How To: Slam Dunk A Basketball

A highlight to any basketball game, made to look easy by the lofty giants of the NBA but out of reach for so many, or so they would think. Spud Webb is 5′ 7″ tall, a full foot shorter than the NBA average and he is a dunking regular. However before his NBA success, Webb overcame many challenges early in his basketball career. He was rarely picked for a squad because of his height, but when allowed to try out for his high school team, proved such an impressive player he was offered a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. In his first training session, Webb scored a two handed slam-dunk at a pocket-sized height of 4′ 11″. With his arms stretched out he had a reach of nearly seven foot but this still required a vertical lift of over three feet, more than half his own height. He eventually went on to win the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk competition, in a sport where many players can easily dunk standing on the ground.

Before you think about how you might grip the ball or whether to do a 360 windmill or alley-oop off the backboard, you need to develop your vertical jump. This is not just key to dunking but a fundamental basketball skill. Obviously it helps to already be a basketball player as you will have developed your muscles in the right way for jumping but if all you want to do is dunk then you will need to put in some serious training.

You are attempting to reach a ring that is 10 feet in the air, a basketball is around 9.5″ and you need to be gripping the ball on the topside to push it down through the ring, essentially you will need a minimum vertical reach of 10′ 10″, that’s about as high as the top of the lay up box on the backboard for reference. Being able to touch the rim is a start but if that is as far as you can get, you’re far off dunking.

The most efficient way of conditioning your body for high jumping is full back squatting; it strengthens the back and all parts of the legs. Preferably use proper weights but if you don’t have any, hold bags of sand or something heavy on your shoulders or head and keeping your back straight, repetition is key but use increasing amounts of weight as your training goes on.

At a full speed basketball game, a typical dunk is carried out with a fast run up so practice high intensity sprints with quick turns as with any standard basketball training. A run up will allow you to gain more height with your speed and perform better, more useful dunks that can be used in-game. Practice jumping with both legs but consider that with a run up you will usually only be able to jump with one foot on the ground as you step so make sure you can still achieve this.

The ability to dunk could be held back by your own confidence; you need to visualise yourself shooting upwards with your legs acting like coiled springs. If you practice away from a ring you will be able to aim higher, perhaps for the ceiling or the sky rather than just a ring.

With your vertical jump training under way it is useful to develop your dunking technique, most assume this is how you hold the ball and add flair but the key is in the run up and take off. As you crouch down ready to jump swing your arms forcibly upwards just before you jump as this is the only time when your arms will assist your reach, once in the air they can only be any use by being outstretched. It helps to be able to grip the ball with one hand but if you can’t you will have to compensate as two-handed dunks are more difficult.

When you go in for a dunk, dribble towards the basket with speed, hold on to the ball about 10 – 12 feet from the basket, take your two permitted steps at full speed, on the second step; push upwards and use all your strength in your jump. To avoid losing the ball keep your arm outstretched, slam the ball hard through the ring to ensure it goes in, avoid hanging on to the rim as it’s not cool and you may also be penalised. Finally, act as if it was not your first dunk, or your last, as well as a tactical move, the dunk is a psychological tool against your opponent as it is very difficult to defend against.

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