A slam dunk is a basketball shot in which a player jumps through the air to force the ball downward through the basket with one or both hands over the rim. From time to time, though, you will hear people use the phrase “slam dunk” when they’re not even talking about basketball.
Many people use “slam dunk” to describe something they consider a “sure thing.” Your friend who just got a perfect score on her book report, for example, might tell you it was a “slam dunk.”
So why has “slam dunk” come to mean something with a guaranteed outcome? It’s probably because the slam dunk is one of the highest percentage shots in basketball.
Slam dunks are rarely missed. That doesn’t mean they’re easy though!
Although it might look like slamming the basketball through the hoop is really easy… or at least easier than shooting it through the hoop from beyond the three-point line, it actually takes a lot to successfully defy the laws of gravity and jam a basketball through the metal rim.
Most basketball hoops stand 10 feet above the ground. If you’re six feet tall with an additional two feet of arm length, you’re still at least two feet away from the rim.
A complex mixture of athletic abilities — including running and jumping — are necessary to be able to take to the sky to stuff the ball through the hoop.
The phrase “slam dunk” was first used by Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn. Before Hearn’s catchphrase caught on, slam dunks were known simply as “dunk shots.”
Still one of the most crowd-pleasing plays in basketball, slam dunks now take center stage each year during the National Basketball Association (NBA) Slam Dunk Contest, which is held during the annual NBA All-Star Weekend.
At one time, certain players could slam dunk the ball hard enough to shatter the glass backboard. To prevent injuries, breakaway rims and reinforced backboards were invented. Today, it would be very difficult to shatter a backboard with a slam dunk.
Plenty of slam dunks are on display when teams from colleges and universities around the country participate in the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Division I Basketball Championship tournament. Held each spring, the NCAA tournament features the best college basketball teams in the country competing for the title of National Champion.
NCAA tournament games are played mainly in March, giving the tournament its informal nickname “March Madness.” Also known as the “Big Dance,” the NCAA tournament has become a premier sporting event that attracts the nation’s attention for several weeks.
Since 1939, many schools have held the title of National Champion. With 11 titles, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) holds the record for the most NCAA tournament championships. The University of Kentucky holds the second most titles (seven), while Indiana University and the University of North Carolina are tied for third place with five national titles each.
Men aren’t the only ones who can dunk a basketball, though! Georgeann Wells, a 6’7″ junior playing for West Virginia University, was the first woman to slam dunk a ball in a women’s college game on December 21, 1984. A total of six dunks have also been scored in professional women’s basketball.