Driving Down Memory Lane With Larry Nance

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Aug. 31, 2011

After playing six and one-half seasons for the Suns and bringing home the first-ever NBA Slam Dunk Championship to Phoenix, Larry Nance finished the second half of his standout career in Cleveland. Suns.com was able to catch up with the three-time All-Star to talk to him about dunking, car racing and his memorable time in Phoenix.

Suns.com: What was the proudest moment of your career?

Larry Nance: It was probably when I was playing with the Suns and I went out and won the slam dunk contest (first-ever NBA Slam Dunk Contest) against Julius Erving. That’s one of them. Another proud moment was when I worked really hard coming into my second season and I began starting for the first time in my career. Coach (John) MacLeod wanted me to work on my game and improve so I could start and become a nice player in the league. I worked hard and did that, which is something that I’m really proud of.

Suns.com: Did you have any special tricks up your sleeve against Dr. J? Any specific strategies?

Nance: No. 1, I didn’t know I was going to necessarily get to that point. I was just trying to compete hard and it just worked out that I ended up going against one of my favorite all-time slam dunkers in the finals. I just so happened to do enough good enough dunks so I could face him. It was awesome to be able to beat him because I always felt that he was one of the best dunkers to ever live. And I still feel that way.

Suns.com: Who do you think is the best in-game dunker of all-time?

Nance: Wow. When it comes to dunking in games, I’m still a Dr. J guy. He was doing it a long time ago and he was the one that I watched all my life. So he’s still my favorite.

Suns.com: In slam dunk contests, did you have any specific strategies? Like keeping your best dunk for last?

Nance: I really didn’t. I just went with the flow. There were a couple of things that I didn’t do, that if I could do over again, I would do. Now that I look back at it, I didn’t know dunking from the free throw line was going to be so popular. And it was something that I could do fairly easily. I don’t want to take anything away from it, but when we did it, I could do it with my toe on the line. I know when Michael (Jordan) and Doc did it, they kind of did it with their heels on the line. And if I would’ve known that doing that dunk would’ve become popular, I would’ve done it. I could’ve done that pretty easily. But I won, so I had to have done ok, I guess.

Suns.com: Looking back at your career, would you consider yourself a Cav or a Sun? Or was it equal?

Nance: Well, I had equal fun and great teams in both places. I had great teammates like Walter Davis, Alvan Adams, Alvin Scott, Truck Robinson, Charles Pitman and Maurice Lucas. The list goes on and on. And I left out Dennis Johnson. He was a big part of my life too. As far as teaching me the ropes, he looked after me like Alvan, Maurice and Truck did. All those guys were great and all of those teams had great opportunities. And that’s also where I got my start at. So obviously I have a lot of great feelings about Phoenix.

Suns.com: So what do you remember the most about your time in the Valley of the Sun?

Nance: That’s tough. Let me just pick four things that I remember. Alvan Adams was really important in my career because he threw me the alley-oops that I was known for and I enjoyed catching. Walter Davis was one of the best players that they never talk about now. Walter was a great superstar and I got to watch him play. Going out to the race track (drag racing) was a great time and I spent time out there with my racing buddy. And then, I met my wife there. I brought her here (to Akron, Ohio), but I met her there. We obviously played some great games, Coach MacLeod was a great coach and although we didn’t make a serious run or anything, we were definitely a good team. Those are the things that I remember the most.

Suns.com: What do you miss most about the city?

Nance: I live in Akron, Ohio, so I miss the weather, of course. We used to go out and have fun. That’s when I was a whole lot younger and then you come here, settle down, get married and have kids. That’s the difference between the two places. We went out and partied a little there and we came here and my wife got pregnant right away. I guess it’s because the weather makes you stay home all the time. (laughing)

Suns.com: Not because of their talent or skill on the basketball court, but who was your favorite all-time teammate?

Nance: My favorite teammate in Phoenix was probably Charles Pitman because he loved cars. He would go out to the race track with me. So we would practice together and then take off and go out to the race track. We both had a Camaro. We bonded like that. My favorite teammate here was “Hot Rod” Williams.

Suns.com: I’m noticing a common thread amongst your friends?

Nance: Well, the bad thing about “Hot Rod” was that he may have the name “Hot Rod,” but he doesn’t know anything about cars. (laughs)

Suns.com: Is racing cars still one of your hobbies today?

Nance: Yeah, I’m sitting here right now looking at my ‘67 Camaro. And I have a race car sitting in the yard that I’m not actually racing because I don’t have a sponsor for it right now. But I’m trying to find sponsorship. And that’s something that I never, ever, will lose focus on because I love racing so much. It’s been such a big part of my life and has brought me so much happiness that as long as I live, I’m always going to try to do some type of racing. The unfortunate thing about racing is that it’s so expensive and you can’t do it without help. And right now is not a good time to be getting help.

Suns.com: I read that you earned the nickname “The High-Ayatolla of Slamola?” That is a tremendous nickname. Was it one that was actually used?

Nance: It’s not my personality to call myself anything like that, so they had a contest without me and that’s what they came up with. It’s not like I ever to help it. That’s the name that the fans came up with. A lot of people actually heard about that and call me that, actually. But I was never one that wanted a name just because I slam-dunked. That’s just not my personality.

Suns.com: Looking back over the course of your career, who was the most talented guy that you ever played with?

Nance: I think it was Walter Davis. The most talented guy I ever played with… was Walter Davis. .

Suns.com: Was Michael Jordan the best player you ever played against?

Nance: Well, I believe in categories. Michael was the best 1-3 (positions). But I think Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) was the most dominant player because you couldn’t stop the sky-hook. They were just two different people. So I think Michael was in a different category by himself and Kareem was in a category by himself. And they are both equal to me. They were the two most dominant players that I ever played against.

Suns.com: Are you still around the game?

Nance: I’m up here with the Cavs and I’m talking to them about doing some big man coaching and some stuff like that. I don’t know if it’s going to work out, but I’m still up here with them and they treat me very well. I go to games and golf outings, do a lot of suite visits, and do everything that they need an ex-player to do. I’m like the only one of the ex-players from my era that stayed here.

Suns.com: Do you still keep in touch with you pals from the Suns?

Nance: I just talked to Bernard Thompson and Alvin Scott the other day. They were at a Retired Players Association meeting and they were both there and called me. I also talk to Alvan Adams once in a while. Hopefully I’ll be able to come out to a game out there soon because I still have some great friends out there.

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