Suns News

1984 Slam N’ Jam: The High-Ayatolla of Slamola

Suns forward Larry Nance took the NBA's first Slam Dunk Championship from dunking legend Julius "Dr. J" Irving.
Published: 1992
Phoenix Suns 25th Anniversary book

When the NBA All-Stars converged on Denver, Colorado on a cold, January weekend in 1984, it marked the beginning of a new period of popularity for the mid-season classic. But the fact that the East would defeat the West 154-145 in an overtime thriller had little to do with the explosion of interest.

The inventive marketing minds of the NBA had come up with an innovative concept to compliment the All-Star Game and called it “All-Star Saturday.” On the day before the All-Star Game, the league would showcase come of the greatest names to ever play pro basketball in an “old-timer’s game.” In addition, nine active NBA players had been invited to compete in a special “Slam Dunk Contest.” It was a first for the NBA, but the slam-dunk competition had been an exciting part of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game which coincidentally had also been played in Denver.

The Suns’ Larry Nance, long-regarded as one of the top slam-dunk artists in the league, was one of the selections for the dunking competition. Although it seemed like a natural thing for the high-flying Nance, Larry accepted the league’s invitation somewhat reluctantly. He was just beginning to emerge as a solid NBA performer and he feared that by participating, people might typecast him as a one-dimensional player.

After the West Old-Timers disposed of the East Old-Timers 65-63, the McNichols Arena crowd of 17, 251 seemed to be instantly energized as the nine slam-dunk contestants emerged from the locker room to begin their warm-up dunks. The nine included some of the league’s best athletes, including Michael Cooper, Clyde Drexler, Edgar Jones, Ralph Sampson, Orlando Woolridge, Darrel Griffith, Dominique Wilkins, Nance and the crowd favorite, Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

Nance was nothing short of sensational. His dunks included reverse slams, wrap-around and a two-fisted reverse utilizing two basketballs. Erving and Nance took the competition to new heights in the final round, where Nance emerged victorious after “Doc” missed one of this three dunks.

Ironically, after the competition was over, Nance’s fear of being typecast proved to be unfounded. Even before Nance was traded to Cleveland in 1988 as part of a massive overhaul of the Suns, he had become one of the premier forwards in the game. But the competition in 1984 did point out Nance’s long shortcoming…for all his style and grace, he did not have a nickname.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, the Suns front office began a “Larry Nance Nickname Contest.”