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Can Female Basketball Players Dunk?

As long as a person has the right combination of height and leaping ability, anybody can dunk. This means female basketball players can definitely dunk. However, they do not dunk as often as male basketball players.

Men are generally taller and more athletic than their women counterparts. But that doesn’t mean dunking for female players is impossible.

In fact, there have already been numerous dunks recorded in women’s basketball. It applies to both college and professional levels.

7 Female Basketball Dunkers

The first-ever recorded dunk in women’s basketball was back in 1984 in the Women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (WNCAA) basketball tournament. Georgeann Wells of West Virginia University (WVU) dunked during a basketball game on December 21, 1984(1).

female-basketball-dunk

In the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the first recorded dunk ever was made by Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks.

In the league’s sixth season in 2002, Leslie scored on a breakaway dunk. It was seen as a ground-breaking moment for women’s basketball(2).

It changed the perception that women aren’t capable of dunking, unlike men.

Since Leslie did it 19 years ago, there have been six other female basketball players who have dunked in a basketball game.

There were 22 dunks recorded in the WNBA, so far. 15 of those were played during the regular season, while 7 dunks were made in the All-Star games.

Brittney Griner has the most dunks in WNBA history with 14(3).

Complete list of Dunking WNBA players

  • Brittney Griner –  Phoenix Mercury, West All-Stars (14 times – 12 regular-season games, 2 All-Star games)
  • Lisa Leslie – Los Angeles Sparks, West All-Stars (2 times – 1 regular-season game, 1 All-Star game)
  • Candace Parker – Los Angeles Sparks (2 times, both regular-season games)
  • Michelle Snow – West All-Stars (1 time, 7/12/06 vs. East All-Stars)
  • Sylvia Fowles – East All-Stars (1 time, 7/25/09 vs. West All-Stars)
  • Jonquel Jones – East All-Stars (1 time, 7/22/17 vs. West All-Stars)
  • Liz Cambage – Team Parker All-Stars (1 time, 7/28/18 vs. Team Delle Donne All-Stars)

Impressive achievements by all, but definitely not as many as in the men’s NBA league.

As athletic standard continue to rise, year after year, the female dunkers will absolutely increase in numbers.

Why is there a Difference between the Genders?

Male basketball players in general are taller and more athletic than female basketball players. Therefore, it requires less effort for males to dunk a basketball in a game.

Meanwhile, females would require more force in order to reach the basketball rim.

For males, the average height in the National Basketball Association (NBA) is 6’7″, while the average vertical leap is 39 inches.

On the other hand, the average height in the WNBA is at 6’0″, while their average vertical leap is only at 18 inches.

If you put both averages together, there would be a 28-inch vertical disparity between the two genders.

Less female basketball players being able to dunk is not a knock on their skills.

It just so happens that male’s natural abilities trump their female counterparts on dunking alone.

Shortest Woman to Dunk in a Game

The shortest woman to dunk in a basketball game happens to be outside the WNBA. Charlotte Smith of the University of North Carolina is 6’0 tall when he dunked the basketball back on December 4, 1994(4).

Smith was already 26 years old when she was drafted by her namesake, the Charlotte Sting, in the 1999 WNBA draft.

Within the WNBA, the shortest woman to dunk in a game is Candace Parker (6’5″) of the Los Angeles Sparks.

She did it twice and it was done in consecutive games. She first dunked the basketball in a game against the Indiana Fever on June 22, 2008.

Two nights later, she accomplished the same feat versus the Seattle Storm.

Parker is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, the shortest among the elite list. However, her height is still considerably taller than the average height in the league.

The rest of the circle of women who have dunked in a game are 6’7 or taller.

Tallest Woman to Dunk in a Game

As shown on the list above, the female basketball player who has the most dunks in a basketball game is also the tallest woman on the list.

Brittney Griner is 6 feet 9 inches tall, and thereby the tallest woman to dunk in a game of basketball.

Granting that her fingertips would need an extra half-foot above the rim to successfully dunk a basketball, her vertical leap would need to be 45 inches.

The Phoenix Mercury center was offered an NBA tryout by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban back in 2013.

However, the plan never came to fruition.

Who is the Tallest WNBA player ever?

The tallest WNBA player ever is not on the list of female basketball players that dunked in a basketball game.

Margo Dydek is a Polish female basketball player whose career spanned 11 seasons and three franchises in the WNBA. Her height is 7 feet, 2 inches tall.

Dydek first played in 1998 for the Utah Starzz. She stayed with the club until the franchise relocated to San Antonio in 2004 and was renamed the San Antonio Silver Stars.

In 2005, Dydek was traded to the Connecticut Sun, where she would play her next three seasons.

She retired after the 2008 season when she had a year of duty with the Los Angeles Sparks.

Three years after her retirement, Dydek suffered a cardiac arrest while she was pregnant.

She never regained consciousness afterward. Dydek died eight days later on May 27, 2011.

She finished her career as the WNBA’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 877. She also led the league in blocks in nine out of her 11 seasons in the WNBA.

Female basketball players who dunked outside the WNBA

If the first dunk recorded in women’s basketball happened outside the WNBA, then it is a certainty that there are other dunks outside the WNBA.

In fact, eight players have dunked in college basketball. Four of those players happened to duplicate the feat in the WNBA(5).

List of female basketball players who have dunked in a college basketball game

  1. Charlotte Smith
  2. Michelle Snow (also did it in the WNBA)
  3. Georgeann Wells
  4. Sancho Lyttle
  5. Candace Parker (also did it in the WNBA twice)
  6. Sylvia Fowles (also did it in the WNBA)
  7. Brittney Griner (also did it in the WNBA 14 times)
  8. Francesca Belibi

Do dunks matter for female basketball players?

Dunks is not the end-all, be-all for female basketball players. However, dunking changes the perception of fans towards the sport.

People have not taken women’s basketball seriously enough for the past couple of decades.

Dunks usually symbolize both authority and excitement for most players. The more female basketball players dunk in a game, the more people would talk about them.

Dunking for female basketball players closes the gap between them and their male counterparts in the NBA. More dunks mean more reasons to watch women’s basketball.

Therefore, I appreciate the increase in female dunkers in the WNBA—both in terms of entertainment value and level of the league and players.


References:

  1. The First Dunk in Women’s Basketball History: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123750766297390343
  2. Lisa Leslie’s first WNBA dunk changed women’s basketball forever: https://fanbuzz.com/nba/lisa-leslie-dunk/
  3. WNBA Dunks: 22 slams that changed history: https://queenballers.club/basketball/wnba-dunks
  4. Charlotte Smith (Basketball) Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Smith_(basketball)
  5. List of women who have dunked in the WNCAA: https://www.sbnation.com/2020/12/30/22198115/francesca-belibi-dunk-womens-college-basketball-dunkers-list

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