It was a more appropriate place than any to talk to Lakers rookie Larry Nance Jr.
Phoenix was where his father, Larry, put the family name on the basketball map as a high-scoring forward with plenty of dunks in his bag and good rebounding skills too.
His name is on the wall outside the Suns’ locker room as one of the most efficient scorers in franchise history, but it was the dunking that Nance Jr. remembered most about his father’s game.
He was only 2 years old when his father retired in 1994, so a videotape of the 1984 NBA dunk contest was where he first saw the elder Nance on a basketball court.
“I don’t even know how old I was -- real little,” Nance said. “But I remember watching him in his gold chain beat Dr. J. That was pretty cool.”
It was the league’s first dunk contest, with a crowded field that also included Dominique Wilkins and Michael Cooper. Julius Erving, commonly known as Dr. J, finished second to Nance.
“At first, I didn’t understand who he beat in his contest,” Nance Jr. said, realizing over the years the importance of Erving. “He did all right.”
Nance has been in a holding pattern since a late December run that pushed into early January. A little after that, however, his right knee started bothering him, the one in which he had suffered a torn ACL during his junior year at Wyoming.
He sat out four games, came back for three and sat out six more before returning to the lineup. He is still sitting out a game in each back-to-back situation as a precaution with only a few weeks left in the season.
He is not worried long-term about the knee, eager to strengthen it during the off-season to avoid future problems. Maybe he came back from the initial surgery a little too soon for his senior season, returning after only six months.
He has played recently at small forward, the Lakers hoping his combination of speed and strength can pay off at the position. He’ll need to rediscover the mid-range jumper that worked so well earlier in the season and probably add three-point touch too.
He thinks it’ll happen, in particular the long-distance stuff.
“I can shoot it. I can. It’s just something I’ve got to get comfortable shooting,” he said. “It’s getting shots up in live situations — pick-up games, one-one-one, summer league. Little stuff like that will make me more apt to shoot one in a game.
“This year was more just feeling my way around the league. Next year I’ll start to step out a little bit and show what I have offensively.”
Despite the knee pain that sapped him of a good start, the 27th pick in the draft last June has “very much” impressed the Lakers, Coach Byron Scott said.
“I love the way Larry comes to play,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that you tell him something once or twice and he’s pretty much got it. He’s a rookie that brings it every single night.”