The NBA in the 1980s was a time of glitz and glamour. The “Showtime” Lakers were emerging on the West Coast and the Boston Celtics were putting together yet another dynasty on the East Coast.
With the NBA-ABA merger firmly in the rearview mirror, the high-flying moves of players such as David Thompson and Julius Erving were spreading throughout the league. Enter Larry Nance, a 6-foot-10 power forward who was the spiritual descendant of “Skywalker” Thompson.
Nance’s athleticism and strength made for a shocking combination around the basket. He would throw the ball down thunderously, making him a fan favorite. Drafted in 1981, Nance would play the first seven years of his career in Phoenix.
In 1984, at the NBA’s first-ever Dunk Contest, Nance competed against eight of the league’s best athletes, including Erving and Ralph Sampson. The Suns’ forward beat the field with a series of above-the-rim moves. Quoting Jeramie McPeek “Nance was nothing short of sensational. His dunks included reverse slams, wrap-around and a two-fisted reverse utilizing two basketballs.”
His victory and the ensuing excitement demanded that he have a nickname, the area of his game lacking to that point. The Suns began a “Larry Nance Nickname Contest” that ended with a creative and very unique nickname: “The High-Ayatollah of Slamola”.
In competitive basketball, Nance was tremendous as well. After becoming a full-time starter in his second year with the Suns, Nance averaged at least 16 points and eight rebounds per game every single year. He averaged over two blocks per game over that span as well.
He totaled 53.6 win shares in those seven seasons, never fewer than 7.9 per season as a starter. In 1985, he was a part of the NBA All-Star Game and not simply the dunk contest.
In February of 1988, Nance was part of a package sent by the Suns to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Phoenix received Kevin Johnson, Mark West and the pick that would become Dan Majerle (among other compensation). Those three players would play key roles in Phoenix becoming a Western Conference contender in the early 1990s.
For his part, Nance was incredible with the Cavaliers and helped them do the same in the East Conference. He left Phoenix as a beloved part of the Suns’ history.