Basketball Legend

Bravado, dancing skills, showmanship and flashy play. It seems like those are the attributes synonymous with some of today's NBA players. But how many of those showboats will play 14 years in the league and garner the admiration and respect of the fans, teammates, coaches, and front office personnel?

T.R. Dunn was an outstanding basketball player in the early 1970s at West End High School in Birmingham. As a junior in 1972, his performance earned him the tournament MVP of the 4A championship game. His talents attracted some of the top basketball programs in the South his senior year. Dunn selected Alabama for his college basketball home after making recruiting visits to Kentucky and North Carolina. His commitment to the Crimson Tide was influenced by former Alabama great Wendell Hudson. Dunn said, "Wendell Hudson was four years ahead of me which was enough time for me to know about the program. He was one of the reasons I ended up attending Alabama."

Wimp Sanderson was the assistant coach at Alabama who recruited Dunn to play for Head Coach C. M. Newton. Dunn, a four year lettermen, developed a strong bond with Newton that continues to this day. "All of us need motivation at some point because there are some up times and some down times," Dunn said. "A lot of individuals do push themselves and I think I was one of those guys that pushed themselves. I felt that I had a great coach because he always encouraged us and pushed us. He critiqued us when we needed it and he patted us on the back when we needed that as well. I thought he was a tremendous coach but I thought he was even a better person. I've got to know him very well in my four years there and talk to him occasionally now. We play golf in the off season. He's a tremendous person."

Highlights of Dunn's career at Alabama include being a member of the first ever NCAA tournament team in 1975 as well as placing first in the SEC three consecutive years, tying for first twice (1974-75) and winning the conference outright once (1976). "We had a special year (1975). It was a special time and we had a tremendous season. We had a great bunch of guys." Dunn's junior year (1976) saw the Crimson Tide challenge the last undefeated Division I NCAA basketball team and eventual champion, Indiana Hoosiers (32-0) at an NCAA tournament second round game played in Baton Rouge at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center located on the campus of LSU. "We had an outstanding game against Indiana. Late in the game we led but they ended up beating us in a close, tough game (74-69). They went on to win the title as an undefeated team. We gave them a real scare."

Reflecting on his years at The Capstone, Dunn expressed his sense of appreciation. "It's a sense of pride for me," he said. "I have great memories of my college career. It was a fun time for me. I think I grew as a basketball player and as a person during my time at The University. I follow the team now and keep in contact with the coaches on occasion. I'm real good friends with Wendell Hudson (UA Associate Athletics Director) and we talk on a regular basis. I still have my ties there."

Dunn entered the NBA in the fall of 1977 as a second round draft choice of the Portland Trailblazers where he managed to endure 14 years (1978-91) as a defensive specialist, guarding elite players such as Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, George Gervin and David Thompson as well as the talented basketball holy trinity of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. His defensive skills were tested each night against some of the best players in the world.

"Guys were tremendous players during that era, as they are now," Dunn said. "There are the same talented and entertaining ball players now as there were during the previous era. You lose a figure and you can probably never replace the exact guy but you bring in another talented player that has a trait of his own.

"I played against Larry just for short periods. He was a power forward who played small forward but I did guard him on occasion. He was just a tremendous ball player. A very smart and skilled player. He could shoot and pass as well as anyone. He's 6-9 and could shoot on the perimeter which caused match up problems. They would put smaller guys on him and he would post them up. He was really strong, not fast, and he could rebound. You put big guys on him and he would just go outside and shoot long jumpers. You just could never match up with the guy. He had a strong passion for the game.

"Magic, was unusual because he was 6-9 and played the point guard position. He could pass the ball as well as anyone and he could do anything. He could score when he wanted to and he made other players better. He was happy most of the time being the facilitator and getting everybody involved. Then when he needed to score, he would score.

"Jordan could do what he wanted offensively. As far as scoring with the basketball, no one could defend him no matter what you did if he was on. The only way you could defend him is if the coach took him out of the game."

Even though he was a three time NBA second team all defensive player (1983-85), Dunn still understated his ability when talking about his efforts to neutralize the top offensive threats in the league. Dunn said, "The big scorers always found a way. You struggled with them through the game. You battled with them and played hard. You denied them the ball throughout the game and made them work. At the end of the game, they still had 20-plus points even though you thought you did a good job. Someone like George Gervin. He was a tremendous player that came before Michael Jordan. Another player was David Thompson who was my teammate (Denver Nuggets) for a couple of years. Even though his career wasn't as long as those other guys, he was just as talented. And there's a host of other guys."

