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Jim Bukata

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Jim Bukata Obituary
Former New Milford resident Jim Bukata was a sports marketing whiz. His signature innovation: the slam-dunk slam dunk competition.

It was January 1976. The event was the American Basketball Association All-Star Game in Denver  the final all-star showcase for the freewheeling league known for its red, white and blue balls. The ragtag ABA would soon merge with the National Basketball Association.

As the ABA's director of marketing and public relations, Mr. Bukata was tasked with creating some All-Star Game buzz.

"We were sitting around the office, discussing things that would draw more people, and it just came to us  let's have a dunk contest," Mr. Bukata said in a 1996 interview with the Houston Chronicle.

"That's really where it came from  three guys [Mr. Bukata, the ABA's finance director and the general manager of the host team, the Denver Nuggets] talking about what we could do to sell a few more tickets."

The contest hatched by Mr. Bukata matched five of the ABA's flashiest players  four |of them future Hall of Famers. Julius "Dr. J." Erving of the New York cqNets stole the show, wowing the crowd of 17,798 at |McNichols Arena.

That halftime extravaganza was the forerunner of the slam-dunk competition that is a staple of the NBA's All-Star weekend.

Mr. Bukata, who died last Wednesday at 69, was linked in another way to Dr. J.

After the Nets captured the final ABA championship on May 12, 1976, Erving gave his Champagne-soaked No. 32 uniform to Mr. Bukata.

"Dr. J. told Jim he could have it, so Jim brought it home for the children to enjoy," said Mr. Bukata's wife, Virginia, said.

For 11 years the uniform hung in a closet in the Bukatas' New Milford home. At least once it was worn as a Halloween costume. Mr. Bukata presented it to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987, the year Erving retired from the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.

After the ABA-NBA merger, Mr. Bukata worked in public relations for the NBA's New York Nets and the National Hockey League's New York Islanders. He spent the bulk of his career as an executive with the television production arm of IMG Worldwide, the global sports and media business. One of his innovations there was having camera-equipped helicopters follow the boats in the America's Cup yacht race.

The Pittsburgh-area native lived in New Milford for 30 years. He died of pancreatic cancer at home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

HeHis is survived by his wife of 43 years; his children, Dr. Susan Bukata Maslow of Rochester, N.Y., Michael Bukata of Scottsdale, Beth Bukata of Leesburg, Va., and Linda Bukata Aiello and Kevin Bukata, both of San Francisco; a sister and five grandchildren.

The funeral is today tues in Carefree, Ariz., under the direction of Messinger Pinnacle Peak Mortuary, Scottsdale.

E-mail: [email protected]
Published in The Record/Herald News on Dec. 13, 2011
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