Sunday, December 20, 2009

Can A Non-Gymnast Become an Acrobatic Slam Dunker

From time to time I get asked if a person has to be a gymnast to become an acrobatic slam dunker. Since I flipped out of the womb and have been flipping ever since, this question initially caused me to step outside of myself and consider the possibilities.

I now know without even thinking about it - NO! Being a gymnast is NOT a prerequisite for being a trampoline dunker. Having gymnastics training certainly helps to shorten the learning curve but I have determined that one just needs to be athletic and have desire.

I am reminded, as I think about some of the performers that have come through the ACRODUNK system, that physical ability is a necessity but heart and desire is what takes a guy from just being able to do dunk shows to being able to WOW!

Eli Akin, Gregory Mueller, and Alain Anderson were not gymnasts but became crowd pleasing extreme dunkers. The common denominators for each of these guys is physical ability and a passion for entertaining. Each of them had different learning curves but all of them were able to include a front flip dunk in their repertoire. One or more of them have mastered the “afro” pass (front flip off the glass), the barani pass, or the clutch dunk (front flip through the leg) which all require an acrobatic mindset.

My training began in the backyard. I flipped off fences and tree stumps and roofs before I ever set foot in a gymnastics gym. It was for the love of the jump that I flipped almost as much as I walked or ran. Keith Brown was a gifted gymnast who trained at Houston’s Gymnast Factory and benefitted from the expertise of Keven Mazeika (2008 USA Men’s Gymnastics Team Heach Coach). Keith was one of the first guys I approached to be a part of our team. It turned out that he had a friend, Sadiki Fuller, who was more of a backyard gymnast that also liked the idea of being a part of an acrobatic slam dunk team. Both of these guys were definitely gymnasts but the first guy to ever perform with me as part of our team was Eli Akin, a basketball player and definitely a non-gymnast.

The first 5 touring performers for our team consisted of me, a backyard gymnast that got classical gymnastics training, Eli Akin - a 6 foot plus basketball player that had to develop his ability to flip, Keith Brown - a classically trained gymnast with mad skills, who could also play basketball, Sadiki Fuller- a 6 foot plus backyard tumbler that could play basketball and got most of his gymnastics training in public school classes, and Byron Thomas - a pure athlete who was also a backyard tumbler that could do anything athletic from basketball to football, track to baseball, soccer to fencing, badminton to chess - whatever. (I’m only exaggerating a tiny bit)

More than athletic ability, these guys all had a deep down desire to entertain, to get air, to wow audiences to “blow them away” we used to say. Other than myself and Keith, the level of elite or classical gymnastics training was pretty shallow.

As more classically trained gymnasts auditioned to be dunkers for our team (and there have not been many), I noticed that these gymnasts had to unlearn a few things to become more effective as acrobatic slam dunk entertainers.

There is a level of rigidity in classical gymnastics. The “toes pointed, legs straight” thing for some is hard to ditch. I had to unlearn some of this myself but for me it was not a conscious unlearning. It was that I transitioned to a smoother, more fluid and cooler swagger than that of the robotic “salute the judge, do your routine, stick your dismount” style of a classically trained gymnast. I had guys like Eli Akin and a whole league of NBA players that I was taking notes from.

So, you do not have to be a gymnast to be an effective acrobatic slam dunk entertainer. A gymnastics background will definitely shorten your learning curve when it comes to the acrobatic part but even without any gymnastics training, you can learn that.

Over the past 5 years, I have learned some acrobatic skills that I had never done before. I will admit that the foundation built through years of flipping helped me but what truly made it happen, came from the heart. All those non gymnasts out there that have excelled as acrobatic slam dunkers know exactly what I’m talking about.

Check out to see some gymnasts and non-gymnasts as acrobatic slam dunkers.

Be Great!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ACRODUNK Revolution

We are engaged in an ACRODUNK revolution. Yep, that's right - a revolution. We are on a mission to revolutionize acrobatic slam dunking. We are taking it from the basketball court to the stage and blowing peoples minds in the process. We are not content with business as usual. We are not OK with resting on our laurels. We will not be satisfied until we turn the prevailing perceptions on their heads. Revolution is not for the faint of heart, nor the weak in spirit. Revolution requires VISION. Revolution requires PASSION. Revolution requires CONVICTION. We are out to stake our claim.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"We decided to go in another direction"

I was working at the Houston Rockets 15 years ago in June 1994 when I was told those words by one of the Vice Presidents and I thought of George Karl.

The team had just won the NBA World Championship and days before I was flipping through the streets of downtown Houston in front of nearly 1/2 million screaming Rockets fans at our Victory parade.

I knew the end was coming, I just wasn't sure how it was going to be presented to me. You see, this VP and I were never on the same page and I knew my days were numbered. I think I got on his bad side on the first day he arrived at the organization.