Speaking of the first time he played against Maravich, Dunn recalled playing in the Superdome as a member of the Portland Trailblazers against the New Orleans Jazz. "I had watched him when I was in high school score 69 points against Alabama," Dunn said. "He was incredible. I got a chance to play against him. He was fun to watch and very difficult to defend."

Playing for a number of teams (Portland, Denver, Phoenix), Dunn absorbed all the motivational and strategic nuances utilized by the coaches. "I thought I gained a lot from all of my coaches," he said. "Coach (Jack) Ramsey of the Portland Trailblazers was my first professional coach. He was a teacher. He knows the game and does a good job of relaying his approach, thoughts and his ideas to his players. He is an outstanding basketball coach with a tremendous basketball mind.

"Doug Moe (Denver Nuggets) was my next professional coach. He maybe the one I'm most fond of because I played for him the longest. When I first got there, I didn't know if I was going to kill this guy or he was going to kill me. He became a friend after I left as a player. As a player, I respected him a lot. He had a way of getting the most out of his players in the way he motivated guys. He was an innovator. We played a passing game unlike any other team at the time. Similar to the way Phoenix plays now. We led the league in scoring six or seven years. Doug implemented a style of play where everyone reaped some benefits from it. All the guys enjoyed it.

"Cotton Fitzsimmons (Phoenix Suns) was my coach for only one year but I really enjoyed it. He was a motivator too. He could somehow find ways to make you feel good about yourself and make you think you could really do some things maybe when sometimes you didn't really feel you could do them. He knew the game. He really encouraged his players and got the most out of his guys as well."

After his playing career and a number of years coaching in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets (1991-97) and Denver Nuggets (1997-98, 2002-2004), Dunn also coached a few years in the WNBA as an assistant (1998-99) and as a head coach (1999-01) for the Charlotte Sting, where former Alabama standouts, Niesa Johnson (guard) and Shalonda Enis (forward) were members of the team.

Coaching women presented a different challenge. "Women are more receptive to coaching," Dunn said. "We have guys who are receptive of course but overall the women tend to hang on every word. They have a tendency to try and grasp everything being taught. You have to win the men over a little bit more but they are receptive as well. Both Niessa and Shalonda were tremendous people and good basketball players. They were fun to coach."

Sixteen years of coaching has fortified Dunn's confidence is his abilities to teach the game of basketball. "My own perception is that I can relate well to the guys. I can connect with them to get them to do the ideal things I like to do. Defensively I have something to offer them because I was a defender. Offensively, I've learned from all the coaches I have been around. Obviously I'm still learning like everyone else. I try to learn a little from everybody. Rick Adelman (Sacramento Kings) was a big influence. I learned a lot from him as well as Allan Bristow (Charlotte Hornets) who brought me in initially to coach at the NBA level. Also I worked with Bill Hanzlik (Denver Nuggets) and now I'm here (Sacramento Kings) with Coach (Eric) Musselman."

His future aspirations are to become a head coach. He said, "I enjoy being an assistant and working with the different staffs but I hope one day I get the opportunity. I think it will happen."

Young players would be wise to heed the advice of a 14 year NBA veteran. Talking about competing in the league, Dunn professes, "You have to work hard to accomplish anything good. All these guys are very talented and they have the ability to do a lot of things. When you reach this level, you're going to be matched with other guys who are talented so you have to do something to set yourself apart. That's working hard on your game on a regular basis. Keeping your body in good shape and stay positive. You have to believe in what you are doing. Keep at it. There are a lot of ups and downs in this game. Be physically ready and mentally ready to perform when the opportunities come."

Coaching at Alabama as an assistant that one year (2001-02) remains special to Dunn. "That was great. Mark Gottfried gave me that opportunity. It was great working with him and all those guys down there at that time, Philip Pearson, Orlando Early and Darrron Boatright. I had a great time down there working with those guys."

Our conversation took place in the hallway of the TD Banknorth Garden, home of the Boston Celtics. Dunn is presently in his third season as an assistant coach with the NBA's Sacramento Kings. He resides in Sacramento with his wife, Cynthia. The couple has two sons, Schmohn and Keenan.

Happy 52nd Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt Dunn, III

Born: February 1, 1955

Editor's Note: A.P. Steadham covers special events for ‘BAMA Magazine and, concentrating on former Crimson Tide athletes now involved in professional athletics.

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