August 02, 2019
08 min read
If you grew up following basketball, then you probably dreamt of doing what Jordan Kilganon does for a living: He slams basketballs through hoops. He’s not a basketball player, though—he’s a professional dunker. He’s a showman driven by a burning desire to do things that nobody else has ever done.
When was the first time you realized you could dunk? I feel like the idea of dunking consumes a lot of teenagers’ free time.
It wasn’t something I realized out of nowhere. I had been training for a long time to be able to dunk. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed with jumping high—I’d dunk on shorter hoops growing up, y’know, 8-foot, 9-foot. I guess my whole life was building up to that and I just kept working my way up until eventually I got to a 10-foot rim.
I got my first dunk on a 10-foot rim at 16 and that kind of kickstarted things and pushed me to keep trying to go higher.
The main thing for me is the creativity. That’s the
biggest driver. It’s super exciting to me when I’m
the first one to do a dunk that nobody’s ever done
before. It’s like when someone’s discovered a
new planet—that’s what discovering a new dunk
is like to me.
The main thing for me is the creativity. That’s the biggest driver. It’s super exciting to me when I’m the first one to do a dunk that nobody’s ever done before. It’s like when someone’s discovered a new planet—that’s what discovering a new dunk is like to me.
In high school, everybody saw dunking as, like, the coolest thing. Was that part of why you wanted to dunk? Or part of what drew you to the idea of dunking at such a young age?
Oh, absolutely. Dunking has the three things I love most in sports. One—there’s jumping high—which just looks cool. It’s like you’re floating or flying and it feels awesome, too. Then, there’s the same feeling with a boxer landing a big punch or a volleyball player putting away a big spike—when you throw down an emphatic dunk, it’s like an exclamation point. And, lastly, there’s a lot of creativity involved.
At 16, you probably weren’t throwing down, when you were dunking, right? Is that idea of bigger dunks and jumping higher—chasing that high—what keeps you going?
For sure. The main thing for me is the creativity. That’s the biggest driver. It’s super exciting to me when I’m the first one to do a dunk that nobody’s ever done before. It’s like when someone’s discovered a new planet—that’s what discovering a new dunk is like to me. Nobody’s ever done this before and I’m the first one to get there. That aspect of dunking really gets me going.
And what dunks have you been the first to do?
[Laughs] There’s probably, like, 130 of them.
[Laughs] Damn. Well, of those, which ones stand out to you? Like, which dunks did you not even think were possible before?
There are two that always come to mind. One I did fairly recently—it’s called Reverse 360 Scorpion—it’s a really different-looking dunk and it was really weird to do because it was with my left hand and you don’t ever see the rim. It was so crazy to do that. The other one was called the Lost and Found, where I do a 360, throw the ball up behind my back with my right hand and I use that same right hand to come back around and dunk it while I finish the rotation. I love that one because it’s so different and it’s definitely one of my more creative dunks.
After watching them, I can confirm that it makes no sense that a human being is able to do that using just their body and a basketball. When you’re working on these new dunks, do you ever bounce stuff off other dunkers?
I’m very, very secretive. If people try and give me ideas for dunks to do and I’ll be like ‘oh, nah, it’s okay’, because I’ve already thought of it but I don’t want to tell anybody I’m working on it.
I’ve had it happen before where I’ve been working on a dunk and I tell someone about it and they do it and don’t give me any credit even though they know I was the one who came up with it and wanted to do it. So I’ve kinda stopped sharing my ideas with others, but it’s hard to help it sometimes. I love dunking and I get so excited talking about it that I’ll let stuff slip.
Yeah, that much is obvious hearing you talk about it—it’s like I can hear the smile in your voice when you’re talking about dunking. Did you ever think you’d be a professional dunker?
I never really thought I would make a living off of it, to be honest. I thought I would get paid for it, because I had faith in myself. So much faith that before I could even dunk, I saw a guy do a 720 dunk and I turned to my girlfriend at the time and said ‘yeah, I’m gonna do that one day’. So, I mean, I probably had it in my mind that I would make a bit of money doing a show here and there, a couple times a year. But I never thought I would be able to make a living like this. Not even close.
If you look confident and you portray this energy
that the dunk was awesome and you’re the man,
then people end up reflecting that energy.
If you look confident and you portray this energy that the dunk was awesome and you’re the man, then people end up reflecting that energy.
Is it kind of surreal sometimes, when you wake up in a new city or you get off a plane somewhere where you’ve traveled for the sole purpose of dunking a basketball?
