High flyers coming back to Mile High City

Doug Moe has been around basketball for a while. He’s seen his fair share of hug-your-neighbor good times, but also some cover-your-eyes bad times.

From his five seasons of playing to his two decades of coaching, and including his past two years as a Nuggets coaching consultant, the former Denver head coach has witnessed over 2000 games.

Ask Moe to share some memories, though, and he’ll be the first to admit that many of his recollections blend together these days.

“I don’t remember a whole lot of those things. Through the years everything kind of runs together,” he says. But, “When I think of the All-Star Games, I think of ’76 because of the slam-dunk contest.”

The participants of the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest in Denver.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Prior to becoming the all-time winningest coach in Nuggets history, Moe was a Nuggets assistant for two seasons under Larry Brown, when Denver was still a part of the American Basketball Association. During that 1976 ABA All-Star weekend, in which the host Nuggets took on the rest of the league’s all-stars, the slam-dunk contest was born.

To this day, it still may go down as the best dunk contest ever. Julius “Dr. J” Erving squared off with Denver’s David Thompson in an epic aerial show never before seen.

“That was something new that they started and there was so much anticipation with Dr. J and David Thompson, and just the whole atmosphere surrounding them,” Moe says.

Being the radical step-sister of the NBA, only the ABA would hold a contest featuring an act not unanimously accepted in the world of basketball.

And then it was over. Later that season, the ABA merged with the NBA. The famous red, white and blue balls went flat in favor of the NBA’s traditional orange. And the dunk contest was a one-hit wonder.

“When we first came into the NBA, (the league) was very non-descript,” Moe says. “It was not what you thought it was; it was very blah.”

That is, until Denver was awarded host of the All-Star festivities once again eight years later. In 1984, basketball’s brightest stars returned to the Mile High City and Denver once again hosted an inaugural dunk contest, this time the NBA’s.

Dr. J was at it again and he gave the fans at McNichols Sports Arena another dazzling display of dunks. But even though he bested the hometown favorite Thompson in ’76, he couldn’t dispatch a young Larry Nance from Phoenix in ’84.

Jason Richardson during the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest in Los Angeles.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

And since that night (with the exception of 1998 and ’99), the NBA slam-dunk contest has been as annual as the changing of the leaves.

Current Nuggets assistant Adrian Dantley, who represented the Utah Jazz in the 1984 All-Star Game, knew when he saw the dunk contest then that it would be something of a fixture.

“Oh yeah, definitely. That’s what everybody loves,” he says. “Everybody loves the dunk contest. I remember that one dunk contest with Dr. J and David Thompson.”

It started here, was re-born here, and this year, is returning home as Denver hosts the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Though Denver’s court is the first to host three professional basketball dunk contests, no Nugget has ever won the competition. But the winners have been some of the greatest to play the game: Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, to name only a few.

Of late, it’s been more of a skills showcase for younger players. Now in his fourth season with Golden State, Jason Richardson dunked to the finals of the past three contests, winning two. Third-year guard Fred Jones of Indiana de-throned Richardson last year in Los Angeles.

This year’s participants have yet to be announced. But seeing as how Denver’s hosted a couple of these high-flying shows before, another spectacular one is expected. Because it surely won’t be like the first two Denver hosted.

“You see something different,” Dantley says. “Richardson can do some dunks. And the guy from Indiana, Fred Jones, he can jump. He surprised some guys last year. They get creative.”

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