Like father, like son: The NBA dunk contest is a family affair for Larry Nance Jr.

By Connor Yahn
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES – Larry Nance Jr. failed to win the NBA Slam Dunk contest like his father did 34 years prior, but that doesn’t mean Saturday night wasn’t special for the Nance family.

On his first attempt of the competition, Nance Jr. wasted no time paying homage to his father’s iconic cradle dunk that vaulted him over Julius Erving in the inaugural 1984 contest.

Nance Jr. changed out of his Cleveland Cavaliers warmup gear at center court with the assistance of quick-change artists who had performed earlier in the evening. He emerged in his father’s retro Phoenix Suns’ uniform and proceeded to replicate the dunk he had seen countless times growing up as his father appeared to tear up courtside.

Earlier in the day, Nance Jr. said the 1984 dunk contest video was “like normal kids’ Sesame Street.” He even said he watched his father’s highlights Friday night in preparation for his own competition.

On his first attempt in the final round, Nance Jr. called on his dad to act as a prop, tossing a lob to set up a fierce windmill finish. But perhaps the most impressive dunk of the night came on Nance’s final attempt as he double-tapped the ball off the backboard before finishing high above the rim, earning him a perfect score.

Ultimately, Donovan Mitchell would prevail and take home the trophy after throwing down a dunk that paid tribute to one of Vince Carter’s many iconic dunks.

After the competition, Nance Jr. joked that Julius Erving, acting as a judge against a Nance this time around, exacted revenge on him in the scoring stemming from his loss in 1984.

“Dr. J held back,” Nance Jr. said. “He did not want to see another Larry Nance win a dunk contest.”

Larry Nance Jr. jokes with reporters after the dunk contest about Julius Erving acting as a judge for the competition and potentially reducing his scores as a revenge tactic. Nance Jr.’s father defeated Erving in the inaugural competition in 1984. (Connor Yahn/MEDILL)

Saturday’s performance in the Staples Center didn’t end with the result Nance Jr. was hoping for, but he made history just by participating. Nance Jr. and his father Larry Nance Sr. are the first father-son duo to ever compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

At his media availability on Saturday afternoon, Nance Jr. said, “Obviously it would mean so much more if I got to hold the trophy above my head the same way my dad did. [But] being in it has never been done before.”

Nance Jr. said his father inspired his devotion to basketball more than any other player he has ever watched and that he has always wanted to be like the former three-time All-Star.

“I’m Larry Nance Jr. I’m very proud of that, so I wanted to be like my dad every step of the way and now I’m here at the NBA Dunk Contest,” Nance Jr. said. “What were the odds of that? It’s pretty cool.”

Nance Jr.’s career has followed quite a similar path to his father’s. Both made it to the NBA. Each of them was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a part of mid-season deals, and both have competed in the Slam Dunk Contest.

While he didn’t hoist the trophy at the end of the competition, the former Los Angeles Laker put on a show in front of his old home crowd. Since he is only nine days removed from being shipped out of Los Angeles, Nance Jr. said he felt right at home in the Staples Center.

“I felt like [the fans] were in my corner tonight,” Nance Jr. said. “I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Saturday night was clearly one the Nances will never forget, one Nance Jr. said he had dreamed of his entire life while being raised by an NBA father.

“It was obviously a big moment for my family, something I’ll cherish forever,” he said.

Photo at top: The 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
(Connor Yahn/MEDILL)