Yeah, I think ever since my injury last year—which kept me out for a bit and prevented me from doing shows—now that I’m starting to do shows again I’m just super grateful and appreciative. I think about it almost daily now—about how crazy it is that I get to dunk for a living.
What would you say is the best experience you’ve had dunking?
The best moment in my life was with dunking, actually. It was in Latvia, at Ghetto Games in 2015—this is when I was going from being a YouTube dunker to a contest dunker. People were talking like I could only do dunks after a million tries, but that I couldn’t dunk in contests. I felt like I had been doing the best dunks, but I had two problems: It’s celebrity judges, who didn’t really know what they were looking at; and I didn’t know how to entertain the crowd. All the other dunkers had been doing it for a while and knew how to get the crowd going. I kept losing, kept losing, kept losing.
And then, at the biggest competition of the summer, against the best dunkers, for my final dunk I jumped over a car—and a month before I had tried doing the same thing, clipped it, smashed my face and got a concussion—and you can see as I’m clearing the car that I’m, like, screaming. It was just relief. Winning that. Jumping over the car. Beating all the best dunkers in the world.
How you look when you’re dunking is pretty important, then?
It can go both ways, but if you dress like you know you’re the best, people will just kind of accept it. If you go into a contest and you do great dunks, but you’re not confident, it won’t seem like as great a dunk. But if you look confident and you portray this energy that the dunk was awesome and you’re the man, then people end up reflecting that energy. So, yeah, it’s pretty important [laughs].
Do you have something that you’re kind of superstitious about when it comes to what you wear? Like a lucky pair of socks, or something like that?
Not exactly. But I do this one thing where I have a short right sock and a high left one. That’s not really superstitious, it’s just kind of my thing and has been since high school. I remember one guy came up to me and remembered me as the volleyball guy with one sock. I thought that was interesting, so I kept going with it. And, I think it’s cool that if ever a kid wants to be like me, they don’t necessarily have to go out and buy my shoes, they can just wear one longer sock instead. Although, I haven’t seen anybody doing that yet.
You never know when it’s going to catch on!
I want to dunk at at least 50.
I want to dunk at at least 50.
What’s the expiration date on dunking? Professionally?
Ideally I’ll be dunking professionally until I’m 35—there are some guys that still do events and competitions at 35 or 36 and hopefully I’ll be one of them in a decade. Injuries are coming faster than before now, but I’m learning a lot about my body the older I get.
And, not professionally, how long do you think you’ll be able to just get the ball through the rim? Like struggle-dunking, but still dunking.
I want to dunk at at least 50.
Do you know anybody now who can dunk at 50?
Not at my height, at least. I’d actually love to do it at 60, that would be great. After that I’m just asking to destroy my legs.
Once I’m done dunking professionally, I’ll probably take some time to enjoy things I can’t do now—like jogging or hiking, because cardio is the worst thing to do when you’re training to jump. So I’ll lose some hops. But the year or so before I turn 50 or 60, I’m going to just train hard to be able to dunk. Just one dunk though.
Michael Jordan is 56, do you think he can still dunk?
If Jordan wants to, he can still dunk, for sure.
Is there any NBA player that you’d love to have a dunk off with?
Right now, I’d say Zion Williamson would be kind of crazy. I’ve been talking to Aaron Gordon and I think I might be able to dunk with him if I head down to Florida.
So what’s the deal, you do a dunk off and then you play 1 on 1 so you can each win? Is that how it works?
That would probably be very fair [laughs] because I would get absolutely destroyed since I don’t really play basketball anymore.
Have you just given up on your jump shot? is your strategy, when you’re playing, just to drive to the rim and dunk?
I still shoot around every now and then, so I can still get a bucket or two that way. But, like I said, I’ve kind of had to give up playing basketball, because endurance training is one of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to train to jump higher. That and I don’t want to get injured—and people get really reckless once they know you can dunk so I’ll be going for a layup and a guy will just try to clothesline me. But I love basketball, I miss it.
Is it weird being a dunker but not being able to play basketball? Or having to give up things other people do because you need to train in a hyper-specific way?
I do think a lot about some stuff that I’d love to do but that I just can’t because of what I do. I can’t go hiking, for example. I was in Utah and there were these beautiful mountains and I couldn’t go hiking—so there’s some stuff that it restricts me from doing. Even walking around and discovering a city. I get to travel a lot to dunk, but because I have to be able to dunk, I have to watch how much I walk. But, at the same time, I have the rest of my life to do that stuff once I’m done dunking.
Keep up with Jordan here: