What Is A Dunk In Basketball? Ultimate Guide

When you watch a basketball game particularly in the NBA, there are lots of dunks everywhere.

Most highlights even consist of dunks that are satisfying even though they only score two points.

But what exactly is a dunk?

A dunk is a field goal wherein the player jumps high in the air, controls the ball, and shoots it directly through the hoop with either one or both hands. The shot is worth two points and there are a lot of types like 360, tomahawk and double clutch.

What is a Dunk in Basketball?

Slam dunk

There are various ways to score points in basketball. But besides three-pointers, the type of shot that’s most anticipated and invokes a loud cheer across the hardcourt is none other than a slam dunk.

A slam dunk is a type of shot that a player executes when he jumps up high in the air, holding the ball in either one hand or both hands, and shoves it directly into the basket.

Although it’s a spectacular shot to watch, it’s only worth two points—the most basic, regular points given for a shot in basketball.

Slam dunks come from a long history in this sport. Long ago, it was known as a ‘dunk shot’ until Chick Hearn, a former Los Angeles Lakers announcer, coined the term ‘slam dunk’. Since then, the shot has become popularly known as such.

It’s also known in its shortened version as ‘dunk’. Players have been becoming increasingly creative through the years of perfecting their dunks. This led to the birth of different dunk variations.

Because it is fascinating to watch, to the basketball enthusiasts’ delight, slam dunk contests have become a thing in the NBA.

Why do Players Dunk?

Everybody probably knows what a dunk in basketball is. Even little kids are familiar with the term, as many people use it as a metaphor in various daily situations. Remember when you and your friends are having fun ‘dunking’ those chocolate chip cookies into a glass of milk?

But as mentioned, a dunk is only worth two points. So, why do players strive to perfect this shot? Why the effort when you can keep things simple and go for an easy layup instead?

Players perform this type of shot not to show off. Or maybe, even if it’s part of the reason, it’s not the main reason.

The ability to dunk and knowing exactly when to perform it strengthen a player’s offensive capability.

Most often, slam dunks deter block attempts. And so, this increases the offense’s chances of scoring points.

In addition, because there are different dunk variations you can perform, your movement patterns on the hardcourt become much more unpredictable. This will make the defense team’s job even harder.

The ability to dunk shows a player’s solid athletic strength and flexibility and his advanced skill level in basketball. This only means that a player who can dunk can intimidate the players from the opposing team and make them lose focus during the game. This is especially true when spectators yell their cheers louder.

These all said, we now understand why players spend their time and energy practicing and perfecting this shot though it’s only worth two points.

Common Types of Dunks

Player dunks in a game

When it comes to dunks, no one signature move defines this shot. Did you know that there are different types of dunks? Yup, we’ve compiled at least five! You can try these one at a time.

Double Clutch

In a double-clutch, a player controls the ball with one or both hands. He then quickly brings the ball to chest level as he leaps up. Bringing the ball below the waist level, he shifts the position by bringing the ball above his head and performing the slam dunk with either one or both hands.


Call it one of the basic dunk types, this versatile move is ideal for players of any size. Also known as a gorilla dunk, the tomahawk is performed with one or both hands. The player jumps up in the air, raises the ball above behind his head, and finally performs the dunk at the highest point of the leap.


To perform a windmill, the player brings the ball to his abdomen before leaping up in the air. He then shifts the ball’s position, bringing it below the waist, moving from front to back, then finally, dunking it through the hoop.

Elbow Hang

Instead of dunking with either one or both hands, the player lets his forearm through the basket in an elbow hang. Then, he hooks his elbow pit on the rim and allows himself to hang on there for a few seconds literally.

Between the Legs

In this type of dunk, the player needs to be incredibly agile. Before he leaps in the air, he shifts the ball’s position from the dominant hand to the non-dominant hand. Once in the air, he shifts the ball from the non-dominant hand under a slightly raised leg to the dominant hand, which then dunks the ball into the basket.

How Many Dunks Per Season are Made in the NBA? (Table)


Is Slam Dunk Different from Dunk?

In the section ‘What is a Dunk in Basketball’, we’ve already mentioned that the slam dunk evolved from the term ‘dunk shot’. A slam dunk isn’t better or fancier than a dunk. Rather, a dunk is just a shortened form of the slam dunk.

That said, both terms mean the same. These can be used interchangeably.

What is a Poster Dunk in Basketball?

A poster dunk in basketball is like a step-up of what is a dunk in basketball. It’s like a regular slam dunk, but the difference is that it’s performed over an opponent. It’s a very challenging shot to perform, considering that a defender heavily guards the player in possession of the ball.

When successfully done, a poster dunk leaves an unforgettable impression in the audience’s minds, making it poster-worthy. Thus, the term poster dunk is also known as ‘posterize’.

