The title’s a little weird, right? Lots of ways it can be interpreted. Well, we’re trying to cover all the ways here. Who has the most dunks in NBA history? What about the most dunks in a single season, or a single game?
With a reduction in midrange shooting in the past decade, scoring clusters around the basket and the perimeter. It’s not hard to find the greatest distance shooters in the league. But what about the dunkers? This post is for them.
And it turns out these answers are a little tough to come by. Dunk stats only go back to 1996 and even the data we do have available can be difficult to find and parse. I’ve even done a separate post if you’re curious how I found these dunk stats.
But anyway, the answers are available (mostly?) if you know where to look. So here’s our epic dive into all of the many many questions that arise surrounding NBA dunk records.
Who Has the Most Dunks in NBA History?
Well, it’s probably Shaq… Almost definitely… Maybe.
Unfortunately, the stats that most of us are using to determine which players have the most dunks, are garbage. The NBA only started logging reliable dunk stats in 1996, so anything before that is hard to get and unreliable.
That wipes all of the vintage legends right off the field. This begs the question of whether or not any of those legends had a chance at matching Shaq’s stats. They did, but it’s a relatively small chance. Let’s sort this out.
How many career dunks did Shaq have?
We don’t really know, unfortunately. Shaq’s career dunks almost certainly fall close to the 4 thousand mark. But he entered the league in ’92, a full 4 seasons before NBA statisticians officially started counting dunks. That negates his entire career in Orlando, and we know he was playing a ton of minutes and dunking at a fine clip.
If you check the stat lines, Shaq has 2626 officially tallied regular-season dunks with an additional 574 post-season dunks. That’s 3200 total official dunks. To get closer to the real number, we have to do some guess work for Shaq’s time in Orlando.
Given 4 seasons at his average 150 dunks per season, that’s an additional 600 dunks, resulting in a 3800 stat line for the Diesel. Add 2 playoff appearances to that and you’re pushing real close to 4000.
Of course, that’s just a very conservative estimate. The true number could be less, but it’s more likely to be far, far more. A Topps card from Shaq’s rookie year claims he hit 322 dunks in the 1992-93 season.
The number could be accurate I guess. If so, it would be a career and single-season league record. It may be that a rookie Shaq was just very dominant, and particularly dependent on dunking, against an NBA playing field that had no idea yet how to control him.
But I would suspect that there are at least some discrepancies there in how the dunks were tallied in comparison to how dunks are officially tallied today. It doesn’t totally make sense that he would hit so many more dunks in his rookie season than any of his recorded seasons.
I’m on the lookout for some unofficial stat lines from earlier years, but I’m not particularly hopeful. Shaq’s official dunk tally may just be lost to mankind for eternity.
Could Wilt or Kareem have had more dunks than Shaq?
There is a slight possibility that either Wilt or Kareem hit more career dunks than Shaq, but it’s not likely.
We know that dunks are a factor of field goals. And while we don’t have dunk data before 1996, we do have field goal data. If there is a player with more career dunks than Shaq, they would probably also have more field goals. Kareem and Wilt are really the only players who played before 1996 that meet that criteria.
Wilt hit 12,681 career regular-season field goals to Shaq’s 11,330. Kareem logged 15,387. Both Kareem and Wilt were obvious dunk threats, but the question becomes whether they dunked at the same rate as Shaq.
Let’s look at dunk rate as a percentage of field goals / dunks. From the data we have, we know Shaq ran around a 32% dunk rate. In comparison, Kevin Garnett took about 12% of his field goals as dunks, Dirk Nowitzki ran at around 3.5%, and Dwight Howard topped 40%.
For Wilt to have surpassed even the lower limits of Shaq’s possible career regular-season dunk total of 3200, he would have had to top a 25% dunk rate. That seems possible for Wilt, but dunks were less popular back then.
For Kareem to hit that 3200 mark, he would have had to run at a 20%+ dunk rate, right between KG and Shaq. While that number is a little lower than it is for Wilt, Kareem had perhaps a greater tendency to favor alternative shots.
A possible solution
There are unofficial stats to lean on if we really want some more precise answers. A guy named Harvey Pollack, employed by the 76ers, was logging intricate stats way back to the beginning of the league. He published his data in the 76ers media guides for decades. And apparently he did account for dunks across many of those years.
Unfortunately, these guides are tough to get ahold of (though I’m starting to accumulate them). I plan to scan the books and host them in PDF form as I find them. I just think this is crucial data about NBA history, and if we don’t get it digitized, it may well be lost.
For now, I have to go on estimates. But no matter how you look at it, it seems fairly cut and dry to award the top spot to Diesel. Wilt and Kareem are unlikely to have hit the dunk rate to threaten Shaq’s dunking crown. And in those first 4 years, it seems a safe bet that Shaq was able to put down at least the 324 dunks required to match Dwight Howard’s official standing record.
The 10 Players With the Most Dunks in NBA History
So I’m confident we’re safe with Shaq in the top spot for now. But let’s take a look at the other 9 slots in the top 10 dunkers of all time category.
