Rudy Fernandez, the first international player to ever participate in the NBA Slam Dunk contest, dedicated his first dunk to the first Spanish player to play in the NBA, Fernando Martin.
Before his first dunk of the night, Rudy took off his red #5 Portland Trailblazers jersey to reveal a black #10 Blazer jersey with Martin emblazoned on the back of the jersey.
Fernando unknown to crowd, announcers
As evidenced by the silence, the crowd obviously wasn’t aware of whom Rudy’s jersey was referring to, nor did TNT announcers Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith know who “Martin” was.
“Martin?” questioned Miller.
“Martin?” followed Smith.“Who’s Martin?”
“Larue Martin?” guessed Miller referring to the former #1 draft bust of 1972. “Ricky Martin?”
“I don’t know who Martin is.” said Smith, giving up.
“This is for Fernando Martin,” interrupted Kevin Harlan, the third announcer, as TNT broadcast an image of Fernando Martin on the screen.
“He’s wearing number ten in tribute to Fernando Martin… Martin was the first Spanish player in the NBA and briefly played for the Trailblazers he died in a car accident so in tribute… to him.”
“It’s a great tribute,” Smith responded.
I have to say, the first thing I thought was “Huh? Kenyon Martin?” but quickly realized it was Fernando Martin. I was excited to have been in the small minority of people that actually knew what Rudy’s dedication was referring to.
However, it’s not a surprise that many were unaware of Martin, as the power forward played only 24 games for the Portland Trailblazers during an injury-plagued campaign back in the 1986-87 NBA season, before returning to Spain to play for club team Real Madrid.
For his dedication dunk, Fernandez threw a behind the back pass off the backboard and slammed it in with his right hand.
Despite not knowing who Martin was, the crowd was obviously disappointed with the score the dunk received as evidenced by the groans and boos when his point total was announced. Fernandez was awarded 42 points from the former Phoenix Sun players; Tom Chambers (9), Dan Majerle (9), Kevin Johnson (8), and former slam dunk champions Cedric Ceballos (8), and Larry Nance (8).
And though Fernandez ended the round in last place behind Dwight Howard (50), Nate Robinson (46), and J.R. Smith (43), he made a beautiful and lasting tribute to a great player that met an early demise.
First Spanish-born player in the NBA
Fernando Martin died a tragic death in a traffic accident in 1989. He was just 28 years old. In addition to being the first Spaniard in the NBA, Martin was the first European without college experience to be drafted into the NBA. Even though his career ended early, the 6-10 Martin is considered one of the best Spanish players ever.
In 1991, FIBA named Fernando Martin as one of FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players along with the likes of other international basketball legends Arvydas Sabonis, Nikos Galis, Dino Meneghin, Oscar Schmidt, Andrew Gaze, and Drazen Petrovic. Martin was enshrined in the inaugural class of the FIBA Hall of Fame.
Links and Resources: Fernando Martin Profile (Interbasket)