Listing the only 2 players under 6-feet who won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest
Big men have always found a place for themselves in the NBA. Although, with the number of guards going into the league today the opportunities for short players might have seemed to increase, but that's not exactly true. In the 1960s, the average height in the NBA was about 6'4". Today that number has gone up to 6'7"! Considering that the average height of the world for men is somewhere around 5'8", it is safe to say that there are some pretty tall guys in the NBA.
At the same time, however, nature is always ready for a challenge. On one side there are not necessarily gifted players like Kobe Bryant and to use a more recent example, Luka Doncic. On the other hand, there are also what we call 'freaks' of nature, like the current MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. These freaks are also produced in all shapes and sizes and there have been players with gifted athleticism who have undoubtedly scripted unforgettable legacies. Today, however, we are going to look at two very particular people, extremely short by NBA standards who not only played in the league but also went on to win the dunk contest.
#1 Anthony 'Spud' Webb (5'7") - Dunk Contest winner in 1986
Spud Webb was the shortest player in the league in 1986 and goes down in history as the shortest NBA player to have participated in a Slam Dunk Contest. Drafted in 1985, Spud primarily played the point guard position throughout his career. He played his first six years in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and then moved on to the Sacramento Kings where he had some of the finest moments of his career. He had a vertical jump of 42 inches which some believe to be high as 50 inches. If the rumors are true, Spud Webb is the NBA player with the highest vertical leap ever.
The 1986 Dunk Contest was expected to be won by Atlanta yet again. However, the person to deliver those laurels was not to be Atlanta's puny point-guard but the Human Highlight Reel who was the defending champion at the time. It was surprising enough when Spud Webb got into the league and many at the time felt as though his participation was taking it a bit too far and was nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
Spud was ready to prove everyone wrong and looking at what he did, Dominique Wilkins would have thought himself to be lucky with his bye (the last one ever in a dunk contest) as his usual arsenal might have not been enough against Spudnik. He was prepared and yet experienced the woes of last-minute preparation as he fell short in the finals to his teammate. Atlanta took home the title again and Spud in a post-event interview said that he had never lost a dunk contest to that date.
Spud's victory was one of a kind but yet it makes us wonder if it was well deserved. Everyone in the stadium at the time including judges were likely to see someone as short as Webb jam the ball into the hoop for the first time. It was natural therefore from a psychological point of view to immediately grant him full scores. However, if one looks at some of the dunks Webb performed, they didn't require a great amount of skill and weren't exactly unique or creative. This is only supported by the fact that his performance was not enough to come out on top when he took part later in 1988 and 1989 where he was beaten by Jordan and Wilkins respectively.
On the flip side, as mentioned earlier, the Dunk Contest was the first place where Spud dunked in a professional capacity. That means that he was aware of the fact that he was on the verge of creating history. Considering the insane amount of pressure involved it is amazing for him to have executed his maneuvers so smoothly and that undoubtedly deserves a lot of credit.
#2 Nate Robinson (5'9") - Dunk Contest winner in 2006, 2009, 2010
Winning a dunk contest is a big feat in itself. Making a three-peat, well that's rare and only one person in NBA history has achieved this- Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson, a player who to top it all up was only 5'9". Robinson was the 21st pick in the 2005 NBA Draft and played with the Suns until 2010. Apart from his exploits in the Dunk Contest he has recorded some of the best blocks of all-time including one on Yao Ming and the King, LeBron James himself.
The 2006 Dunk Contest was one of the closest battles for the title ever. It was being fought between Nate Robinson, Andre Iguodala, Hakeem Warrick, and Josh Smith. Out of all these players, Iguodala is the only one left in the league. Mainly, Robinson was competing with Iguodala who was with the Philadelphia 76ers at the time. It was the first Dunk Contest that went into overtime with a dunk-off between the two finalists. He beat Iguodola after 14 attempts before getting through with his final dunk, 141-140. In one of the most memorable dunks of all time, he caught a ball lobbed on the floor by Spud Webb and jumped over him to dunk the ball. Robinson participated again in 2008 but wasn't able to defend the title against Gerald Green of the Celtics who coincidentally jumped over Nate himself in one of his dunks.
Robinson participated again in 2009. Although he had won in 2006, Dwight Howard was the favorite to win the event after putting on a memorable show the past year where he won the title and got himself the nickname 'Superman'. Dwight got perfect scores in the first round. The finals saw a heated battle between Superman and Kryptonite or to be more accurate Krypto-Nate and just as Kryptonite is the only element capable of killing off Superman, Robinson killed Howard's aspirations by jumping over the very man himself (that seems to have been the way people won dunk contests in those days). After a fan vote (introduced for the first time in that year) of 52-48 percent, Robinson became the champion once again.
Come 2010 and Nate Robinson was eager to make history. Nate was up against 3 new people whom he had never faced before. Shannon Brown thought to be by many an overhyped Laker, was the favorite to win the title. As Shannon Brown and Gerrard Wallace got eliminated, Nate and DeMar DeRozan contested for the title. Although Robinson was a marvel, DeRozan was no slouch either having done his first dunk at just eleven years old when he was in sixth grade!
If DeRozan still gets nightmares about that night, I'm not surprised. In a huge goof-up after Robinson had a forgettable dunk getting some cheerleaders to do - well absolutely nothing, DeMar tried jumping from the free-throw line to dunk the ball. In the end, he didn't even pull that off and just went with some usual speed to the rim, making it look like a normal fast-break. Perhaps it was nerves or maybe he thought he was doing a buzzer-beating dunk. Charles Barkley announced that he wanted nobody to win. That wasn't possible, of course, and Nate managed to scrape through with 51% of the votes to become the first-ever 3-time Slam Dunk Contest champion.
Nate's dunks were far better than his predecessor both in terms of the skill and creativity involved. For instance, jumping over a 5'7" is not a big deal but the symbolism attached to the person being Spud Webb is what makes it memorable even today. His creativity is praiseworthy as when he jumped over rival Dwight Howard while adhering to his dress code as well.
The argument will always exist as to whether these players won on their actual skills or merely because they weren't as tall as the others especially in the case of Nate who won thrice but with marginal scores each time. Regardless of the talk, it is a great ability to dunk the ball despite being under 6 feet tall, something that is and will continue to be a source of inspiration for all those having second thoughts about pursuing basketball as a career due to their height.