NEW YORK • With all due respect to the reigning National Basketball Association dunk champion, the Minnesota Timberwolves' Zach LaVine, the best dunk of 2015 was not performed during February's All-Star festivities. It was executed in a near-empty gym in Sudbury, Ontario, by a 23-year-old professional dunker from Canada.
The 67-second video of the dunk has been viewed more than 5.3 million times on YouTube since it was uploaded in May. It starts with Jordan Kilganon, who was named after that other high-flying Jordan, Michael, cupping a basketball between his right hand and forearm.
Kilganon bounds toward the hoop and rises with his 1.07m vertical leap. As he spins his 1.82m frame counter-clockwise, he uses his right hand to flip the ball behind his back in the opposite direction of his spin, which sends the ball floating above the rim.
As he completes his rotation and faces the basket, he reaches for the ball - again with his right hand - and slams it home.
A few friends watching him in the gym go wild. Kilganon screams in celebration.
"I have this crazy obsession for dunking, just the way dunking feels," he said. "But I also have a love for creativity and inventing new things. I get extremely bored."
Kilganon named the dunk, which he invented, the Lost and Found.
Four-time NBA champion Shaquille O'Neal posted the video on his Facebook page and called for Kilganon to be included in this year's NBA slam dunk contest, which will be held in Toronto next month.
NBA analyst and former NBA star Jalen Rose praised it on his Grantland podcast. It was shown on ESPN and websites across the world. It went, as they say, viral.
Most basketball fans might be surprised to learn that competitive dunking is a full-time job for a dozen or so globe-trotting athletes with more than one metre verticals and a flair for the dramatic.
Dunkers compete for prizes that can range from US$1,000 (S$1,410) to US$15,000, but that situation, and perhaps the visibility and popularity of the sport, is about to change drastically, thanks to the TNT cable network.
TNT, which also airs the NBA slam dunk contest, will premiere "Dunk King" during this year's Western Conference finals. The four-episode series will follow 32 dunkers, including Kilganon, vying for a US$100,000 prize.
In the professional dunking world, 720s (two complete rotations), going between the legs and behind the back in the same dunk, or putting the ball under the legs while spinning 360 degrees over four earthbound humans has become customary.
Even among this group, Kilganon's inventiveness sets him apart.
"He's relatively new to professional dunking, but in that short time he's already done so many dunks that nobody else has done," said Billy Doran, 28, the founder of Dunkademics, a website that began in 2011 and posts dunk clips. "He works harder than anybody. He's the epitome of dunking."
Many of his competitors, almost all of whom consider themselves the best in the world, appreciate that Kilganon is unique.
"Jordan will probably end up the best dunker ever in terms of creativity," said Porter Maberry, a 1.65m professional who can be seen dunking in a 2012 Samsung commercial featuring LeBron James.
Professional dunking is not new. But it was YouTube that freed dunking from the shackles of actual basketball games.
Kilganon started filming himself dunking on low rims throughout his native Sudbury. His videos caught the eye of Nils Wagner, 30, a co-founder of HoopMixTape.com, who was recently hired by NBA Entertainment as a video editor.
Wagner paid to fly Kilganon to Los Angeles in 2013, and the two spent the summer recording dunk sessions on regulation hoops.
Kilganon now has 200,000 followers on Instagram. Profiting, however, is tricky. He estimates he made US$30,000 dunking during the summer.
Although top dunkers receive appearance fees, winning dunk contests is the only way to make a living in the sport. Kilganon won his first major dunk contest over the summer at a street ball tournament in Latvia and took home a check for €7,000 (S$10,730).
"It was the best day of my life," he said.
NEW YORK TIMES