words & interview // Nick DePaula
I'm a huge fan of dunking. The dilemma of course is that I'm 6'3" and can't dunk, but nonetheless, dunking is great.
I've always said that the three guys that most impressed me in person were a then-17-years-old Jameel Pugh in the late 90s, a rookie-aged Jason Richardson in the early 2000s and the one time I witnessed the legendary "Air Up There" throw down in 2006. After seeing him up close last week in Washington D.C. at Nike's World Basketball Festival event, I can now easily add "Jus Fly" to that group of elite flyers.
Hailing from Montreal, Canada, the dunker who legally goes by Justin Darlington has been making a name for himself around the globe the last couple of years, introducing to the scene an under-both-legs dunk, a non-Finleyesque and actually cool cartwheel dunk and the underrated delayed windmill.
As part of the touring Nike+ Dunk Showcase contest that's bouncing from city to city with the brand's ongoing World Basketball Festival, "Jus Fly" added yet another trophy to his huge collection of contest titles. I caught up with Justin after he impressed judges LeBron James, Bobbito Garcia and Anthony Davis in D.C. with a set that included his cartwheel between-the-legs dunk, the under-both-legs slam and a reverse after jumping over a human. Wild stuff.
Get a look at Justin's style and creativity ahead, along with what he looks for in his sneakers and what he thinks of Nike's new vert measuring Hyperdunk+.
Nick DePaula: When was the first time that you did a dunk that was not a normal dunk. Where you said to yourself, “You know what, I can actually do something that's a little more special than the average dude.”
Justin Darlington: When I was about 18. I did a 360 between-the-legs.
NDP: Ok. Yeah, that counts.
JD: Yeah, that's when I started to know, “Ok, I'm a little bit above the average.” [laughs]
NDP: What were you doing before then that was still pretty good?
JD: Oh man, everything. Windmills. 360s. Both with two or just one hand. Everything that a normal person could do, and then I started to branch out from there.
NDP: What spawned your creativity to really start doing stuff that people have never seen before in Dunk Contests?
JD: I'd say boredom was one big factor. [laughs] And just being around people that are at a high level of dunking. When you put a lot of people together that are at this level of dunking, a lot of new things come up and we'll try weird stuff. Things that if people saw us even trying, it'd blow your mind. It blows our minds when we look at the video and say, “Man, you were actually pretty close on that!” There's a couple guys that have gotten really close on a double between-the-legs, and that's a freakish dunk for me to even consider.
NDP: I've seen "Air Up There" have freestyle sessions where he's trying a bunch of wild stuff like that. How many times does it take you to really get a great dunk down and perfected to where you want it?
JD: It depends on the dunk and everything is different. On my signature dunk where I go under both legs, I got that very quick, like on the second attempt.
NDP: It just had more to do with creating the concept?
JD: Exactly. After that, the motion felt natural to me. There's some dunks still though that are really hard for me. Bringing the ball behind the back is a dunk that a lot of people can do, but for some reason, it's just really hard for me. I struggle with it and have a hard time.
NDP: That's an interesting dunk too, because unless you've actually tried it – I'm not going to lie, when I tried, it was on an 8-foot hoop – but unless you've tried it, you might not grasp how hard it actually is. JR Smith did it in a dunk contest once and only got a 44 I think. It's not as impressive to the casual person, but that's definitely a real hard dunk.
JD: It's a tough dunk, and everyone tells me, “Oh, that should be easy with what you can do.” But I have a real hard time and I don't know why. I can go under both legs in-game with only three steps, but I can't do a behind-the-back dunk if you gave me twenty tries. [laughs] It's just a weird world. Dunking is a weird world.
NDP: You do a lot of dunks where you're coming from the wing off two feet. Have you tried anything that's free-throw line distance or further out?
JD: No, I can't jump that far actually. I'm more of a straight up dunker and I can get high, but I can't jump far. One-foot dunkers are usually the ones that can glide around the court and go from farther out.
NDP: What are some other dunks that you can't get down because of your two foot preference? It sounds like you also don't like dunking under the rim?
JD: I hate going under the rim. [laughs] It's not just the distance –
NDP: You might hit your head.
JD: I've hit my head!! [laughs] I've hit my head a couple times, and I have a natural fear of going under the rim. I go straight on or nothing.
NDP: How old are you now?
JD: I'm 24.
