For Jordan Kilganon, dunking is more than just a play that happens in basketball. It's a sport in itself -- and a career, and a lifestyle.
The native of Sudbury, Ontario, didn't come up with dreams of playing professionally. There wasn't a basketball player whom he deeply admired. And he wasn't even a huge fan of the NBA. Kilganon just had a passion for jumping as high as possible to creatively slam the ball. At 15 years old, he practiced on eight-foot rims, then worked his way up to nine feet. Now, he's doing it at regulation size -- and at a top-notch level.
You might have seen him at NBA All-Star Weekend in February, when he brought the crowd to its feet after completing his signature dunk entitled "scorpion."
He not only impressed the fans, but several NBA players as well ... and he did it all while wearing jeans.
We caught up with the Canadian sensation -- who last week finished third in TNT's show "Dunk King" -- to discuss his love for dunking, as well as traveling from city to city and country to country to compete in professional dunk contests.
What is your motivation behind dunking?
I was named after Michael Jordan, who we all know is a crazy dunker. I was always fascinated by people being able to jump high -- it looks like they're floating. I love doing new things people haven't done before -- my entire life. Building Legos, that kind of stuff. It all fit together perfectly with me, the sport of dunking itself. Growing up, I saw two guys called P-Dub and Mr. 720, who was the first guy to do a 720, and I saw that professional dunking was a real thing. It was a thing of its own. You didn't need to play basketball just to dunk. So at 15, I started dunking on low rims until I made it up to this point.
Did you play basketball growing up?
I played high school, that was about it. But I'm from [a city in] Ontario, Canada, where only 160,000 people live here. It's not very big. So at my school, I was the best at basketball. But that didn't really mean much.
So you never had dreams of going pro?
If there was any sport that I wanted to go pro in, it would've been volleyball. Volleyball is another thing I love doing. But after high school, I stopped [playing] every sport. I got MVPs for volleyball, basketball, basically every sport I played in high school -- which was like six of them. After that, I was like, "What if I take all my energy and put it into the one thing I love the most?" Which is dunking. So I quit everything else and went all towards that.
You majored in industrial design and had an interest in designing shoes. Is designing shoes something you're still interested in now?
A little bit. But if I do it, it'll take away from where I want to go right now. So maybe after I'm done dunking, I'll probably give it a shot. Right now, I feel like it's a bit of a waste of my time. I could be doing other things improving my dunking, and learning more about jumping higher.
You basically dedicate your entire life to dunking, huh?
Every single thing is dedicated towards it. It's an obsession.
How are you able to come up with these unique dunks?
I put a lot of effort into it, because it excites me. There's about 100 dunks that I've been the first to do, which is a lot more than anybody else. But I still go dunking on like eight-foot nets, low rims, because it'll get really extreme when I'm trying to create stuff. Now I've gotten to the point where I'll try to look at other sports and see if it'll give me any ideas. You try to do random patterns with your body while holding the ball, and accidentally come up with a new dunk. So a lot of times you'll see me on the court and it looks like I'm doing a little dance or something, and people will make fun of me for it. But they'll know that "Jordan's making a new dunk right now."
When participating in dunk contests, how important is it that you make it on your first attempt?
You have to be careful with your dunks. You've got to pick things that you're crazy comfortable with -- some that you've done hundreds or thousands of times. Lucky for me, I've done that scorpion dunk so many times. So when I did it at All-Star Weekend, the odds of me making it was like 95 percent. So I was very confident. If you start missing, then it's pretty much over. You have to practice like crazy. Obviously I miss them over 100 times before I make them.
Would you consider yourself the best dunker in the world? Is there anyone who could out-dunk you?
Personally, I don't think so. I'm pretty confident that I'm at the top right now.
So not one person comes to mind that may have been better than you?
Don't get me wrong. Sometimes I'll lose a dunk contest, but almost every time it's been because of judges who don't understand what they're seeing.
Don't you think the bar has been raised too high nowadays for dunkers?
Yeah, and that's a great thing. I'm trying to really push dunking to its limit, so dunking can really become a sport of its own -- besides basketball. As long as dunking keeps getting more and more popular, which I think it has in the past couple of years, you'll keep seeing more and more good dunks.
Is there anything about the NBA dunk contest that frustrates you?
No. To be honest, I get really excited for the NBA dunk contest. But that's because dunks excite me more than anything else. A friend of mine could just do a one-hand dunk and I'll go crazy. It doesn't have to be at a crazy level; I just love watching dunks. This year, you should've seen me, I was watching at a restaurant losing my mind. It was a really, really crazy contest this year.
If you were in the NBA dunk contest, is it a sure thing that you would win?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, their job is to play basketball. My job is to dunk. So I hope I would win.
How much are you a fan of Zach LaVine?
Huge fan. I was really impressed with what he was able to do. He's quite the freak.
Do you think you would've given him a more competitive dunk-off than Aaron Gordon?
Oh yeah, of course.
Would you say you're a big fan of the Raptors and Canadian players, like Cory Joseph and Andrew Wiggins?
I root for them. But I'm all dunking. If I spend time doing anything else, like watching basketball, it's like a waste of time. I don't follow it, like at all. I see it sometimes because my brother may be watching on TV, but almost never. I'd rather watch some kid dunk on a nerf-ball net to see if they're doing something different, than to watch a basketball game.
Have you been making consistent income from dunking?
I'm starting to. This whole professional dunking thing just started about a year ago. I'm making pretty good money. It's not anything crazy, but it's getting better and better every time. I am turning down a lot of contests that could make me more money, but that's because I don't want to be traveling. I get jet lag, and I'd rather be at home training for these new dunks. If I can get enough money to cruise by, and I can stay at home and train every single day, I'm very happy. I don't really care about the money at all. As long as I have enough to eat and sleep, then I'm happy.