It’s premiere week for “Slamma Jamma” and the star of the film, Chris Staples, has just arrived in Los Angeles, the Mecca of everything entertainment.
Staples was here to do a promotional spot for his forthcoming movie the next day during the Knicks-Clippers game. The plan was for him to be “randomly selected” from the crowd and convert a dunk during a game stoppage. The question for Staples became intriguing — which dunk would he perform? Staples has played for the Harlem Globetrotters and the And-1 tour, essentially making his career as a professional dunker. As such, his options were endless. A 540? Windmill? Between the legs? Or maybe something completely out of the ordinary?
Donning a black SnapBack, a white tight shirt with a hood flapping off his neck, black skinny jeans and sneakers, the task of performing a crowd-pleasing and fancy dunk became a little bit riskier. Taking a few dribbles from the top of the key to the rim, Staples took flight and his choice of dunk was made. His elevation off the ground took place just outside the restricted area with his left shoulder facing the rim and the ball palmed in his right as if he were stretching. It was a leaning tomahawk slam, the same dunk portrayed in the poster of his movie.
“I have no idea yet,” Staples said a day before the game. “It’s spontaneous. I have to see how the floor is. I think something nice — obviously a 360 between the legs would be really cool, I think that would be ESPN-worthy, I kind of want something like that. Or I could just bring the ball way back and dunk it really hard, people love hard dunks. It’s going to be spontaneous. I don’t know.”
Staples predicted the Clippers would be winning by the time of his dunk and joked around with the idea of Chris Paul throwing him an alley-oop.
Throwing down dunks with power, athleticism, creativity and in front of a big crowd is nothing new to Staples. He’s been doing it professionally for around five years and calls his job “very rare,” in that his athletic ability is his living and he’s able to travel the world courtesy of his legs and creativity. The brand he’s become has made him a premier artist of the dunk — he’s mastered the form and function of a skill every basketball player wishes they possessed.
“It’s a mentality, it’s a chess game, as far as a dunk contest,” said Staples. “You kind of have to remain calm and let the adrenaline come out when it’s time to dunk. A lot of guys in a contest wear themselves out in the warm-ups because their adrenaline is pumping. Everyone wants to see the dunk. Everyone’s there. You can do whatever you want to do in the warm-up and that’s when you burn out.”
It’s different for Staples. He feels the adrenaline pulsing through his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame. His mentality surges to supreme confidence, in which the rim becomes his victim. A Mamba processor in his head tells him to “kill this dunk” and make it look as simple as waking up and give the impression that he’s done it countless times before.
Doing a 360 dunk has become simple and easy for Staples because he’s done it so much. It’s a fancy dunk to casual fans, but for Staples, it’s just his go-to dunk when needed. If it’s a 360 windmill, 360 between the legs or 360 between both legs, he’s a dunker who specializes in twirling in the air, with the occasional 540.
Besides the 360 experts like Staples, there are other types of high-flyers who exist as well. If it’s the power dunkers like LeBron James, uber-athletic like Aaron Gordon, soft like an aging Dwyane Wade or emotional like Russell Westbrook. A dunk is much more than a hand and rim becoming intimate. It’s a story with emotion behind it.
“You have one-foot jumpers who like to jump from a distance,” said Staples. “You got people who dunk the ball soft but like to jump really and throw the ball in. Then you have power dunkers who try to break the rim. I’ve been against a lot of those guys.”
Staples’ description doesn’t only pertain to the in-game entertainment, but also to the dunk contest exhibitions. Judges and fans typically gravitate towards dunks where the leapers take off from near the free throw line or try ripping the rim off the backboard. Dunks with those elements are always interesting, but when there’s a prop involved people and pundits become intrigued like Billy in the mines during Power Rangers.
“Not a big fan. I know it’s a popular thing,” said Staples on props. “I’m more of a guy who would dunk off the dribble. I don’t even travel, I just kind of run up and do a dunk. But obviously it’s popular and sometimes in competitions, you kind of have to give people what they want to see. I’m not a big advocate of that. I can do props, but only because it’s pleasing to the crowd. It’s an illusion at the end of the day.”
Staples sees prop dunkers as getting away “with a lot” because of the illusion aspect. If it’s dunking over another person or item, the prop raises the stakes on if the dunker will actually be able to complete the attempt. Look at the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest for example. Aaron Gordon used his creativity and had a drone flying in the sky as if it were spying on an enemy. It was a cool prop with it dropping the ball off for Gordon, except he relied so heavily on it that it backfired and he ended up not making it the finals.
To even attempt a between the legs dunk off a pass from an object most people don’t even know how to buy is hard in itself. All of the known dunkers share commonalities: They’re in great shape and athletic anomalies. To do a 360 between the legs dunk, you probably can’t enjoy too many McDonald’s Quarter Pounders. Being a premier dunker takes plenty of training from workouts to diets.
“It’s all about the torso,” said Staples. “When you’re dunking, you’re stretching your arms out. It’s a lot of ab work and stuff like that. I try always to stay lean, try to always have my legs in shape.”
Running is a part of Staples’ regiment, whether it’s inside going up the stairs or elsewhere. Keeping his legs going helps him out as his body ages. Jump roping and serious stretching also helps him stay loose during his workouts to stay in the best shape possible.
Before a dunk contest, Staples relaxes his body in the warmth of a hot tub. After the tub, it’s once again stretching his leg muscles to remain as loose as possible for his next event. To him, it’s the adrenaline, though, that plays a mighty part in his performances from start to finish. It helps him deliver dunks such as the “Christ Dunk,” where he somehow floats in the air for a photoshoot and more.
Despite being on the other side of 30-years-old, he keeps his body in the best shape possible, which led to his role in “Slamma Jamma” and also becoming a participant in TNT’s “The Dunk King,” which will air during the Eastern Conference Finals. Recording for the show took place back in October, and fans will have to wait until late in the playoffs to see how it came together.
“It was good being around some of the best dunkers in the world,” said Staples. “I mean, it’s rare to get us all in the same room because we’re all from different countries, different cities and only a select few of us meet up at the same time for competitions. So, to have 20 of us in the same room is very rare, it’s pretty much the Olympic team. That’s how rare it might get to have all these guys in the same room at the same time on the court. It’s something I don’t take for granted, because it’s a fun thing, it’s a fun job. Only an elite few can have this opportunity.”
He’s received opportunities to showcase his dunking ability on national TV, have a McDonalds commercial run during the Super Bowl, help create a shoe for Kmart and signed on for “Slamma Jamma.” Staples believe things happen for a reason. Just keep dunking and good things will happen. And that’s why his brand continues to expand and his name becomes more known.