We often say “slam dunk” when we think something is going to be a sure thing. But the dunk has not always been a sure thing. In fact, it was totally banned from NCAA play from 1967 to 1976!
Luckily for us, today it’s back – like the cherry on top of our women’s basketball sundae. The very first woman to dunk in a college game was six-foot-seven Georgeann Wells while playing for the University of West Virginia back in December of 1984. But who holds the record for the WNBA?
Today, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the top WNBA dunks and the dunkaroos who completed them. Some you probably know about: hello six foot eight Brittney Griner. While others might surprise you: six foot Maya Moore. You’ve got to see these videos!
First things first: Nope! It is legal. But dunking is much less common in women’s basketball than in men’s. Many coaches don’t encourage female players to attempt it during games. That’s because of the risks of injury (knees from repeat strain or ankles from a bad landing) or failing to score (it’s not quite as sure of a thing in women’s basketball as it is with say Vince Carter).
You bet! Since the league’s start in 1997, seven different women have dunked in WNBA games. Brittney Griner is the leading dunker, while other in-game dunkaroos include Lisa Leslie, Michelle Snow, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Liz Cambage, and Jonquel Jones.
There have been 22 dunks in the WNBA. With the majority (15) of the dunks happening during regular matches, and seven of the dunks occurring during All-Star Games. Here’s a quick look at each dunk.
Lisa Leslie of the LA Sparks became the first player in WNBA history to dunk during a game against Miami on July 30, 2002. Afterwards Lisa quipped, “For me to be the first is pretty exciting, because now anybody else will always be second or third.”
Take a quick waltz down memory lane by checking out Lisa’s dunk, as well as every one in the history of the WNBA here.
Candace Parker, who was the next to dunk in a regular season game in 2008, said of the experience that she was “really excited to do it in front of the Los Angeles fans, and to do it on the home court.” Though, it’s worth noting that dunking was nothing new to Candace, who also won the Slam Dunk contest of the McDonald’s High School All-American Game beating out the guys back in 2004. Parker crushed five male competitors to win, darting down the left side of the lane, covering her eyes with her left arm and flushing home a right-handed dunk. And, she was the first to dunk in the NCAA tournament during her time at Tennessee.
Back in 2013, Glory Johnson, Maya Moore, and Candace Parker dunked before the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game.
And at the 2014 WNBA All Star weekend, more women’s dunking was on display. And this time, it was a team effort. Skylar Diggins threw a through-the-leg pass to Maya Moore, who propelled it off the glass for Brittney Griner for a dunk.
Later, Australian Liz Cambage, the record-holder for single-game WNBA scoring, dunked in the closing seconds of the WNBA All-Star Game in 2019. Which was six years after being the first woman to dunk in an Olympic game when she threw one down in the third quarter against Russia.
There’s one female player who holds more dunks than any other, and that’s Brittney Griner. She’s had 13 in-game dunks in the books: 11 dunks in the regular season and the first dunk in a playoff game (August 25, 2014).
As a high school senior, she dunked 52 times in 32 games and set a single-game record of seven dunks. At Baylor University, she became the seventh player to dunk during a women’s college basketball game, and the second woman to dunk twice in a single college game. Then, in her WNBA debut on 27 May 2013, Griner dunked twice.
Here she throws down a one handed slam dunk in traffic in her first WNBA game.
Later, Griner became the first player in WNBA history to have multiple dunks in the All-Star Game with her three for Team Delle Donne. Her first dunk came with 5:21 left in the first quarter, before she did it again about a minute later. Griner went on to impress the crowd with a two-handed dunk with just 6:10 left in the second quarter.
Brittney dunks off a lob pass from Parker.
So 2014-2017 were strong dunking years for the women. But, for the past three years, dunks in the league have been slim to none.
There were no dunks in the WNBA 2020 season!
The only dunk of the 2019 WNBA season came from Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury against the LA Sparks on June 14, 2019. Griner was open off a feed from Leilani Mitchell. She said she decided to dunk “a little bit in the air. I was glad I didn’t get hung. It wasn’t one of my favorite dunks…I rate it very low.”
While Griner’s dunk wasn’t flashy, some showier women’s dunks have happened in dunk contests.
After Candace’s 2004 show in the McDonald’s All-American Game slam dunk contest, other women have entered the contest but have been denied entry including: Kelley Cain, Krystal Thomas, and Maya Moore in 2007.
Breanna Stewart at 6’3″, Alexis Prince at 6’2″, and Brittney Sykes at 5’9″ competed in the 2012 contest. Though only Stewart landed her dunks: she made two in the first round, while missing her second two attempts in the final round.
Though we’ve had a few years of dunking duds, that doesn’t mean dunking is on it’s way out in the women’s game. We’d bet that if Maya Moore comes back to the league, she’ll be the next to record an in-game dunk. Plus, tons of up and comers, such as Fran Belibi, the first high school girl to do a throw down alley oop, are on the way.
And really, they are so many more fascinating, skillful aspects to the game that are more fun to watch, like Alana Beard hitting the buzzer beater corner shot.
Now that we know a little bit more about the history of dunking in the women’s game, does this trend translate into video games representing the WNBA?
Welp, both Brittney Griner and Candace Parker score only a 25 on Standing Dunk and a 25 on Driving Dunk, out of 100. So yes, but sparingly. However, when you see a dunk from Brittney Griner and others, the motion capture was performed by a woman, so it’s quite realistic.
Most WNBA players don’t play above the rim, so this is properly represented in WNBA 2K20. Rather the fundamentals of basketball with good mid-range pull-ups, and strong strategy is on display.
Now you know the complete history of WNBA dunks. Each of these inspiring women has broken the glass ceiling, pushing the women’s game in a new direction.
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.
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