NBA / Feb 29, 2012 / 11:00 am

Who’s The Better Dunker: Blake Griffin Or Shawn Kemp?

Blake Griffin

WHERE WAS BLAKE? This year’s dunk contest set itself up for an inevitable disappointment when the league’s preeminent smashing machine decided not to come through for the fans. Last year, despite what you thought of Griffin’s winning performance, he created excitement, a buzz. This year there was none of that, and we were left with some average guys trying to uncover drama by dunking over small celebrities and turning off all the lights.

We wanted Griffin because he truly is – even in barely a season and a half of basketball – already shaping up to be one of the greatest dunkers ever. But is he better than Shawn Kemp? It’s an easy comparison to make. And the Reign Man gave his take recently, basically saying Blake couldn’t touch him, couldn’t touch his straight-up vert or the way he used to “tomahawk” instead of just “alley-ooping.”

So now we ask: who’s the better dunker? Griffin or Kemp? We argue. You decide.

*** *** ***

Longtime Shawn Kemp fan here, but first-time critic. Well, maybe that’s not right. Choosing between Blake Griffin and Shawn Kemp is any gamers’ dream. So it’s not like I’m going to bash Kemp — after all, I backed him in a who’s better over Amar’e.

This is about believing in Blake.

He’s not the game’s best power forward (see: Love, Kevin), but he is the player who will carry the NBA’s torch the next five years, and that’s all because of his slams. How they’re received by people outside the lines doesn’t warrant rehashing because we know social media turns them into events and Clips games into must-see TV for the first time in … never. They’re outlets Kemp never benefited from (debating which Kemp dunk was better at school the next day isn’t the same as putting it up to a world of debate on Twitter).

But there’s a difference between his dunks and Kemp’s in their intent, and you only need your eyes to see it. Part of the reason we all love Kemp is because his throwdowns had no off switch. Feast or famine. Only one ingredient on these dunks’ labels: power.

Griffin’s are the rare in-air skills that make you question whether his offseason has been spent as much at Cirque du Soleil as Funny Or Die. He’s more artistic with them and more agile in the air. Whereas Kemp knew he was going to mug you right on your face every time, Griffin seems to make up his mind just before he reaches his highest point about how he’s going to posterize you.

Let’s put it in a way those in the City of Angels can appreciate it: Just like some of the comedians he spent time interning with this summer, he’s deft with improvisation. His dunking has the kind of range would-be actors all over Hollywood are taking classes for.

Take this one over Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. During his virtual fly-by of LAX he adjusts over Bynum in a way I don’t know Kemp could have while still delivering the goods.

Describing his flight as artistic doesn’t mean I’m omitting its strength. There’s nothing weak about them (and if you think there is you can just write him on Twitter yourself, hombre).
The difference is whose I’d rather see given the slo-mo Phantom camera treatment. What that reveals is in a splitting-hairs, do-I-have-to-choose face-off between two of the nastiest dunkers alive, Griffin’s acrobatics just getting to the hoop are as worthy for applause as much as the finish.

His versatility I’ve touched on, but what about this: Griffin’s dunks require you to be more versatile, too. Lobs to solo shots, Griffin is more complete, making his the more sensory experience. Kemp is best appreciated by closing the eyes and listening for the audible POP when hand meets rim and the rim mic nearly breaks. Griffin’s you hear coming first from the crowd’s realization that anticipation has met reality. He’s gonna dunk. Then, as you barely believe your eyes, you watch it all unfold, start to finish.

The last sense, of course, is touch — when you hit the keyboard immediately after to tell all your friends about his latest slam.

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  • Bo

    Not close. Kemp.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Slick Ric

    Shawn kemp.


    Right now. Advantage, Kemp. At dunks. At carrying his team. And maybe at illegit kids too. Although “The Deliverer” has the edge in quality with at least 2 pros.

    Oh and because the Reign Man is also at a disadvantage with the kind of media we have today.