I remember it vividly but not because it was his first day. It was December 1993 and we were launching the character TURBO. Shawn Welling, the founder of Planet Funk, and I came up with this madly audacious idea to debut TURBO during the halftime of the game that night.

We had a large box built that was to be carried out onto the court by 6 huge bodybuilders. It was to be set down at center court and the top was to be lifted off by straps that hung from the rafters. The inside of the top had fog machines and strobe lights so that when it was lifted up the fog seeped out and the strobes created this cool effect.

There were 4 of us inside the box and the lights bounced off us as the fog whirled around us. I jumped out the box, did the TURBO pose and began this crazy compilation of dunks while the other 3 teamed up with some of the Rockets Dancers and did this choreographed routine that I would join in as a transition between my dunk segments.

After this dazzling array of dunks and dance routines, the four of us climbed back in the box, the top was lowered down and latched and like hulky pall bearers, the muscle-men carried us back into the tunnel.

Everything went great, the crowd loved it and we were celebrating inside the box. Once we were safely lowered to the ground, we went to climb out of the box through this hatch door built into it for that very purpose. As one of the guys cracked the door open he froze and quickly shut it and said, "We can't go out this way". You see, had the box been facing the way it was facing when we climbed in through this hatch, we would have been OK. But when the pall-bearers exited the court they stayed in formation and the back end of the box with our entry/exit hatch was now in full view facing the court. After such a cool performance, we just couldn't bear to ruin it by having the audience see us climb out through this little hatch door.

So, here we were stuck inside this huge, heavy box figuring how best to escape. The only way it could be taken all the way through the vomitory and into the tunnel was if it were empty. The top could only be lifted by connecting cable from above, so we couldn't get out by lifting the top. Because it was so high, the whole box had to be slid through the tunnel doorway and shimmied around the corner. With us in it, it was too heavy to slide and the body builders would get hurt if they lifted it because the pegs they held onto were on the base of the box and they would have had to bend too low to get it through the doorway.

Here is where it gets bad. This tunnel happened to lead to the locker rooms and it was the entrance onto the court for both teams. The good thing is that the players from both teams had already entered the court and began their shoot-around. The Rockets coaching staff had made it out also. The opposing teams coaching staff had not and we were blocking their way.

We could hear George Karl, the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics shouting on the other side of the box making it clear that he was not happy about not being able to join his players on the court. While all of this is going on, I am inside the box thinking about how this VP as he witnessed all of the production we were putting into this halftime show sarcastically said, "Remember, there is a basketball game tonight"

Luckily there was another entrance onto the court that Mr. Karl and his staff were able to take and they got out there before the 3rd quarter started.

That was the first of many incidents where my penchant for the theatrical probably rubbed this VP the wrong way. Suffice it to say, on that crazy day 15 years ago when this VP sat before me and said "We decided to go in another direction." The first thing I thought of was this incident and George Karl. It was as if I could hear Coach Karl uttering those same 7 words as he trotted onto the court explaining to his players what took so long.

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I get asked all the time: What does acrodunk mean? What does an acrodunker do? What is acrodunking?

If you have ever created anything before, you will be able to relate to the feeling I had back in 1993 when I came up with a brand name for the activity that had literally taken over my life. I was a mascot for the Houston Rockets and had just launched a dunking mascot which was an alter-ego to the big fluffy mascot I performed as.

The activity was commonly known as acrobatic slam dunking at the time. There were other NBA mascots doing it as well as the Bud Light Daredevils. I was inspired by some teammates of mine from college to get into the mascot business and finally, I was going to get a chance to put my acrobatic skills on display in a streamlined spandex costume. I couldn't wait.

The new spandex wearing character was what I call a Sports Super Hero and later it's how I described the members of the High "Impact" Squad and even later the members of ACRODUNK. A Sports Super Hero is someone that not only displays amazing athletic skill but also inspires others to greatness.

This definition of Sports Super Hero led to the creation of the brand name ACRODUNK. When I came up with the term, it was so right. There was no better way to describe this idea of entertaining and inspiring through the combination of acrobatics and basketball. While others were engaged in acrobatic slam dunking, members of our team were ACRODUNKERS that engaged in ACRODUNKING. The mindset of an ACRODUNKER is focused on not only entertaining but also inspiring their audiences.

We focused on entertaining by blowing people away with the dunks and passes that we did and we focused on inspiring by doing what we did so well that we took audiences to a place in their own minds where they ask the question "how can I excel like this in my area of expertise?"

So, the brand ACRODUNK is our version of acrobatic slam dunking and those athletes in the ACRODUNK Family are ACRODUNKERS who engage in ACRODUNKING. Not everyone can be an ACRODUNKER both literally and legally.

ACRODUNK is our brand name and ACRODUNKER and ACRODUNKING are extensions of our brand.

Stay tuned for more as future posts will cover topics like "Was the IAF before it's time?" and the state of the acrobatic slam dunking industry.

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