YouTube sensation Derrick Jones Jr. plans to go hard in the Big Easy dunk contest
Just up from the D-League, the Suns player still likes ‘Rugrats’ — as well as Future, Meek, and Kodak Black
Phoenix Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. is the fourth and most mysterious competitor in Saturday’s Verizon Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans. The field features fellow All-Star neophyte Glenn Robinson III of the Pacers as well as the two favorites, DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers) and Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic), who last year with Zach LaVine put on one of the greatest aerial exhibitions the league has ever seen. An underground dunk king whose YouTube collages leave nothing to the imagination, Jones, at 6-feet-7, isn’t nervous about being thrust into the national spotlight in one of professional basketball’s signature events. If it were up to him, the entire basketball universe would know his name by the end of Saturday night. On the eve of the NBA’s chaos in New Orleans, the former UNLV Running Rebel chops it up about Rugrats, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Oreos, as well as his dream dunk contest and trampolining.
Last show you binge watched?
Hmmmm, what is it? Arrow.
All-time favorite athlete?
Favorite throwback TV show?
Favorite late-night food run? Whether it’s in Phoenix or wherever you’ve played.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I mean, probably Oreos. I love Oreos.
What’s one place you’ve never been but want to visit?
It’s this place back home [in Philadelphia] called Sky Zone trampoline park.
How did you get invited to the dunk contest?
[The NBA] actually called the GM [of the Phoenix Suns; Ryan McDonough] and the GM called me. They said they were thinking about putting me in the contest. I didn’t have a dunk yet. I told them if they wanted me in it, then I was gonna do it 100 percent.
One player in the league you’d love to dunk on?
I ain’t got no agenda, but if anybody wanna test me, I don’t care who it is. I go for the biggest, for real for real.
If you could be in the dunk contest with five people — active or retired — who would they be?
What was it like the first time you dunked on somebody in a game?
It was in my freshman year of high school. It was crazy. I loved it. We had an open gym, and it was on my teammate. It was like one of the craziest dunks I’ve had so far. My teammate threw me the ball and I took off. My other teammate, he was like 10 times stronger than me. He jumped and bumped me and I went higher. I was facing the rim, but when he bumped me, I spun and reverse dunked on him. I don’t know how it happened, but it was crazy.
Was that the most satisfying dunk of your career?
Oh, nahh. That was just one of many. One I had this year in the D-League … that was one of my craziest dunks. I ain’t even think I was gon’ make that. It was the one when we were playing the Reno [Bighorns]. My teammate Elijah Millsap threw the lob and I caught it with my right hand. I mean, it wasn’t really a dunk. It was one of them things that Blake [Griffin] used to do. I just threw it in.
What was your thought process last year watching LaVine and Gordon go at it in Toronto? You were telling yourself you had to get in it?
Oh, yeah. Fa’ sho’. I always wanted to get in the dunk contest. I love watching it. Dunking something that I do. It’s not who I am, but it’s something that I do. And I do it well. As for me getting the opportunity to do it now, I’m very excited, and I’m thankful.
Do you ever worry about being labeled “a dunker” and other parts of your game not getting as much coverage?
Nah, it never sucks being labeled as a dunker. If people wanna label me a dunker and leave me open so I can hit 3s then, please, go ‘head. I can shoot ’em. If you wanna sleep off me and sag back, I’ma just shoot it. If you wanna play uptight, I’m gonna go by you, and that’s when I’m on.
What are three songs you think you’ll be listening to before the contest?
If a person is in Las Vegas, why should they bet on you to win the dunk contest on Saturday night?
Because I haven’t lost a dunk contest yet. (Laughs.) If you want your money, you might as well swing it this way.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.