  • First & Foremost

    I’d have to say Kemp because Blake’s resume just isn’t long enough. We constantly see Blake on the break catching lobs but in his short career he has less than a handful of DID YOU SEE THAT dunks in a halfcourt set. Kemp from 20 feet out beat Hakeem in a foot race and dunked in his grill. Kemp went toe-to-toe with Pippen (who was in position) and made him put his hand down.

    This debate is like saying who is the better rapper, J. Cole or Jay-Z? Maybe in a few years Blake will have a better case built up but for now Kemp wins.

  • http://www.zwani.com/graphics/funny_pictures/images/88funny-pictures128.jpg JAY

    Wow… AB killed that argument. I was on the fence until a read the article. AB got me leaning on Kemp’s side.

    Has Griffin crowed Howard yet? Griffin can be compared to Kemp AFTER he crowns Dwight. That dunk will be the one heard around the world.

  • ERIC



    Right now, the only thing Griffin has is that he came out better than Kemp after a lockout.

  • north

    Griffin did adjust around Bynum. Kemp would have adjusted Bynum and dunked through him. I think Griffin is more athletic but Kemp had a hatred for anyone between him and rim.
    Blake may change his mindset by the time his career ends and start showing hate in his dunks (the very fact that people think that’s all he can do should make him angry enough). Until them he doesn’t break the top 5 in game dunkers of all time.

  • cakeordeath16@hotmail.com

    I’m a white, 28 year old middle-class guy in England. Basically the last guy who should be a basketball fan. I remember getting into the game after watching highlights on saturday morning sports shows before the soccer started. While most kids my age could name you Jordan, and someone might even have a Bulls jersey, I saw only one guy on those highlight reels that mattered to me.

    I became a lifelong Sonics fan after those days. Kemp and Payton. When I got the NBA Superstars 3 video with the Pearl Jam mix I was obsessed. I still check that video out today. So yeah, you can keep Jordan, I will always have that Shawn Kemp poster over Jumpman.

  • Jzsmoove

    Blake’s emphasis is to put on a show. And boy what a show. Kemp wants to put the rim and opponent in the hurt locker. Wow I still get goose bumps. The kind of orgasm you get on the 6th second after you cum.

    But you flip a coin you won’t lose, they are both heads up on everyone else.

  • yoda

    i’m with AB on this one. Kemp all the way. one of my favorite players of all time. and dude just destroyed everything in front of him. too bad he came back after lockout way he did

  • http://www.zwani.com/graphics/funny_pictures/images/88funny-pictures128.jpg JAY

    Hey cakeordeath… i suggest you change you name or some goof around here will spam bomb your email.

  • http://jerseychaser.com/tag/jeremy-lin-kobe-gif/ silky

    its crazy how those pigeon toed dudes like kemp and jordan are so springy. i read a physology article on it years back about how being pigeon toed makes you a more reactive basketball athlete

    one thing you guys never brought up was that kemp couldn’t palm the ball, so that just added to the difficulty of his… and why he never won that dunk contest the year he shoulda. was that the one with that stupid wheel where u had to imitate previous classic dunks?

    out like my days as a kid, waiting in the sonics parking lot trying to get his autograph, settling for detlefs

  • http://livinlegalandlarge.blogspot.com TheGlove_20

    Shawn Kemp! by the way he adjust in the air many times but theey are not as famous as his “I’m go F*ckin’ through you and tear the rim down!” dunks!

  • NTstateOFmind

    too easy. hands down its Kemp.

  • Jah

    SHAWN KEMP…!!!!

    And I’m a big Blake Griffin fan. He’s got the potential to take it to the “Kemp” level…one day…but at this point, in 2012…no.

    SHAWN KEMP…!!!!

  • jiggaman86

    Austin chose Kemp because BG is too white for him

  • WinDelRoj

    Just wish there was more trash talking and physical play in the NBA.. cause in Kemp’s NBA he was going to dunk on you, taunt you, hurt you…. BG is great but the most he can hope for is embarassing a guy, cant demoralize them by staring at them without getting T’d up.

