After watching an amazing 2012-2013 NCAA women's basketball season, led by such Native players as Jude and Shoni Schimmel, Umatilla, and newly WNBA-drafted Angel Goodrich, Cherokee, Kenny Dobbs, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and world champion basketball slam dunker says “We are finally making some noise out here.”
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and with a vertical leap of 48 inches, which is as good or better than NBA dunk champions Michael Jordan, Spud Webb and Vince Carter in their primes, Dobbs is still making waves across the country. After a broken foot benched him as an NBA D-League player, Kenny soon heard Sprite was picking him up again for next year's Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown during NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans in February.
On the heels of the Schimmel sisters and Goodrich making headlines during the NCAA women's basketball tournament and inspiring and enthralling Indian country, Dobbs sat down with ICTMN as part of a Conversations With Champions series with Native hoops players and pioneers to discuss the great accomplishments of Native Americans on the hardwood in 2013 and about his own life’s choices that have led to his success.
How long have you been playing basketball?
I have been playing professionally since 2008. But I really started playing basketball when I was probably about 10 years old and I got my first hoop. It was one of those adjustable hoops, my dad put it up to 10 feet and he never wanted me to lower it. But when he would go to work and I would get back from school we would put it down to about 7 or 8 feet and have dunk-offs.
Watching those great dunk competitions and how it used to be, those great rivalries such as Dominique [Wilkins] and Jordan, that's how we used to do it in the neighborhood. I was always the person that tried to push the limits And do different things along with my cousin; there were a lot of broken bones on that court.
When did you know you were good at dunking?
It was after my first dunk in the summer of eighth grade, it was just a regular dunk, but ever since that happened – it was nonstop every day after school. We would play our games, and once one game was done, we would all test it out. Some of my friends were getting higher than me, so it motivated me to keep jumping.
I also loved football. It was my sport. I was a wiry rambunctious type of kid. I played defense, offense and was on the kicking team. My favorite player was Jerry Rice; my dad got me a VHS training video. I saw his work ethic and that is what really changed my outlook.
How do you overcome odds to be successful?
Part of the testimony that I share with kids when I go out and do tours and speaking engagements is figuring out what your dream is and what your goal is in life. Whether you believe in God or not, we have a greater purpose instead of just partying it up. There is something that each one of us has a destiny to fulfill. We have all been given a talent to be used for that purpose.
You have to figure out that talent. Maybe you're not a basketball player or dunker – maybe you write poetry, or sing or make beats, or you are a doctor. Whatever it is, if you have different dreams and talents, the main message is to focus on those things and put energy into it now instead of later on.
I was given a second chance at life. I capitalized on that opportunity. I tell kids, "either change your life right now hearing my story and watching these cool dunks" or later you might remember this message and change your life out of desperation. Make these changes because of inspiration, as opposed to being back against the wall and make the changes out of desperation.
I did all of this at the end of high school. I never got to play sports. Imagine if I would've focused all my energy into something positive back then.
Kids need to focus on their dreams to become these leaders, instead of looking up to hip-hop artists or people that are encouraging them or leading them into a negative way. That is not drawing them to their goals or to their dreams. It is keeping them away from moving forward. That is part of the system that I'm really trying to break and get them to wake up a little bit.
What did you think of Louisville’s performance in the NCAA tournament?
It was like a championship fighter that wasn't even supposed to be there, but they were going round for round with these people. Jude and Shoni were making upsets every single round. It was the final last round and it didn't seem like the Cardinals had much left. To me, the Baylor game was the championship game.
What you think of Native American basketball players such as Angel Goodrich and the Schimmel’s making headlines in 2013?
All of these players are doing such good things. I was just touring in Kansas and met with Angel Goodrich for little while. I got to talk with her and got a feel for her real personality. She was awesome. I also ran into the Schimmel parents; it was great to meet them.
It was also awesome to meet coaches who were asking if there were more Native players out there. That's when I thought, 'this is what this grind has been all about.'
When you travel what message do you try to share?
I have seen that there are a lot of things missing out there. I not only try to inspire the youth, but I try to inspire the community members. They need to volunteer and be there for these kids.
Very seldom do they have leagues for these young Native athletes. That is something that I am always trying to preach to these people. Open up a league, it doesn't matter if there are only five kids that show up, eventually kids will be coming. They have a lot of things going on at home and a lot of things going on with their families, sometimes an empty gym and a hoop is all you need to save a life.
I make a point to make people understand that it is not just a game; it is a vehicle in life to get these young people to think beyond themselves and to think about their future.