A Master of His Crafts
Kenny Dobbs wants to save the Dunk Contest.
Dobbs wowed onlookers at a local three-on-three hoop it up competition’s dunk contest, including Shaquille O’Neal’s cousin. He was invited to participate in the Shaquille O’Neal Dunkman Contest in Los Angeles shortly after, and shut the contest down by capping his first official dunk title by crushing a 360 off a lob thrown by someone in the crowd 10 feet behind the backboard.
Video of the contest naturally found its way to YouTube and, as all Dobbs’ videos do, it acquired a ridiculously high amount of views—including his new teammates at Glendale CC. As his teammates buzzed upon his return, his coach asked about any prizes he received.
“I told them they gave me a big check for prize money and a trophy,” Dobbs recalled. “I didn’t know that you can’t receive any funds when you’re on a scholarship, so I had to lose my scholarship and pay to play.”
While Dobbs began to weigh his options in terms of continuing his basketball career at Glendale, he was the beneficiary of timing perhaps even more impeccable than his during dunk routines.
Sprite gave him a call a few days after he learned he’d lose his scholarship in hopes he’d join their dunk tour campaign. Dobbs accepted and began traveling the globe, participating in and winning contests, and helping organize others. When he was back in Phoenix, he established Uprise Youth Foundation in hopes of providing substance abuse awareness and gang prevention to children through speaking engagements and other events.
At a Sprite event, he busted his head on the rim and required eight stitches. Even though Darryl Dawkins still calls Dobbs “Stitches” to this day that competition is one of two he’s been in and hasn’t won. He had to forfeit that competition to receive medical attention (he fractured his right wrist during the other contest he didn’t win), but Dobbs was enjoying the ride he was on dunking the ball and speaking to kids with dreams just like his.
“It was awesome,” said Dobbs, who cites Vince Carter as his favorite dunker of all time followed closely by Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. “I was sponsored by Sprite, I was one of the first athletes to be endorsed by Nike for basketball outside the NBA and that was a big privilege for me. I look back and I’m like, What if I had never left what I was comfortable with at that time? I knew in my heart that God had a better purpose for me, and I wanted to inspire young people to set goals and pursue their dreams. That started with me. It’s been a dream come true for me.”
Dobbs toured with Sprite for four years, and after winning the 2012 Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown at All-Star weekend in Orlando he caught the eye of Donnie Nelson, General Manager of the Texas Legends.
The Legends drafted Dobbs in the D-League draft even though he was the only player picked without high school or college playing experience. Determined to break into the D-League, and eventually the D-League dunk contest, Dobbs put everything else in his life on hold to dedicate himself to basketball.
Much like his collegiate career, his first stint in the D-League was cut short albeit for a different reason. He fractured his foot after a big man landed directly on it going up for a rebound, and his big toe nail was ripped off during the play as well. He had to stay off his foot for three months which effectively ended his time with the Legends.
He came back to Phoenix to resume his work with Uprise while he rehabbed, but retained a lesson from the D-League.
“It was something totally different because I had never really been in a weight room or conditioned,” Dobbs said. “The things that separated me from those guys was their strength and just their knowledge for the game. They knew the right things to do and I had never been trained or coached. You’re expected to already know those things, so I wasn’t getting any coaching.”
Dobbs is fully healthy once again, and now trains with the Explosive Athletes Institute in Phoenix under former NBA guard Chris Childs and other former pros. He’s on a daily work out routine with a strength and conditioning course, and also goes through skills training every day to prep himself for another run at the D-League and it’s title of dunk champion.
He’s even passed over offers to play in Italy and the Dominican Republic under the same mentality that fueled him as a 19-year-old.
“There hasn’t been a goal that I’ve set and not followed through with since I got my diploma,” Dobbs said. “Becoming the best dunker was something I wanted to do in 2008, and by 2011 I was getting worldwide recognition for being the best out there. Now my goal is to play in the D-League, stay healthy and win that dunk competition. There’s money on the table from other places, but I want to finish what I started.”
One thing that Dobbs has never abandoned since its inception is his work with Uprise.
His manager sifts through hundreds of requests and invitations, and Dobbs continues to periodically travel all over to tell his story. He also treats the audience to a dunk show, and often includes several in it by jumping over them on the way to an improbable dunk.
Two years after he founded Uprise, he started a tour to Native American communities through his foundation after he read some frightening statistics—specifically regarding suicide. Part of the Choctaw tribe himself, Dobbs also wanted to make sure the youth in those communities got to hear the story of his turnaround and consequent rise.
To help inspire his listeners and fans to chase their dreams, he is open about sharing how his were bred. As important as it is to him to revive the dunk contest, it pales in comparison to his mission of rejuvenating the outlook of disenfranchised youth.
“There was a time in my life where I was so low and so hopeless after drugs and alcohol, and missing out on opportunities that I actually thought about suicide,” Dobbs said. “I swallowed a bunch of pills and was found in my car thankfully, and taken to the hospital. They told me another eight hours and I probably would have been dead. It was some low times back then.
“Having to understand the hopeless feeling that you have that you screwed up your life, and that there’s no way that anything will turn around in a positive note, was something I really focused on when I found out that the statistics were so high for Native American youth to commit suicide. So I made it a point to share that personal story.
“One girl in particular said she planned on committing suicide, and was out of school for a week. But she heard I was coming out for an event, and came to the assembly and heard my story. She was crying and her counselors said my speech that morning really changed her direction. Now she’s hoping to follow her goals and become a writer. So that’s really cool to me.”
Whether Dobbs himself ever breaks back into the D-League and beyond as a player, or consults the next NBA player to put on a legendary performance in the dunk contest remains to be seen. But as he continues to work towards his goals, he continues to speak to thousands of kids across the country from all different backgrounds about working hard toward achieving their dreams regardless of most circumstance.
Maybe one of the kids in his many crowds has better springs than him and doesn’t know it yet.