5 min read
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Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr. in Slam Dunk Contest
Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr. in Slam Dunk Contest

Obi Toppin’s appearance in this year’s NBA Dunk Contest will mark the 13th time a member of the Knicks has taken part in the competition. The previous 12 entrants have combined for four 50-point dunks and four first-place finishes split between two players. Here’s a quick synopsis of every performance, ranked from least-descript to most.

THE FORGETTABLE FINISHES

13. Gerald Wilkins, 1987, eighth-place finish out of eight

Wilkins, brother of Dominique, was a solid Knick who had a not-so-solid performance in 1987, finishing tied for last with Tom Chambers. His ‘86 performance was much more memorable. More on that in the next section.

12. Doug Christie, 1996, fifth-place finish out of six

Christie is better known for defense and scuffling with Rick Fox in a preseason game, but he moonlit as a dunker for one competition in ‘96 during his brief stint with the Knicks. He finished fifth in a six-player field, but did have one interesting dunk: A self alley-oop off a soccer kick that started with his back to the basket.

11. James White, 2013, sixth-place finish out of six

White lasted just 67 games in the NBA -- including 57 with the Knicks in 2012-13 -- but he absolutely got his money’s worth with his entry in that year’s contest. His first (and best) dunk, which earned him a 45, was an (almost from the) free-throw line jam which was ushered along by an on-hand crew of flight attendants.

THE RESPECTABLE FINISHES

10. John Starks, 1992, fourth-place finish out of seven

Starks didn’t have the flash that year of either Larry Johnson or winner Cedric Ceballos, who broke out the blindfold, but the Knick great had a decent showing, including this reverse dunk off the bounce.

9. Gerald Wilkins, 1986, fourth-place finish out of eight

WIlkins had a much better go of it in his first competition, finishing fourth behind Terence Stansbury, his brother Dominique and 5-foot-7 champion Spud Webb.

His ‘86 competition also produced the first 50-point dunk in Knicks' Dunk Contest history, in which he cleared a chair from near the free-throw line.

8. Kenny “Sky” Walker, 1990, third-place out of eight

Walker wasn’t able to defend his ‘89 championship, but he reached the semi-finals and pulled off an impressive 360 dunk which earned him a 49.5-point score. More on his ‘89 title in the next section.

7. Nate Robinson, 2007, second-place out of four

The 2007 contest was Gerald Green’s to win from the start (remember the cupcake?), but Robinson did an admirable job of defending his ‘06 title.

His second-place finish included this simple but breathtaking dunk.

6. Obi Toppin, 2021, second place out of three

During the truncated 2021 contest, Toppin had a case for first-place but was out-flashed by Anfernee Simons’ kiss-the-rim dunk in the finals. He finished with scores of 48 and 46 on his two dunks graded on a 50-point scale.

Toppin’s lower scoring one -- where he cleared both Julius Randle and his father, the street basketball legend nicknamed Dunker’s Delight -- might end up being his most memorable.

5. Dennis Smith Jr., 2019, second-place out of four

Smith lost to Hamidou Diallo in the final round, but he had two of the Knicks’ four 50-point dunks that night, including one where he caught an alley-oop from fellow Fayetteville (N.C.) native J.Cole while rocking Cole’s high school jersey.

His other 50 came on an alley-oop from Steph Curry while jumping over Dwyane Wade. That’s two future Hall of Famers.

THE CHAMPIONS

4. Nate Robinson, 2010, first-place out of four

This was Robinson’s third, final and record-breaking Dunk Contest victory. It lacked the pizazz of his first two, though, despite the Cowboys cheerleaders. He beat out DeMar DeRozan in the finals, in an outcome determined by live text message voting. (Message and data rates did not apply.)

3. Nate Robinson, 2009, first-place out of four

The same people who complained that Robinson didn’t “clear” Dwight Howard (ahem, Reggie Miller) also probably reminded the teacher when she forgot to collect the homework. The ‘09 contest was perhaps Robinson’s creative peak, with his “Kryptonate” outfit winning over the crowd.

2. Nate Robinson, 2006, first-place out of four

In the immediate aftermath, Robinson’s win was somewhat marred by the fact that it took him 14 tries to pull off his famous dunk over Spud Webb.

In the long term, a 5-foot-9 NBA player jumping over a 5-foot-7 Slam Dunk champion wins out. Robinson was a great showman, and his dunk over Webb will likely be the lasting image of his many dunking efforts.

1. Kenny “Sky” Walker, 1989, first-place out of eight

Walker’s swagger in Dunk Contest victory was on the same level as Dominique and MJ’s a few years earlier. The classic Knicks jersey, the gold chain, the flat top and the 360 dunks added up to an iconic New York basketball timepiece.

Plus, Walker was competing despite his father having passed away a few days prior. He won the contest on Saturday and attended his father’s funeral on Sunday.