  • AirKaris


  • http://www.livingcheapla.com hakasan

    not going to pick a winner here but want to offer a thought on the whole social media thing…

    as much as blake gets his dunks all over the internet within seconds, we have to take into account how many other incredible acrobataic moves gets posted on the internet right away… back when kemp played, he might be one of the few games aired on TV and everyone watching basketball would get to talk about it the day after… but now we get highlights form javale mcgee, from roy hibbert, from rubio… these are plays we would have never seen a decade ago… so for people to talk about blake’s dunks as much as they have, is really a wash…

    ab had me rooting for kemp right up until that paragraph about kemp bent reality…

  • heckler

    I don’t think it’s close….Shawn Reign Man Kemp!

    Kemp has 6yrs worth of INCREDIBLE dunks….Blake is legit, but the albino only has 1.5yrs worth of dunks. Is it even really fair to compare?

    Side note to Austin: Amar’e Stoudemire is more like Antonio McDyess.

  • soulchorea

    KEMP. Clearly the winner as far as dunk contest ability (ironically he didn’t win any and Blake won one), and the in-game stuff…while he didn’t jump as freakishly high, his power and “after dunk” poses and stares really hurt cats’ feelings when victimized by him. Blake is ridiculous, don’t get me wrong…it’s just 1A and 1B with Kemp taking the alpha spot.

  • Big Island

    Silky – I remember reading something about the pigeon toed guys, like Jordan and Nique, so I tried to be a little pigeon toed too. Didn’t work. Then Lebron came along and his feet point the other way and he can fly. I don’t buy the whole toe thing.

    The task at hand, I am going Kemp but for a different reason. Blake needs more time and he could get a few more. Power is about even, Kemp had more reverses and stuff, Blake has more where you worry about him getting hurt. But the main reason I pick Kemp is because of how he could celebrate afterward. He’d be kicked out of games today for doing the Alton Lister point and probably the Gatling props too. So Kemp, but only for celebrations.

  • http://jerseychaser.com/tag/jeremy-lin-kobe-gif/ silky

    LBJ doesnt count- u peel back his skin and there is titanium and hydraulics under there

  • Hooper5013

    It’s assanine that people actually think Kemp could dunk with BG. He couldn’t. Not creatively, no athletically. Kemp couldn’t leap with Dwight or BG. He is an overrated athlete (still damn good). Damn good player, just got raised into immortal status without warrant. This is the perfect article to build the argument made in the pierce and bird article written by ab. Blake’s better evolution proves that.

  • Alexandru Jelev

    OK, I admit I’m as big a Shawn Kemp fan as one can get and I can definitely understand the comparisons between the two. I give credit to Blake when it comes to being able to do a couple of dunks that I’ve never seen SK try, simply because the evolution of the dunk – I’m talking specifically about the between the legs dunk of the backboard, and the elbow dunk he did in the dunk contest. But I’m sure if he were to play in today’s game, SK wouldn’t have any problem doing those.
    But talking about in-air body control and creativity: what about SK reverse double pump, avoiding Kenny Walker? I’m not so sure BG – or anyone else in today’s game, other than Gerald Green maybe – could do it.
    Now let’s take away the moment when the dunk came (regular season, meaningless or playoff game) and just compare the physical attributes of each guy: even though they’re both 6-10, SK has longer arms and that matters, especially when dunking from underneath the basket, exploding straight up with a couple of guys hanging all over you. Kemp has a point in that interview when he points out that BG needs a running start – you don’t see him dunk that often ala DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard, simply because he can’t quite do it like one of those big guys with long arms and and a big body. And I’m not sure he can jump as high as SK used to – I know some players don’t perform at their best in pre-draft vert tests, as BG’s 35.5″ would suggest, but by all accounts SK had a 40″+ vert off two feet, not to mention he could probably jump even higher when taking off one foot. And there’s also the power factor. Although he looks big and buff, Blake pretty much stopped dead in mid-air when he hit Perkins and Mozgov, instead of running over them as Kemp used to do his opponents.
    I have to give Blake the edge when it comes to posing in mid-air. His dunks look very stylish, he has that superhero cape on when dunking, ala MJ, that makes for great photo captions.

    But when all is said and done, SK is a little better dunker, for the reasons I just mentioned.
    Overall a very good article, with great points made by each contributor.