Kenny Dobbs feels fortunate. He’s one of a handful of people on the planet to make a living in basketball solely from the art of dunking. The 32-year-old member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is used to raking in anywhere from $500 to $20,000 from competitions nationwide. Tonight, after TNT’s coverage of the Western Conference Finals at 9 p.m. ET, he’ll showcase his creativity and 48-inch vertical while competing for an unprecedented $100,000 on the premiere of “The Dunk King.”
“It’s going to be a great, great show,” Dobbs told ICTMN. “I showcase the two things I value the most: my faith and my culture. I wanted to put Native culture out there and let them know Natives belong.”
The reality challenge features 32 competitors from around the world who showcase flashy dunks while being judged by Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Brent Barry and Kenny Smith.
Dobbs was on a dunking hiatus for nearly two years after a 2012 stint in the NBA D-League that saw him suffer tears to a meniscus and ACL. After surgery, the man who earned the nickname “The Dunk Inventor” came back to competition nine months ago. “I had been asking God, ‘What direction am I going to go?’ I wanted to do something more. And this opportunity sprung up.”
The 6-foot-3 leaper will be introduced on the show with two bald eagle feathers he was given while touring American Indian communities and a Native warrior-adorned American flag he received from his grandmother at five years old. Dobbs’ goal is to show viewers that Native Americans have athletic talent, but don’t always get exposure. Though he had an inner-city upbringing, the items have helped him understand who he is throughout his life, he says. “In a way I’m honoring my grandmother and [the Native American] way of life.”
The Kenny Dobbs mobile app will launch tomorrow, where the athlete looks to promote what he calls the slam dunk community through a video- uploading interface that incorporates motivation, faith and communication. “I want people to know and understand that they can reach out to me,” he says. “A lot of people think they need to go through a manager.” The app, which cost Dobbs more than $60,000 of his own money, will entice users by offering prizes such as Xbox Ones, expensive headphones and GoPros.
It’s been a year of new directions for Dobbs, who saw a self-funded $15,000 comic book come to life and will appear on the big screen as himself in the upcoming film, “Slamma Jamma.”
“I get to host my own dunk contest [in the film], playing alongside Michael Irvin,” he says.
See Related: “Catching Up With Slam Dunking Legend Kenny Dobbs”
Following that 2012 injury that temporarily took away his leaping ability, Dobbs began the planning phase for “The Time Traveler: Featuring Kenny Dobbs, the best slam dunk artist in the world!” It will debut in tribal schools this school year, he says. “It teaches kids how to take your dreams and put it into action. It allows them to see the differences between positive choices and negative decision-making. It challenges them to set their goals.”
The showman incorporates an element of surprise when he shows up at the schools not long after they’ve completed the book. “It almost turns me into a superhero,” he says with childlike enthusiasm. He’ll have to prove it though, by jumping over students and teachers during a dunk presentation.
Dobbs got his foot in the door for motivational speaking in tribal communities after co-founding the Dare2Dream non-profit organization, which was developed with the goal of providing inspiration, athletic training and networking opportunities for youth and adults. “I shared my story to crowds that would be so dialed in sometimes you could hear a pin drop. [Motivational speaking] is kind of my purpose. It’s like, man, if I could just change one person’s life, it’s worth it. All this.”
Part of that story includes a stint in jail where he fell to his knees and began praying for change. Dobbs was involved in a gang, committing crimes and selling drugs while he bounced from couch to couch, and the occasional West Phoenix, Arizona park bench after being kicked out of his house at age 15. “I moved from marijuana, cocaine to methamphetamine to robbing, stealing things; I spent two years living a lifestyle like that.”
He overcame his troubles to earn a high school diploma and a college scholarship, before dunking became his full-time job that brought him physically and virally around the world. “When you think about basketball 10 years ago, there was no professional dunkers,” he says. “People are making livings by being a professional athlete and dunking a basketball now. I take pride in that because that’s something that didn’t exist before I hit the market.”
Perhaps Dobbs, who will be watching the pre-recorded premiere with his family, will be the first to take home the largest slam dunk competition prize. “I’m just blessed to be part of the movement and blessed to be like a godfather [of the slam dunk community] and continue to spread it.”
Re-runs of the competition will be available on demand at TNTDrama.com, starting Tuesday.
Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum