My favorite line in the 1980 movie Airplane! is when the stewardess Elaine Dickinson asks an old lady: "Would you like something light to read?" The old lady responds: "Do you have anything light?" To which Elaine replies: "How about this leaflet on Famous Jewish Sports Legends?"
This is how I feel about the Denver Nuggets' record of success when it comes to the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest. You could literally summarize their results on a leaflet.
Prior to Saturday night's contest in which J.R. Smith will be participating as a replacement for the injured Rudy Gay, four Nuggets have competed in the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest since its inception 25 years ago: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (ne Chris Jackson) in 1993, Robert Pack in 1994, Darvin Ham in 1997 and Chris Andersen in 2004. And none of them have been victorious. (And any column on Nuggets in dunk contests has to mention 1976, when David Thompson performed in the first-ever Slam Dunk Contest. The 1976 contest took place at halftime when the ABA All-Stars competed against the Denver Nuggets for that season's All-Star Game in Denver. To read more about this pivotal moment in pro basketball history, check out Eric Neel's column from 2006.)
Abdul-Rauf's entry into the 1993 contest has to be one of the most remarkable stories in Slam Dunk Contest history. You see, Abdul-Rauf never dunked in a real NBA game. Not once. Then-Nuggets "President" and "General Manager" Bernie Bickerstaff had to send NBA league officials a VHS tape of Abdul-Rauf - then known as Chris Jackson - showcasing his dunking ability. Given that Abdul-Rauf would be the first-ever Dunk Contest participant who never dunked in an actual game, I'm guessing the NBA couldn't resist the PR angle of it. It was a pretty cool moment in Nuggets history. I remember being at a game after Abdul-Rauf's participation was announced in which he stole a ball at mid-court and was all alone heading to the basket. The fans at McNichols were going crazy as Abdul-Rauf jumped high enough to dunk the ball and at the very last moment, laid it in instead. He teased us!
Unfortunately, Abdul-Rauf turned out to be a sub-par dunker when the actual contest took place in Salt Lake City in 1993. Of the seven competitors, Abdul-Rauf finished sixth.
1994 would see another undersized Nugget compete in the Dunk Contest, but this time it was Robert Pack who actually dunked...in games...and on people (most famously, Pack dunked on Shawn Kemp in the 1994 NBA Playoffs as the Nuggets were on their way to upsetting the George Karl-coached Seattle Supersonics).
Pack - also a Denver Stiffs All-Intangibles Team member - fared much better than Abdul-Rauf in the dunk contest, although admittedly against a pretty weak field. Other than Kemp himself and eventual winner (and former Nugget) Isaiah "J.R." Rider, that year's contest featured Allan Houston, Antonio Davis and James "Hollywood" Robinson. Hardly a dunking Hall of Fame. In the NBA's second-ever three-way final (which was as lame then as having only four dunkers is lame now), Pack finished second.
The worst finish ever by a Nugget who competed in the Slam Dunk Contest was Darvin Ham in 1997. Even though Kobe Bryant won that year's contest, like 1994 it was one of the weakest fields in Slam Dunk Contest history, and yet Ham finished sixth out of the six participants. I had to watch this YouTube video below to remind myself of what Ham did that night, since this was the only contest I didn't watch live (I was studying out of the country).
The Nuggets wouldn't get a participant into the Slam Dunk Contest again until 2004, when Chris "Birdman" Andersen made his dunk contest debut in front of the crowd in Los Angeles. Like Abdul-Rauf, Andersen didn't have much to show for his outting other than getting Jack Nicholson very excited.
Andersen would return to the contest in 2005 held in Denver, but as a member of the New Orleans Hornets. That year's performance is more well-known (even I forgot that Andersen participated in the 2004 contest when first writing this article), but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. He attempted the same dunk something like 15 times, and by the time he finally pulled it off, those of us in the stands just wanted to go party downtown.
So how will J.R. Smith do on Saturday night? He has experience, having participated in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest which took place in Denver. Even though I was at that event in-person, I don't remember why J.R. didn't make it to the finals despite tying both Amare Stoudemire and Josh Smith in the first round with a 95. But I do remember him throwing down a sick behind-the-back dunk, never before seen prior to that night.
The problem J.R. has going into Saturday night is lack of star power, and this year the fans - who are pre-dispositioned to root for Dwight Howard or possibly Rudy Fernandez - are voting in the final round.
I'll make sure I have my computer handy as I watch J.R. on Saturday night. He's going to need every vote he can get if he's to expand the Nuggets' results in Slam Dunk Contest history beyond just a leaflet.