The first player believed to have dunked a basketball in an organized game was Joe Fortenberry, captain of the 1936 U.S. Olympic basketball team. However, this is not officially recognized by any governing bodies.

Seven-foot Hall of Fame center Bob Kurland became the first player to regularly dunk during games, leading Oklahoma A&M to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1945 and 1946. From 1967 through 1976, the NCAA instituted the infamous "Lew Alcindor Rule" that prohibited players from dunking during games. The NCAA Rules Committee denied the dunk was disallowed due to Alcindor's dominance, and insisted it was because of rims bending back and the risk of boards breaking.