You may not have paid too much attention to him at the time, but during a fourth-quarter timeout at last Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, a man emerged from the crowd and executed a no-look, behind-the-back slam while jumping over a not-short man positioned under the hoop. And he did it in jeans.
The dunker's name was Jordan Kilganon, and his stunt not only won over the All-Stars in attendance – no small feat, considering the gravity defying dunks displayed by Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine the night before – it quickly went viral, tuning him into a slam sensation.
"Some of the players' kids were freaking out, and they came up to me," says the 23-year-old from Sudbury, Ontario. "Dwyane Wade came up and said, 'In jeans, bro? Respect.'"
Kilganon, of course, is no mere fan. Boasting a 50-inch vertical – half-a-foot higher than the best leapers in the NBA – he's a professional dunker, which answers the age-old question: "You can make money for dunking?" Fresh off wowing the best players in the NBA, Kilganon spoke with Rolling Stone about his strange career choice, how he pays the bills and how he turned his lifelong passion into a life. When we reached him, he had just finished a four-hour dunk session that included 100 attempts, one of two such sessions he does every week, along with leg and core workouts. He did not sound tired.
How did you end up at the All-Star Game?
Some people sent me a message from the NBA, and some hit up my manager directly. They asked, "Can you dunk in jeans?" I said, "I can dunk in anything."
So how does one get into professional dunking?
I've been obsessed with dunking my entire life. I used to dunk three-to-four hours a day. The next day my legs would collapse. I had a really bad obsession with it over the years, and then eventually I got good enough to show up places, do the contests, all that.
You say all your life. When was your first dunk?
I was 16, six-feet tall. We were on vacation in Niagara Falls, outdoors, chain nets. It was a weak dunk. It was really disappointing. But it was a dunk.
One-handed, I'm guessing.
No, that was the weird thing.
Your first dunk was two-handed?
Yeah, I'd been trying to dunk that way the whole week and I finally got it. It was more like I guided it into the net, like the fingertips got it. My full wrists weren't even over the rim at all. It was weird. I dunked it, and I was like, "What the fuck?"
You're one of the first people I've ever talked to who did a two-hander the first time.
I know a couple people who did windmills the first time. There are people who are freaks of nature.
How long have you actively been training for this?
Eight years. I went to Humber College in Toronto. Even guys on the basketball team were like, "Hey, come and try out." And I was like, "Nope. All my focus is on dunking." When I was in high school I won MVP for the sports I played – I was a point guard, I did track, volleyball and baseball – and I was like, "Why not take this desire to be the best and focus all my energy on what I like the most, which is dunking?" That's what I did.
How do you make a living at this?
I'm part of team called Dunk Elite, and they hook me up. A lot of it is around dates when I just win dunk contests, like one recently, where I won ten grand. During the summer I was travelling to a different country every weekend and competing for money. And I also have a jump-training program for people who want to jump higher, and I sell that for 77 bucks. I don't like traveling so much, I like to just stay home and invent dunks, so this is a nice way to make money, and everybody's always asking me, "How do I jump higher?" – this is the exact training I do.
How did you become involved in these dunk contests? And where do they hold them? Is there some sort of dunking Fight Club?
No, in Europe the dunk scene is huge, and it's getting bigger every year. Dunking's becoming its own sport and I guarantee you it'll be in the Olympics someday. And my agent has a lot of hookups as well. I'm part of the scene with six of the best dunkers in the world. We're each in a different country doing dunk contests every weekend. This summer I was in 20 countries.
I'd never heard of this. Are these events all affiliated?
Some are FIBA 3-on-3 events which are huge in Europe. They love their basketball, and then there's a bunch of them that are just on their own, like Ghetto Games. Dunking's the most exciting part of basketball, right? And our dunk contests get the most publicity of any event. They use us as means to bring more people to the event. Sometimes locals join the dunk contest, but we never lose.
What's your signature dunk?
The Scorpion dunk, the one I did All-Star weekend. I like to set someone up right underneath the rim, and as I jump over them, I'm looking at the ground, so I'm never looking at the rim ever. It's a no-look dunk and I bring the ball behind me –not over the shoulder. I duck down so I'm dunking it behind my back.
I have dunk called the Krown– with a K, for Kilganon – where normally I go over someone but I don't need to. I jump up and I do a double elbow, but in reverse. So I'm hanging back with both my arms on the rim.
How do you invent new dunks?
Creating's always been a part of me. I went to school for industrial design which is synonymous with being an inventor. I've always loved inventing stuff. I don't care to do dunks that other people have done. I like to be the first; to do something nobody's ever done before. So I've invented 80, maybe 90 dunks now. Nobody's even close to that number. A lot of times I go to a lower, maybe 8-foot rim, so I can really get crazy with ideas, but then I have to see if I can do it on ten feet. A lot of people will get a dunk idea and just say that's too crazy. I don't think that.
Does constant dunking wear down your body?
I've sprained ankles, pulled a little ligament in my foot. But luckily the times that happened, I took time to just lift weights. And no major injuries. My knees are actually really good because of the way I land. A lot of people when they jump, their heel hits first, which is straight impact on the knee. When I jump, it looks like my heel touches the ground but there's no pressure on it whatsoever. It's all on the balls of my feet, so that's an extra shock absorber.
So what's next?
I'm going to Sarnia, near Michigan, for my old basketball coach, who's there now. He set up a little charity event. Then two months off, just training, lift heavy and get my legs as strong as I can, so I can hit these dunks that have not been done before. Then Europe.