NDP: And you've been doing these kinds of dunk exhibitions for a few years now.
JD: Yeah, about five years now.
NDP: What's the coolest venue you've gotten to dunk at? I know you've been to Paris, which must've been pretty cool.
JD: Paris, Germany and all over the place. I'd say the biggest crowd would be halftime at an Orlando Magic playoff game though.
NDP: That's real cool. It was probably better for the crowd than seeing some dudes on a trampoline too.
JD: Hopefully! Other than that halftime show, I'd probably say that the Quai54 tournament in Paris was the best.
NDP: Which years have you gone?
JD: I've been the last two years.
NDP: Nice. I actually got to go in 2009, but that was when it was still about twenty minutes from downtown. Of course, the very next year they moved the location and now it's right alongside the Eiffel Tower.
JD: Yeah, it's amazing now. In 2009, I'm pretty sure you saw my friend Golden Child there, and he won that year, and I've won the two years after that.
NDP: As a dunker, obviously your shoes are real important. What shoes have you liked wearing in the past?
JD: Oh man, Hyperdunks are my favorite shoe period. Each year they've been great. I've always liked Hyperdunks from the start and Nike has always been my brand. When I first heard about the original Hyperdunk and how light they were going to be, I fell in love right away. These new ones with the Nike+ system are great Hyperdunks again, so I'm happy as hell.
NDP: What are some things you look for in your shoes? I assume planting is probably the most important thing?
JD: Yeah, grip and lightness. I can dunk with a heavier shoe and I won't mind, but a light shoe feels more mobile.
NDP: What were your thoughts when you first heard rumblings that this new version of the Hyperdunk could actually track your vertical?
JD: You know what, the first thing I said was, “No way. It can't.” [laughs] Then I got to test it and see for myself, and I just said, “Man, these shoes are amazing.” I remember saying, “Shoot, now I want a pair.” Then someone said, “Oh, you're keeping those.” That was amazing to me! [laughs]
NDP: When was your first chance to try them out?
JD: I tried them a week before they came out. It was the 21st of June actually.
NDP: What was your first vert that you recorded in them, and have you been able to try and increase it since?
JD: The highest I've gotten recorded was 49.9 inches. I was right at the 50 inch mark. Once or twice I got to 50”, but I was kind of hanging on the rim a little bit, so I didn't think that should count.
NDP: What's the highest you've recorded from more traditional ways of testing for your vert?
JD: It varies and it depends on the technology. Some people don't do it right, but I've gotten anywhere from 45” to 53”.
NDP: 53” is crazy man. Wow.
NDP: Is there anything in a dunk contest that you've seen that still really impresses you?
JD: Oh yeah. There's a lot of one-foot dunks I can't do. I have a couple friends like “Werm” and other guys and they all can do dunks that I can't come close to because they're all one-foot dunks. But they can't do my two-foot dunks [laughs], so it's just a back and forth battle.
NDP: I can't jump at all, but is that something that's real hard to re-program yourself to try out? You rarely ever see a guy go from being a two-foot or one-foot jumper that's able to switch it up.
JD: It's a style and it's whatever your body is comfortable with. I can dunk off of one foot, but it's not something I'm used to still. I'd have to really sit down and train myself to get used to it. I hope to get better at it one day. One foot dunks are very convenient, especially if you're playing in an actual game.
NDP: What are some dunks that you're still trying to work on? I saw you trying out the between-the-legs 360 and a few other crazy dunks a bit ago.
JD: There's a couple, like my underneath both legs dunk with a 360, but I haven't mastered that yet. I've only done that like three times. There's also a cartwheel and underneath both legs dunks that I'm trying to get down.
NDP: I didn't see you try it today, but do you incorporate throwing the ball off the glass often?
JD: Oh yeah. I can throw it off the glass and then go between the legs and all of those kinds of dunks. I just don't do them often because I personally don't like them. If someone asks me, “Hey J, go off the glass and between the legs,” then I'd go and do it. [laughs]
NDP: What's it like seeing someone like LeBron, who's at the top of the NBA right now, being the judge of this contest and being blown away by your dunks?
JD: The funny thing is this isn't the first time that I blew him away. I dunked in front of him when he was in Toronto and releasing his More Than A Game movie, and they held a dunk contest then. I got him to stand up again then that day too. That was actually the third time that I got the 360 between-the-legs, so he got to see that.