After watching J.R. Smith's unbelievable alley-oop 360-degree dunk last night, I started racking my brain to remember a better in-game dunk in Denver Nuggets history. Most unfortunately, my memory isn't as sharp as I'd like it to be and I'll need Denver Stiffs' official old school expert Thursty to weigh in on this. But excluding what I'm sure were an assortment of spectacular dunks by the great David "Skywalker" Thompson in the late 1970s, I think there's a good chance that last night's dunk was the best we've ever seen by a player in a Nuggets uniform.
Before getting into some memorable Nuggets dunks, I have to do a quick rundown on the history of Nugget dunkers. First off, we all know that The Skywalker was undoubtedly the best dunker in Nuggets, and perhaps NBA, history. Unfortunately, while I'm sure I technically saw Thompson in person, I was too young to really remember him playing live. But talk to any truly old school Nuggets fan, and they'll tell you Thompson was the best there ever was when it came to incredible, sky-high, aerobatic slam dunks. In fact, he's even credited with bringing the alley-oop to the NBA, having completed countless of them while at North Carolina State. Here's a collection courtesy of YouTube...
Unfortunately, because a lot of ABA games weren't televised, we likely don't have a number of Thompson's greatest dunks available on video. This isn't a shame, it's criminal.
After Thompson's departure from the franchise in 1982 courtesy of a cocaine addiction that caused him to fall down the stairs at Studio 54 in New York and tear up his knee (no joke, unfortunately), the Nuggets were famous for not dunking throughout the Doug Moe Era. While the Nuggets throughout the 1980s were one of the more fun teams to watch and scored well over 100 points a night with regularity, they always did so well below the rim.
Simply put, from about 1981 to 1990 Nugget players never dunked. Well, almost never. The Nuggets leading scorer, the legendary Alex English, actually preferred not to dunk because he was concerned about hurting his wrists and thus, hurting his silky smooth jump shot. That said, English did dunk occasionally (see the video below) and whenever he did, the McNichols Arena crowd would go absolutely berserk.
But other than the occasional English jam, the Nuggets stayed away from rocking the rim. In fact, I can't remember a single time the Nuggets had an alley-oop play in the 1980s and I specifically remember that in David Robinson's rookie season of 1989-90, "The Admiral" had more dunks than the entire Nuggets team combined. When your center rotation consists of Danny Schayes, Blair Rasmussen and Wayne Cooper, there's just not a lot of dunking going on.
The Nuggets were such poor dunkers that when they drafted Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane in 1988, the fans rejoiced simply because Lane had broken a backboard while throwing down a one-handed jam in college. Back in the day, if your parents had connections you could meet one Nugget of your choice on your birthday before a home game. I can't tell you how many of my friends in elementary school picked Lane (a total bust by NBA standards) over Nugget stalwarts English and Fat Lever, simply because Lane could dunk.
Moving into the 1990s, the Nuggets finally embraced the slam dunk. The 1992 through 1995 Nuggets teams had an assortment of high flyers, including Robert Pack, LaPhonso Ellis, Rodney Rogers and Tom Hammonds, who had won the college slam dunk contest before coming to the NBA. Even the diminutive Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf could throw it down, except he never did so once in an NBA. Abdul-Rauf saved his lone dunking experience for the 1993 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Prior to J.R. Smith's dunk last night, it's arguable that Pack's dunk on Shawn Kemp late in Game 3 of the Nuggets unimaginable playoff upset over George Karl's Seattle Supersonics was the greatest in-game dunk in Nuggets history post-Thompson. Not only was the dunk spectacular, but it was the single moment that turned the series. That dunk sent a message to the Sonics and the entire NBA that the Nuggets weren't just happy to be there.
Other than that memorable Pack dunk, the only other in-game dunks from the 1990s that stands out to me were Pack's throwdown on the 7'6" Shawn Bradley and Rodney Rogers ridiculous slam over David Robinson and Dennis Rodman during the 1994-95 campaign. Both dunks - plus another from Hammonds - would make the NBA's "Top 10 Dunks of 1994-95" highlight reel.
Moving into the modern era of Nuggets basketball, we've been blessed to have so many amazing athletes on the team - Carmelo Anthony, Nene, J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen, Dahntay Jones, etc - that it's hard to keep all the dunking straight. One never-to-be-forgotten slam was a very young Melo's one-handed alley-oop jam over the Rockets' 7'5" Yao Ming...
In fact, the 2009-10 Nuggets season has been chock full of insane Nuggets in-game dunks. Before J.R.'s 360, the dunk of the season was Ty Lawson's out-of-nowhere jam on the Lakers DJ Mbenga.
But the best of them all...and perhaps the best of all time...was J.R. Smith's unreal 360-degree alley-oop against the Timberwolves last night...
Agree? Disagree? Let the debate begin...
Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Videos courtesy of YouTube.