3 Effective Tips to Successfully Dunk

Player dunks over two defenders

There are many advantages for the offense when a player from their team can dunk.

This type of shot is so solid that it’s almost impossible to block without the defense committing some form of illegal blocking. It can also intimidate opponents, allowing your team to gain ground in the game.

That said, let’s talk about some handy tips on how you can achieve your first-ever dunk and perform it whenever the situation calls for it.

1. Strengthen your athletic ability.

To dunk, you’ll need to have a high vertical leap. But besides that, you’ll need to stay quick and agile. You should be able to control your body and the shift of its movements while up in the air.

These athletic abilities are not gained overnight or from several practice sessions alone. Players who want to dunk need to stay fit by doing other strength-training workouts such as weightlifting, squat jumps, lunges, and other exercises similar to these. These workouts help players improve their balance and enhance their vertical leap—important keys in performing slam dunks.

2. Figure out the most comfortable jump for you.

Some players find jumping off on one foot comfortable, while others find it easier when jumping off on both feet. When you’re practicing your dunk, find out what works for you. And from there, work out your moves.

3. Try dunking using a small ball first, then work your way up.

So, you’ve dramatically improved your vertical leap. That’s the first step towards achieving your ability to dunk. What’s next, though?

If you’re not used to this shot, it will be difficult to dunk a full-sized basketball. That’s why it’s recommended that during your practice, try using a small ball first. You can try dunking a golf ball or tennis ball.

Then, gradually increase the size of the ball you’re dunking until you get used to a full-sized basketball. In performing a slam dunk, the ability to grip the ball tightly is crucial.

So gradually work your way up when trying to achieve your first dunk. This also includes trying to dunk using two hands; if you want to aim for an extra challenge, practice with one hand too.

Best Dunkers in NBA History

If you’re dreaming of perfecting that slam dunk, studying the moves of the best dunkers in the history of the NBA can inspire you.

Wondering who they are? We came up with a list of some of the legendary dunkers in the league, so you don’t need to look elsewhere.

  • Vince Carter

When Carter performs his slam dunks, he looks like he’s flying effortlessly. One of his most unforgettable moments was when Frederic Weis, a league’s seven-foot-tall player, couldn’t do anything to resist his poster dunk.

Whether in a regular game or slam dunk contest, expect Carter to bring on the unexpected—the most impressive so far was a 360 windmill dunk.

  • Michael Jordan

Who doesn’t know Michael Jordan? His incredible dunks could discourage even the most skilled shot-blockers in the league! Like Carter, he’s known for these poster dunks too!

  • Dominique Wilkins

Wilkins is unstoppable. His dunks can overwhelm even the tallest defenders from the opposing team.

  • Julius Erving

With big hands, Erving can easily grip a full-sized basketball and shove it right through the hoop. His size and amazing vertical leap make him one of the most difficult-to-guard dunkers.

  • Shawn Kemp

Playing closely with teammate Gary Payton, Kemp is known for his outstanding alley-oops. He’s also made iconic poster dunks throughout his career.

  • Kobe Bryant

This list is never complete without Kobe Bryant. The basketball superstar owned the slam dunk champion title in 1997 and has since become known as a player who never hesitates to attack the basket with impressive windmills, 360s, and other dunk variations.

It doesn’t matter who you are for Bryant—he wouldn’t hesitate to dunk on the tallest defenders in the league, including Yao Ming.

  • Lebron James

For James, age doesn’t matter when it comes to dunking. He may not be one of the youngest in the league, but he exudes unstoppable energy on the court.

This player hasn’t joined any dunk contest yet. Even so, he makes those dunks rain in a full-on basketball game! He fearlessly drives the ball to the basket with his signature tomahawk, and even tall defenders can’t do anything about it.

Interesting Trivia About Dunks

Guy dunking

Check out these interesting facts in the fascinating world of slam dunks.

Who was the first woman to dunk in an official WNBA game?

Lisa Leslie was the first-ever woman to dunk in an official WNBA game. She achieved the feat when she was still playing for the Los Angeles Sparks. It was recorded on July 30, 2002.

What happens when you break the backboard when dunking?

This is an inconvenient and dangerous occurrence. When this happens, the game is halted, the backboard must be replaced, and players, officials, and spectators should be checked for injuries. In addition, the offending player will be fined and penalized for committing a technical foul.

Who are some of the WNBA players who can dunk?

Male basketball players are not the only legendary dunkers. Aside from Lisa Leslie, other WNBA players can steal the moment on the hardcourt with their impressive dunks. These include Michelle Snow, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Jonquel Jones, and Liz Cambage.


Dunks are fascinating to watch in every basketball game. But besides the entertainment it gives, it makes the offense’s gameplay stronger and almost block resistant. Go train now for your first-ever dunk!

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