Kenny Dobbs believes he can save the NBA’s All-Star Weekend dunk contest, even if he isn’t in it.
Over the last five years, the 6-3 high-riser known as the Dunk Inventor has proven to be arguably the best dunker in the world thanks to his 48-inch vertical, slam dunk championships from just about every competition besides the NBA’s and the D-League’s and YouTube videos which have amassed millions of views.
Dobbs says, currently, his favorite show-stopper in his ever-expanding bag of tricks is a lob to himself where he grabs it with his left hand, passes it to his right behind his back all the while doing a 360 in midair before completing the flush.
Throughout his travels all over the world, he’s come in contact with several NBA players—past and present—including 2012 NBA dunk contest champ Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz. Dobbs gave some pointers to Evans which helped inspire his two-ball dunk, and he adamantly refutes the notion that the dunk contest has lost its luster because there are no new dunks.
“I’ve kind of scientifically broken down every single dunk,” Dobbs said. “You’re in the air for less than a second, so every little movement in the air counts. That’s how I’ve been able to win these competitions. Some guys think they can just throw it up, go get it and do a trick—Nah, the ball has to bounce at a precise second while you’re in the air, and your hand has to switch from left to right between your legs at a certain moment. Your leg has to come up to a certain point, and your abs contract which can cut a tenth of a second off.
“These NBA players have listened to trainers their whole life that critique their game. But they’ve never had anyone train them about dunking. I really do feel like I could save the dunk contest just by working with whoever it they choose to be in the contest. There would never be a lame contest again.”
For Dobbs to have reached the heights, literally and figuratively, in the field of world-class slam dunk artists who he has, he had to experience the depths of the real world and life first hand.
Always among the best athletes among his peers in elementary school growing up in Phoenix, Dobbs began to differentiate himself from most preteens in another, and self-destructive, way. He may have first dunked a ball the summer entering his freshman year of high school standing a mere 5-9, but that time was also the start of a path that seemingly led anywhere but to where he is today.
“My dad sold drugs, so I saw that kind of lifestyle,” said Dobbs, who played Pop Warner football starting at the age of 5. “My house was like that party house. Every Friday and Saturday night something was going on. I grew up seeing all that, and by the time I was 11 I began drinking and smoking. By 13, I started selling drugs and by 15 I dropped out of school and moved from marijuana to cocaine and meth-amphetamines and things really took a turn for the worst. Those next two years were some of my darkest times.”
After he dropped out of high school, he bounced around in Phoenix, rarely seeing his family. By the time he was 17, Dobbs was arrested for robbery along with three of his friends and sat alone in a jail cell facing six to nine years in the clink if tried as an adult.
The witness at the scene of the crime, and the arresting officer, did not show up in court and as a result Dobbs avoided jail time. He was left with a fine near $8,000 that his parents paid, and he worked to pay back. But more importantly to Dobbs, the entire situation allowed for a revelation while he was locked up for the first couple days.
“The thought of going to prison for that long really snapped my mind into thinking beyond just where I was at,” Dobbs said. “When you’re young and in high school you’re just thinking about the parties and the fun that you’re having. You’re not really thinking about a future.
“For the first time sitting in the jail cell by myself is when I actually began to think about what I wanted to do with my life from that point on. I was making my prayers to be like, Get me out of this situation and I’ll change my life.”
He ditched the street life to go back to high school as a 17-year-old with only three credits. People advising him told him the smartest move would be to obtain his GED and move on, but Dobbs made a promise to himself in the jail cell that he wasn’t about to break the first chance he got.
“At that point, I was already thinking if I’m going to change my life and really be this different person then I don’t want to take the easy route out with the GED,” Dobbs said. “So I set a goal to get my high school diploma and not take that easy route. I went to school for an extra two years.
“I was going to school from about 7:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night. When I got out, I’d take an online course which would help me make up .25 of a credit every five weeks. That happened for two years, and I made up the 22 credits in that time frame.”
With a high school diploma in hand by age 19, he had also spent a couple years working for the Arizona State Department’s Behavioral Health Services as the chair of the youth advisory council setting up 32 focus groups across the state focusing on substance abuse and gang prevention.
But Dobbs said it was earning his high school diploma that sparked his insatiable hunger for remaining on a positive path.
“That was the very first goal that I had set in my life, and stuck to it,” Dobbs said. “That was a big piece of my life when things really turned around for me. I stuck to that vision, turned around gave my parents the diploma and seeing their tears of joy instead of the pain I had caused them so many times is really what motivated me to continue to bring that feeling of success.”
His experiences working side-by-side with and speaking to those who came from similar backgrounds also led him to reach for something more than a high school diploma.
“I realized that I’m talking to them about staying in school and following their dream, but where have my dreams gone?” Dobbs said. “So that’s what made me want to go play college basketball.”
Despite having never played on an organized basketball team, Dobbs approached several colleges only to be turned away quickly without having a body of work to present.
Dobbs then approached the coaches at Glendale Community College, who allowed him to participate in an open gym over the summer. Clearly intrigued by his athleticism, Glendale offered Dobbs a scholarship right after the run and he quickly accepted it.
It marked the first team Dobbs played on, and the first formal training and coaching he would get up through that point in his life. But his college hoops career was extremely short lived because his career as a jaw-dropping dunker was just getting started.