Nothing freezes time like the high-octane feat of athletic fury that is a great dunk. In normal times they hype up home crowds, but inside the bubble, where no fans are present, the best are steroidal dopamine bumps that count for more than just two points. Since the playoffs began, there have been nearly 700 dunks. Earlier this week I watched every one and then whittled the list down to 10 personal favorites. Each is filled with a different combination of joy, humiliation, and violence.
10. Kawhi Goes Southpaw, Again
Before the bubble began I made a bunch of predictions about what might happen. One of the sillier ones was that Kawhi Leonard would dunk with his left hand. Why? Because he habitually does it for no logical reason. Watch this one: The man has a clear step on Maxi Kleber and could easily just dunk with his right hand, but instead, right before Leonard vaults off two feet to pulverize the iron, he shuffles the ball across his body from one hand to the other. Again, why? Did he really think Kleber could’ve blocked it if he rose up with his right? It’s one of life’s great mysteries and one of my favorite things about watching Kawhi play.
9. Remember: Derrick Jones Jr. Is the 2020 Slam Dunk champion
Derrick Jones Jr. might be the most unassuming great in-game dunker in NBA history. When not fluttering like a helicopter, Jones Jr. just kind of lilts around the court. His most frequent posture is stationary, a corner-bound shooter patiently waiting for his chance to hit a spot-up three. But every so often he straps on a propeller and transforms into “Airplane Mode”. This putback looks a little mundane compared to some of the other dunks on this list, but please keep in mind that the man leapt over the back of a center who had inside position. (During the next time out, Myles Turner should’ve requested an immediate ride to the airport.)
8. Damian Lillard Has a Hammer
There’s something satisfying about seeing a dunk this clean executed by the smallest player on the floor over its tallest. It’s equal parts cruel and angelic. Salute Damian Lillard, who was the best player in the bubble before his Portland Trail Blazers physically disintegrated.
7. Nobody Cocks It Back Like Donovan Mitchell
Seriously. Nobody. I wonder when Mitchell knew he was about to spray ether all over the Denver Nuggets. Did he lick his lips when he slung himself off Rudy Gobert’s high screen and saw Nikola Jokic in no man’s land, ready to escort him into the paint? Was it after the second dribble, when he spins Jokic around but keeps the ball tight and on a beeline towards the rim? Or was it a split second before his knees coiled and his entire body prepared to slap gravity across its face? Whatever the answer, this was basketball violence in its most agreeable form.
6. Giannis Does Giannis Things
If we’ve seen this once, we’ve seen it a thousand times. And still it never gets old. If you’re not instantly mesmerized, consider two facts about this Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk: 1) the two-time MVP starts above the key, with the 6’6” 225-pound Gary Clark Jr. in solid position and several Orlando Magic defenders loaded up either in the paint or a step outside it 2) Giannis only needs one dribble, which hits the hardwood above the free-throw line before he discards Clark with an elongated Eurostep, turns his right arm into a flag pole and then lifts the ball a solid six inches above the highest point 7’0” Nikola Vucevic has ever been able to reach. The Milwaukee Bucks were a disappointment, but Antetokounmpo stuck around long enough to make a few impossible dunks look totally normal, as only he can.
5. Bam Punches Miami’s ticket
This powerful two-hand slam by Bam Adebayo came in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with over six minutes left and the Miami Heat down by one. But for some reason—maybe the ease with which he pulled it off?—by the time the ball hit the floor it felt like the series was over. The block on Jayson Tatum at the end of Game 1 is the most significant highlight of Bam’s career, but this dunk is a close second. It foreshadows a decade of Adebayo tormenting opponents with speed, handle, and hops that should be outlawed.
4. Michael Porter Jr. Goes All In
Michael Porter Jr. is currently defined by fearlessness that teeters into youthful ignorance (in more ways than one), depending on the day. His game features a splattering of silly turnovers, threes that others would shy away from, and a ceiling-raising bounce that makes Denver’s future feel brighter than any team in the league.
This dunk is glorious, largely because you can see it coming from a mile away. Porter Jr. has Nikola Jokic wide open in the corner but doesn’t even see him. There was never going to be a soft floater or twisting layup. The moment Porter Jr. drove by Green, it was all or nothing. And he got it all.
3. Jaylen Brown Goes From 0-60 in a Flash
Here’s the thing. There are no dribbles. There is no lob. To dunk from where Jaylen Brown corrals Marcus Smart’s pocket pass (damn near at the elbow), he has to manufacture his own forward velocity with one step before lift off. It’s...I don’t even know. Savage effervescence? Physics-defying indignation? A message to the Toronto Raptors that they better win Game 6 because Game 5 just ended? How about all of the above.
2. and 1. LeBron Is Still the Sun King
LeBron is 35 years old. His career is nearly old enough to vote. And sometimes the best/only explanation for the unprecedented vigor he still displays on a basketball court is the invisible hovercraft his agency, Klutch, surely patented while the NBA season was suspended. LeBron defies everything we know about the aging process and athletic decline, and so his best two dunks are better than everybody else’s.
Russell Westbrook’s exasperated reaction after LeBron double pumps his way through feeble rim protection says it all. Sometimes all you can do is throw your hands up and ask: What is happening? How is this real life?
On another play, after Westbrook tried to do what 99.9 percent of human beings would be petrified to consider, the question might have been: Where am I?
James is one win away from his fourth NBA championship. It’s true that someday he’ll no longer be around, but it’s also true that someday the sun will collapse in on itself and obliterate the solar system. Right now it’s unclear which will happen first.
Originally Appeared on GQ