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The evolution of the windmill: From Dominique Wilkins to present day

A look at how the dunk contest's most famous motion has changed over the years since Nique popularized it in the '80s. SB Nation 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Coverage

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA

If you're wondering why so many think All-Star Saturday's marquee competition has gone downhill, consider that we have a 27-year database of graceful, powerful slam dunks. You're bound to see something you've already seen when you've been through that many years of an event designed to figure out who slams the ball through the net the most artistically.

But time doesn't stand still. It grows, building off the past to create a different kind of future.

And so, when this year's contest rolls around, don't listen to those grumbling about seeing the same dunks all over again. Instead, appreciate that you'll instead see an evolution of some great dunks done before. Maybe they incorporate pieces of different kinds of dunks and roll them into one. Maybe they take the foundation of one dunk and add a completely different element. Maybe they act as a modern spin on an old classic.

Chances are, they'll feature a player spinning the ball around his body before finishing. When Dominique Wilkins uncorked the original one-handed windmill in the first NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984, it came out of nowhere. Now, players are pulling the move off in actual games. How did we get from Point A to Point B? Here's what I hope is a comprehensive history.


At 6'8 and 230 pounds with a massive vertical leap, Dominique Wilkins could have dominated with any dunk he wanted. Ultimately, though, he chose power over grace, using his size to cause a massive thud when his hands made contact with the rim.

The windmill ended up being his dunk of choice. It allowed him to wind up, which created more force when he finally made contact. It allowed him to jump off two feet, negating the hang-time advantage that a smaller dunker might have over him. And while he admitted that he didn't plan out his dunks ahead of time, the genesis of the windmill certainly seemed like it was well thought-out:

If I told you how I came up with the windmill, you wouldn't believe it. I was in high school, messing around one day in practice, and we were trying to see who could do the craziest thing with the ball. That's what I did. I like the windmill because it combines style and power and grace -- and a little jumping ability, I might add. I didn't practice it. I didn't spend a whole lot of time trying to perfect it. I did it in high school games.

The first righty windmill in 1984 didn't win him the competition, but Wilkins' time came the next year. After setting the pace with a reverse dunk, Wilkins finished off Michael Jordan with his first two-handed windmill. Look at how low he brought the ball before coming back around for the finish:



From there, Wilkins was often a victim of his own success. A similar two-handed windmill from the side wasn't enough to win him the 1986 competition over Spud Webb. In 1988, this one-handed windmill received a 50 in the final round, but this two-handed windmill only got a 45 for some reason, opening up the win for Jordan in Chicago. He didn't get quite as low as the signature one for the win in 1985, but it came from the side, which should be harder:



But even in defeat, WIlkins had established himself as the trail blazer of the windmill.

Soon, variations followed. In 1991, one year after Wilkins' final win, Shawn Kemp threw a pass to himself in the air and finished with a one-handed windmill.


A year later, Cedric Ceballos threw a windmill down one-handed after a high toss; while he didn't get as low as Wilkins, this isn't too shabby.


But the biggest evolution was soon to come.


We think of between-the-legs dunk as its own genre of dunks, but if you think about it, it's essentially the same motion as a windmill, except the ball is being crossed between the legs instead of just being brought around in a circle.

Nobody even conceived of this dunk until 1994, when Isaiah Rider of the Minnesota Timberwolves did this:

While Rider didn't quite start as high as Wilkins used to on his windmills, the ball did go down to his legs while in the air. Add in the coordination needed to raise the legs and cross the ball over, and there's a reason Charles Barkley went crazy in that video:


The between-the-legs dunk grew from there. Kobe Bryant used it to win in 1997, and Vince Carter famously pulled it off on a pass from Tracy McGrady in 2000. But it went to another level in 2003, when Desmond Mason and Jason Richardson each went between the legs the other way in the final round. First, Mason did it:

Notice how high the ball started before he brought it down. This is why I consider the between-the-legs dunk a cousin of the windmill:


Not to be outdone, RIchardson did the same thing ... except from the side, crossing over backwards and finishing with the reverse. "That's Desmond Mason. That's Vince Carter. That's Dominique. All molded into one dunk," Kenny Smith smartly exclaimed, bringing into focus the reality that the best dunks build on their predecessors:

Between the legs dunks have now become common. Richardson did one the next year off the backboard. In 2008, Gerald Green did one ... without shoes on. The forgotten DeMar DeRozan went through the legs in 2011 off the side of the backboard; he finished in third place for his troubles. Finally, last year, Terrence Ross won it by going between the legs while jumping over a kid.


What will we see next?


Of course, there are many others who have taken Wilkins' move to the next level without going between the legs. There's Carter, who brought the reverse 360 windmill into our collective conscious:

There's Richardson, who closed his 2002 victory by taking Wilkins' two-handed signature and finishing with a reverse instead:

There's Andre Iguodala, who somehow avoided the backboard while jumping from out of bounds on this 2006 windmill:


There's Iguodala adversary Nate Robinson, who somehow pulled off a two-handed windmill off the bounce despite being nearly a foot shorter than Wilkins:

And then there's 2014 contestant Paul George, who replicated Carter's reverse 360 windmill in the dark two years ago, then did so again in an actual NBA game:


Will George take the windmill to the next level this year? Will someone else evolve the dunk like Isaiah Rider did 20 years ago?

That's the beauty of the event. Cynics may say that the same dunks are being repeated. I say the future versions of this dunk are just getting started.

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