Hell in the Hall – Louisville Sports Blog

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The First Slam -Dunk Contest

Posted by frankpos on July 12, 2011

“The Slam Dunk Contest went right to the heart of the old ABA. The dunk was a bigger play in the ABA than it is in today’s NBA; it was a statement of your manhood and your talent.”

Dan “The Horse” Issel, ABA and NBA all -time great, and forward on the 1975 ABA Champion Kentucky Colonels.

“The best halftime innovation since the bathroom.” Sports Illustrated

“Then he …. took off. His afro was big then, and it was blowing. He went up and threw that baby down and the crowd went crazy.”

ABA All -Star Ron Boone on Dr. J’s amazing leap into history and lore …


The ABA was an artistic and innovative success, but it financially struggled due to lack of TV revenues.

In 1976, the league was desperately trying to force a merger with the NBA. To garner publicity, the league was determined to make a splash at its last All-Star game.

An entire weekend of events was created, including a concert by Glen Campbell and Charlie Rich (Remember: This was Denver and it was the 70’s. Trust me, they were big.)

But it was one innovation that created an indelible impression.

The halftime Slam Dunk contest.

“We were sitting around the office one day, discussing things that would draw more people, and it just came to us — let’s have a dunk contest,” said Jim Bukata, former director of marketing for the ABA. “That’s really where it came from — three guys talking about what we could do to sell a few more tickets.”

“We actually got the idea from Julius (Erving) in a roundabout way,” Bukata said. “We had a guy named Jim Keeler, who was African-American, who handled the business affairs for the league. Julius used to kid him all the time, saying, ‘I’ll bet you’re the only black guy involved in the ABA who can’t dunk.’ And it kind of came in some way off that.”It was Julius really giving us the idea that we’re the league of the dunkers.

“So I said, ‘Let’s have a Slam Dunk Contest!”

Everyone said: “Great!”

Then we all said, “OK… how do you have a Slam Dunk Contest?”


Dr. J: ” When the idea of a Slam Dunk contest was presented, it concerned me some…. I always considered myself a very good dunker…but my best dunks were always done in the game. I didn’t think about them, I just did them.

The other thing….it would be held at halftime….our legs would be a little tired. Now the Slam Dunk contest is held on a different day than the All-Star Game.

Really, none of us did much preparing… we all sort of winged it.”


The contest matched our own Artis Gilmore, the 7-2 center for the Kentucky Colonels; George Gervin, a 6-7 guard for the San Antonio Spurs; Larry Kenon, a 6-9 forward who was a teammate of Gervin’s with the Spurs; David Thompson, a 6-4 guard for the Nuggets; and Erving a 6-7 forward for the New York Nets. Dunks were judged on “artistic ability, imagination, body flow as well as fan response.”

All true basketball fans of that era knew it was going to be a showdown between Erving and Thompson.

One of the great leapers of all time, Thompson wowed the partisan Denver crowd with a windmill slam, a two-handed reverse and the first recorded 360 dunk.

For his first dunk, Julius Erving stood underneath the basket and dunked two balls at once. But Dr. J’s second was the one that will always be remembered.

“It was unreal,” said All-Star Ron Boone, now a television commentator for the Utah Jazz. “First of all, the contest was the first of its kind, which made it so exciting to watch. Everyone was bringing the house down.

“Then when it came to Julius’ time and he walked up to the free-throw line and started marking these steps off, going back to the other end of the court. Well, you knew what was coming — ‘Oooh, he’s going to take off from the free-throw line.’ Everybody was on the edge of their seats watching. The anticipation was great.”

“Then he went and took off. His afro was big then, and it was blowing. He went up and threw that baby down and the crowd went crazy.”

The Doctor himself: “Here was my philosophy — dare to be great…. I always like to take chances every now and then, and this was taking a chance because back then you didn’t have the spring-back (breakaway) rims. You had a rim that if you didn’t get above it, and dunk the ball through the right way, the rim would throw you to the ground…”

“With that rigid rim with no spring-back connection, you had to bring the truth in.

“I just wanted to make a nice, soaring play that would get the fans out of their seats. I really started going at half court and got a good running start and made sure that I made the shot authoritatively.”

A link to the video of Dr. J’s leap into history and legend…



ck it out at the 5:30 mark…

Replays of that dunk and the contest on the ( 3 ! ) national news channels electrified sports fans,  helped prompt a lifting of the ban on college dunking in 1976–and also  inspired a new Doctor just a few years later,  our own Darrell Griffith and his 360’s.

I checked Google–as you can imagine, there are not that many people in recorded history that have been able to dunk a ball from the free throw line.

In addition to Dr. J, Jim “Kangeroo Kid” Pollard –a 6’3″ white guy from the 50’s!– Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen, and Brent Barry have each dunked while jumping from around the free throw line, which is 15 feet from the basket. There are maybe a dozen other names of jumping jack no-bodies-you-never-hear-ofs.

Unlike all the others, Chamberlain did not require a full running start, but instead began from INSIDE the top half of the free throw circle. (Was this guy superhuman, or what!)

To show what kind of hops he had, Dr. J repeated his ABA feat 8 yrs later in 1984 when the NBA restarted the dunk contest–and that dunk is considered one of the greatest in NBA history.

Four year later in 1988 –but 12 years after the Doctor first did it– his Airness himself, Michael Jordan, replicated the Doctor’s dunk from the free throw line to win that year’s contest.

For a comparison to Doc’s dunk, here’s the video of MJ’s :


(Much of my research on the ABA came from two sources: the Web site Remember the ABA


and from probably the best resource on the ABA, the book Loose Balls by Terry Pluto.)

2 Responses to “The First Slam -Dunk Contest”

  1. jorge said

    that was a bad ass dunk jordon send me a text

  2. Bob said

    I love your nickname Dunkenstein!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

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