Frequent Flyer Stansbury Took Career To New Level in Europe

Terence Stansbury leaps over a seated teammate and a ballboy on the way to his legendary slam during the 1985 dunk contest during All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis.
(Pacers Photo)
By Conrad Brunner | Sept. 9, 2005

Odds are, when the name Terence Stansbury comes to mind, so does a dunk.

One dunk in particular.

During the 1985 NBA All-Star Weekend, hosted by the Pacers in what was then known as the Hoosier Dome, Stansbury vaulted into the national spotlight with a spectacular performance in the slam-dunk contest, bringing down the house by leaping over a teammate seated on a chair in the lane on his flight to the rim.

Stansbury finished third, behind Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan. Among those who finished behind him were Julius Erving, Larry Nance, Darrell Griffith and Clyde Drexler – a roster of some of the greatest dunkers in the history of the game.

The problem with that event is that it forever labeled Stansbury as a dunker – a label, as it turned out, he had to travel to Europe to shed. The sleek 6-5 shooting guard spent two more seasons in the NBA – finishing third in the slam-dunk contest twice more - before moving overseas, where he played 13 seasons in five countries before moving into coaching. Now 44 and just three years removed from his playing career, he's currently the head coach of the Basket Racing Club in Luxembourg.

"The dunk contest actually caused a lot of problems because people forgot, when I was in (Temple) University, I was a thinking player, a jump-shooter, a guy who played on winning teams," Stansbury said. "Of course I had athletic ability, but I rarely dunked in games. My job was to run the team, hit the clutch baskets, play defense and not throw the ball away for four years at Temple.

"When I got to the NBA, because I was an athlete and got invited to the dunk contest, the fans would run up to the bench and ask for me to come in and dunk when the coach had his own strategy about how he wanted to play and it became a problem. I remember I got too much attention when there were guys who were starters and key players on the team … I just felt bad about it.

"It was a wonderful experience to be up there with the greatest dunkers in the world at the time and to finish third three times in a row but it really hurt my NBA career, I think, because even now people talk about the dunks. That was the focus – the dunks, the dunks, the dunks. When you make a mistake, it's 'this athlete can run and dunk but he can't play.' But I didn't get to the NBA because of my dunking, I got there because of basketball fundamentals and skills and clutch play."

At Temple, Stansbury played all but seven minutes during his junior season, averaging 24.6 points for a mediocre team. The following season, he led the Owls to a 26-5 mark and hit the game-winning shot to deliver a 65-63 victory over Chris Mullin and St. John's in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Though he scored 26 in the next game, the Owls fell to North Carolina, 77-66.

A first-round NBA Draft pick of Dallas (No. 15 overall) in 1984, Stansbury was acquired by the Pacers from Dallas along with Bill Garnett in exchange for a conditional future first-round pick just before the start of his rookie season. In two years with the Pacers, he averaged 6.9 points in 148 games (31 starts).

He has fond memories of his relatively brief time here, particularly of the fan support for a team that totaled 48 victories in his two seasons. Just as the Pacers were on the verge of breaking through to respectability, Stansbury was traded to Seattle (with Russ Schoene) for John Long. Without that deal, Stansbury, not Long, would've been the answer to the trivia question: who was the Pacers' last starter at shooting guard before Reggie Miller?

"It was a wonderful experience with the fans," Stansbury said. "Of course, we had a terrible team then and the fans were always there. That was something that stuck out in my mind. And I hated to leave, even though it was a struggling team. I wanted to stay there and try to develop as a player with the new coaching staff when they had brought Jack Ramsay in (before the 1986-87 season).

"It was a terrible feeling to leave when you know you have a coach like that. But they wanted a veteran player and the trade happened."

After one injury-plagued season in Seattle (averaging 4.0 points in 44 games), Stansbury began his European odyssey in Den Bosch, Holland.

"I just decided to start a career in Europe," he said. "So many guys I had played against (in college) were in Europe and had good careers, so it was a nice alternative. If you wanted to play professional basketball outside of the United States at the time, Europe was a possibility and you can have so many wonderful experiences when you're young.

"It wasn't, of course, like being in the NBA. But it was 10 times better than the CBA – maybe 100 times better depending on the country and depending on the team."

After one season on Holland and two in Belgium, Stansbury found a home in Levallois, France, where he played for six seasons and became more than a star. He was an ambassador for the sport, eventually earning a place in the French basketball Hall of Fame.

Stansbury worked extensively in developing youth programs in France, hosting three-on-three tournaments around the country to expose the game to as many people as possible. In those years prior to the 1992 Olympics, when the Dream Team made its dramatic impact on the international landscape, the NBA was something of a foreign concept in Europe and the game was very much in need of development.

Since then, Stansbury has been an eyewitness to the changes in the sport.

"Basketball has evolved all over the world," he said. "The difference is what has happened to (Americans). We don't really play as a team at the high school and college level the way we did when I was a kid. In Europe, they didn't have the great athletes so they always played together. They always focused on the team. In America, it's play one-on-one for yourself and make sure you shine. That way you'll have the opportunity to go to (a) university and if you're the best one-on-one player and top scorer, you'll have an opportunity to play in the NBA.

"It's never been that way over here in Europe. That's why when we play against these international teams, they are teams. We bring individuals and hope that they can come together quickly. "

Stansbury played in Israel and Greece before returning to France in 1998, but his playing days were numbered. He got a taste for coaching with Levallois in 1995 when, while injured, he was asked to move onto the bench. He moved into that phase of his career in Finland, where he spent two seasons before taking the job in Luxembourg.

Though entrenched in Europe, Stansbury would welcome the chance to do scouting for an NBA team with an eye toward the future. His daughter, Tiffany, a 6-3 post player, just finished a distinguished career at North Carolina State as a second-team all-ACC selection with WNBA aspirations.

He'd like very much to return to Indianapolis one day soon to see the Pacers play because, through it all, this is the NBA franchise to which his heart belongs.

"I had a wonderful time in Indiana and I'm glad they've been successful," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get back in the future to see some games, because I'm still a Pacer. No one can take that away.

"I just don't want to be remembered as the dunk contest guy."