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Ball Don't Lie

Dunk History: Tom Chambers rising like a Phoenix and taking orbit as a Sun

Ben Rohrbach
Ball Don't Lie

As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.

Today, Ben Rohrbach examines Tom Chambers taking flight over, and through, Mark Jackson back in 1989.

As anyone walking the streets of L.A. can attest, Mark Jackson is a God-fearing man, so that bright orange sun on Tom Chambers' short shorts setting over the former New York Knicks point guard's head as a knee collided with his grill may have jogged this Bible passage from his memory:

For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.

On Jan. 27, 1989, Chambers — the Sun of righteousness, his beautiful golden hair emanating like crepuscular rays — took flight from a fast break give-and-go with Kevin Johnson. He rose like a Phoenix, kept on rising and then rose some more, using Jackson's face as a catapult.

"I was a rookie with the Suns when Chambers dunked over Mark Jackson, and what made that dunk amazing was that he literally put his knee on Mark’s shoulder and elevated about another foot," Steve Kerr later told the TNT crew. "It was like a pole vaulter.”

When the ashes began to settle, Chambers looked upon the rim from above and dunked with both arms at 90-degree angles. He went forth and skipped like a calf from a stall, as did an Arizona crowd decked in spectacular '80s garb. The fourth-quarter bucket ultimately proved the difference in the Suns' 132-130 win — one of 55 before a Western Conference finals playoff run.

“It was one of those things where I didn’t have time to stop and go around him," Chambers added. "I had to just try and get myself to the rim, so I was able to do that and literally jumped over Mark Jackson. He tried to protect himself and maybe gave me even a little bit more of a boost, because I know I had to kind of duck to not hit my head when I was coming down from that dunk."

And Jackson still hasn't completely healed. On the wrong end of inarguably the greatest white-dude dunk in NBA history, he's still the original poster boy for getting posterized, as he was consulted when DeAndre Jordan jammed on Brandon Knight:

"The funny thing is that the people talking about the lists of the dunks and the younger announcers forget about it until you can tell the one with a little bit of gray hair says, 'What about the Mark Jackson one?'” he said. "Then, all of a sudden it lights up, and it was comical because a lot of my players didn't know it was me. They were talking about the Tom Chambers dunk, and a couple of the older guys said it was me in the picture. Then, all of a sudden it's, 'That was you, Coach.' It's a bad memory. A bad, bad memory."

Jackson has since argued for an offensive foul ("It's funny because I've seen people say he made the right play and they're right, but nobody ever said I was trying to take a charge and what a great play by me"). But a few looks at the replay of a video that's now more than a quarter-century old reveals he was considering a block when the knee convinced him otherwise:

While Jackson may have made his only All-Star roster that season, this was not a great play by him by any stretch of the imagination. Chambers, too, made the All-Star squad in 1988-89 — his second of four such bids — but the two couldn't recreate this magic. Then again, nobody in real life ever quite has. (Though some have tried.)

Never fear, for the jam has been immortalized twice. First, as children of the '90s will recall, the makers of the 1991 Sega Genesis game "Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs" allowed Chambers to double-clutch dunk from just inside the 3-point line — even from a standstill. It was a ridiculously unstoppable move that forced gaming connoisseurs to outlaw the use of the Suns:

A decade after the dunk, the Suns rightfully inducted Chambers into their Ring of Honor in 1999. During a ceremony honoring a 16-year NBA career that included 20,049 points, the 1987 All-Star Game MVP and the distinction as the league's first unrestricted free agent signing, the team presented Chambers with a sculpture of him Earl Grey-bagging Jackson:

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Many have been posterized, but Tom Chambers bronze statued Mark Jackson. (YouTube)

Many have been posterized, but Tom Chambers bronze statued Mark Jackson. (YouTube)

"A lot of great dunks get posterized and printed onto a piece of paper, but this one was such a good one, thanks to the Phoenix Suns, they bronzed it for me," Chambers said in TNT's feature on the NBA's four greatest in-game dunks. "Thanks to Mark Jackson and the Phoenix Suns, this one will be looked at for a long time."

More from BDL's Dunk History series:

John Starks, the Chicago Bulls and 'The Dunk'
Taj Gibson starts the break, then breaks Dwyane Wade
Joakim Noah makes Paul Pierce a memory
Baron Davis unloads on Andrei Kirilenko, moves beyond belief
Michael Jordan embarrasses, like, all of the Knicks
The joy of hearing Scottie Pippen posterize Patrick Ewing

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