The Art of the Dunk

On the day of the slam dunk contest, we talk to Zach LaVine, winner of last year's event, about what it takes to be the champ.

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Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves dunks the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors. Photograph courtesy of Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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When reigning Slam Dunk Contest champion Zach LaVine first discovered he could dunk, he surprised a lot of people—including himself. "I wasn't expecting to be able to jump the way I can," he says. "I dunked for the first time when I was in 8th grade—left-handed!" explains the right-hander, laughing. "I was really small, probably 5'9". When I finally grew past 5'10"—I was 6'5" as a senior—I started really dunking on people, and doing different tricks."

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All that practice paid off, with LaVine winning last year's dunk contest as a rookie at just the age of 19—becoming the second-youngest person ever to win the competition, behind only Kobe Bryant (who won at the age of 18). With the 2016 contest mere hours away, LaVine takes us through one of last year's winning dunks, a move that has come to be known simply as the "Space Jam."

Step 1: Prepare

Last year, I was focused: I went out there to win it, and I'm going to do the same thing this year. You already know what you're going to do, you have everything planned, you're not going out there winging it—at least I wasn't. I just try to get loose; I warmed up and worked out a little bit before. You try to relax, put yourself in the right state of mind to put on a show. It's like what I do in a basketball game: when you step in between the lines, you've got to have supreme confidence in yourself and think that there's nobody better than you out there.

Step 2: Add a little flair

I've been doing the "Space Jam" dunk since high school—I tried to add a little twist to it, so I lobbed the ball up. Going from the right-hand side of the rim to the left-hand side, I put it between my legs and twisted a bit in the air to do a 180, and dunked it on the other side of the rim. I was just trying to give the illusion of floating and flying a little bit differently, instead of just going up, jumping, and dunking—so I could hang in the air a little bit longer. This way, you see a little more of the body movement; you see some more flair—your legs are moving. I think the rule is that no one can stay in the air longer than a second, but this gives the illusion that you're in the air for at least two.

Step 3: Be Zach LaVine

So, you know: go up there, put it between the legs, twist a little bit in the air, add a little flair to it, and throw it through.

For more on Zach LaVine, seezachlavine.comAnd watch the Slam Dunk contest tonight on TNT at 8:30 p.m. ET to see him defend his title!

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