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.


101 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (35 votes, avg. 4.63 out of 5)
  1. Butler will win! They beat the GREAT Wisconsin Badgers to knock them out of the tournament, therefore, they are the best team left standing.

  2. 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.
    Thats the technical term. A slam dunk at my school and classroom is when you create a piece of poetry that is the “slam dunk” best piece of work for. the month.

  3. Some energetic UCONN fans are cheering on their team!

    It will be an exciting game for sure…thanks for posting and visiting Wonderopolis today, everyone! It’s fun to go on Wonder Quests, isn’t it? :-)

  4. When you look just like Jordan when you make a shot! (Or now the amazing Derek Rose!)

    No actually it is when you jump through the air. Using both hands, you shoot the ball downward through the basket. .

  5. a slam dunk is something that will certainly happen, and it usually refers to a positive or a desired outcome.

  6. While it is ALWAYS fun to root for an underdog, I’m thinking UCONN is going to be in #1 at the end.

  7. UConn is my prediction to win. :)

    A slam dunk is filled with confidence and pride. It is when you know you have the spotlight of the moment.

  8. My favorite part of a slam dunk is the part after the jump and before the slam. I love to watch humans in flight!

  9. What GREAT fans you all are! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and taking time to participate in the Wonder Quest! :-)

  10. In basketball, a slam dunk is when a player brings the ball up over the rim, forcing it through the hoop with a resounding thunk! I wonder if there will be any slam dunks tonight? Since OSU isn’t playing, I don’t care who wins!

  11. A slam dunk is when you reach a height that causes others to stop, take a deep breath and go wow that was great, how did they do that.

  12. For the non-basketball fan, I’m thinking a slam dunk has everything to do with breakfast deal at Denny’s.

  13. G0 Butler! a Slam dunk is when a basketball player jumps in the air and slams the ball through the hoop and no one can stop him.

    • Thanks for commenting today, Ivette and DanielaR! It must have been a very exciting moment for both Kobe and Blake when they each won their NBA Slam Dunk Contests…14 years apart! :-)

    • Hi, “Spongebob!” Derrick Rose IS a good basketball player! Do you think that’s why his jersey says #1 on it?

    • Yes, Dwayne Wade really brings the “Heat” when he’s on the court! Thanks for your comment today, “Squidward!”

  14. Hi Wonderopolis. My name is Juliana and I’m in Mrs. Caplin’s class. I thought this wonder was interesting because I never knew that the phrase “slam dunk” can be used in a different way than just for basketball. I play basketball but I’m not quite tall enough to make a slam dunk. It’s incredible that even a proffesional basketball player is still two feet from actually touching the rim of the basketball hoop. I brought in my backround knowledge and knew that in my basketball league that the hoop is 9 ft. in the air, its just 1 foot lower than the professional basketball players hoop.

    • Thanks for WONDERing about slam dunks with us today, Juliana.123! We bet you’ve had a slam dunk- whether you did a great job on a school project or won your class spelling bee! We are so glad that you’re thinking about slam dunks– for professional athletes and for all of us, too! :)

    • We’re glad you’re WONDERing about basketball as a sport, and the players who are a part of it, Jack! We think many people would agree that LeBron James and Michael Jordan are both excellent athletes! :-)

    • Great description, Wonder Friend Robert! We are glad you’ve been WONDERing about sports of all sorts with us today! We Wonder if you have ever slam dunked a basketball? :)

  15. I learned from this wonder that you could be 6 feet tall and have an additional 2 feet in arm length and you are still 2 feet away from the basket! The professionals make it look so easy but it is extremely difficult. One of my favorite parts of the NBA season is the Slam Dunk contest. It is amazing to see what the players can accomplish.

  16. The Cleveland Cavaliers are my favorite team. Nate Robinson, Paul George, and Dwight Howard are my favorite people to watch in past slam dunk contests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


  • Wonderopolis on Facebook
  • Wonderopolis on Pinterest
  • Print

Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a slam dunk?
  • What is March Madness?
  • Which school has won the most college basketball national championships?

Wonder Gallery

slam dunk_shutterstock_3045611Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Would you love to soar above the hardwood and slam a basketball through the hoop? If you’re going to slam dunk one day, it won’t hurt to get started on your training now. Besides, didn’t today’s Wonder of the Day energize you?

Put that energy to use trying some exercises that one day may help you fly through the air with the greatest of ease:

If sports aren’t your thing, funnel your energy into being creative in whatever you like to do. Whether it’s music, art or writing — or something else entirely — take some time to do something you love today. For example, if you like making things, try one of these 10 Slam-Dunk Crafts For Little Kids — And Bigger Kids Too!


Still Wondering

EconEdLink presents children with an interesting question: Should LeBron James Mow His Own Lawn? While some of the concepts introduced in this interesting economics lesson are directed toward older children, parents can also use the basics of the lesson with younger children to get them thinking about the economic principles behind the decisions they make.


Wonder Categories/Tags


Wonder What’s Next?

If you love fairy tales, you’re going to love tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day! Join us tomorrow, as we take a look at the author of such famous stories as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ugly Duckling.”

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.