Given the calculations above with regard to Kareem and Wilt, I’d say it’s very likely that they would both appear on this list. Using similar calculations, there’s an argument for both Moses Malone and Dr. J to join the list as well.
Unfortunately, we’ve got to rely on the NBA stats, and this is what they say…
|Player||Total Career Dunks|
|Shaquille O’Neal||2626* (3814 with Harvey Pollack’s stats)|
So right after Shaq and Howard, we’ve got a solid line of players who are still active. This suggests that we could see a lot of movement here in the coming years. Giannis doesn’t seem to be slowing down and AD probably still has some gas in the tank as well.
The 10 Players With the Most Dunks in a single NBA Season
Perhaps more questionable than the list of top career dunkers, we have a list of single-season dunk records.
There are two major issues here…
First, we have that card up there that says that Shaq hit 322 dunks in his rookie season. If that’s anywhere near true, he displaces Gobert from the top spot.
And second, we’re looking at single-season records while dismissing 50 years of basketball history. It’s really tough to just assume that never, in those 50 years, did a single player score more than 211 dunks in a season. We certainly know many players were quite capable of it. But again, this is the data we have to go on.
One of the biggest points of interest here is that Rudy Gobert holds the tentative record (honestly, Shaq probably hit more). The French defensive powerhouse is quite a dunker though. His numbers have been falling off the past few seasons, so I’m not betting on Rudy to top himself.
It’s also pretty amazing that Evan Mobley hit the list in just his second season in the league. By most accounts, we’re expecting Mobley to continue developing. If Mobley keeps it up, he might just shake up the list.
Who’s Had the Most Dunks in a Single NBA Game?
Well, that again would be Shaq, officially. Shaquille O’Neal dropped 11 dunks in a single game on three occasions according to NBA stats. But this record is almost certainly limited by the official stats.
David Robinson was a world class dunker who doesn’t show up in the numbers because he had already played half of his career before 1996. But we do know that, back in 91, David Robinson went off against the Denver Nuggets one night, with 12 dunks. Here’s the video evidence.
I suppose you could argue on the technicalities of one or two of those putbacks. But it seems a safe assertion that Robinson holds the true dunk record. One might even say it’s a slam dunk case.
Except not at all. There’s another video compilation that gives Shaq back the edge with 13 dunks in an April 6, 1993 game between the Magic and the 76ers. The Los Angeles Times seems to have reported on that one, as evidenced by the clip at the end of the video. I’d like to find the newspaper clipping at some point. Again, I’m not sure the LA Times follows the same dunking specs as NBA statisticians, but that’s neither here nor there.
Now, if you were to go back even further, you’d have to imagine that one of the greats was able to beat 13 dunks in a single game. Dr. J was a wild dunker, at times just running all over folks. And Wilt had his 100 point game. It’s not tough to imagine he could have snuck 26 points worth of dunks into that onslaught. Notably, the statistician for the 100-point game was the infamous Harvey Pollack, who almost certainly recorded a detailed stat line for the game. Whether it still exists in print is another question.
Who had the most dunks last NBA season?
Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers led the NBA in dunks during the 2022-23 season with 215. This is particularly impressive when you consider that this is just Mobley’s second season in the league. In the previous season, his rookie year, he came in 8th place with 151 dunks. Look for Mobley to dominate the dunk charts in coming years.
Where are all the guards?
There are really 2 types of dunkers. You have the monster dunkers, like Shaq, planting themselves in the post and forcing their way to the goal with sheer strength and size. And you have the ankle destroyers, like Kyrie or prime Westbrook, who weave through traffic and elevate over the competition.
There’s nothing easy in NBA competition. There’s nobody at this level without some kind of physical gift as an advantage. Either you’re lanky and quick as hell, or you’re built like a locomotive. But the numbers suggest that the monster dunkers get a bigger share of the dunk pie.
If you’re a guard, you’re just giving far too many of your scoring opportunities to other shots to jumpers to compete for dunk records. Forwards can compete when they have some longevity in the game, but it’s still a challenge.
While a lot of fans might expect to see dunk legends like Jordan and Kobe on the list, they’re not even in the running. Kobe’s career dunk total, including playoffs, was only 1148. Jordan only has dunk stats for his last two years with the Bulls, but he didn’t break 90 in either of those seasons. He’s probably under 1,000.
It can be frustrating, but I personally enjoy working with an incomplete statistical picture. When I stumble upon these unanswerable questions, I can’t help but get lost in the research. It turns into a fascinating puzzle, collecting the various bits of data and molding them into a hopefully coherent picture.
And I do think the research here pays off. In exploring the history of dunk data in the NBA, I ran into a handful of wild NBA legends that I’ve never before encountered. I didn’t even know about stats legend Harvey Pollack before this. I didn’t really know just how dominant Shaq was in his rookie year either. And I definitely didn’t know where to start looking for dunk stats.
But now I’m in it, and I’m on a quest to collect obscure media materials from the early 90’s to mine for obscure NBA stats. I think this post does a solid job of answering some difficult questions that have not been suitably answered before, but I’m hopeful if I keep hammering at the research that we can do even better. I mean, it’s amazing that we don’t even know for sure how many career dunks Shaq scored. This is important information.