With all due respect to the reigning N.B.A. dunk champion, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine, the best dunk of 2015 was performed not at Barclays Center during February’s All-Star festivities, but in a near-empty gym in Sudbury, Ontario, by a 23-year-old professional dunker from Canada.

The 68-second video of the dunk has been viewed over five million times on YouTube since it was uploaded in May. It starts with Jordan Kilganon, who was named after that other highflying Jordan, Michael, cupping a basketball between his right hand and forearm.

Kilganon bounds toward the hoop and rises with his 48-inch vertical leap. As he spins his 6-foot-1 frame counterclockwise, he uses his right hand to flip the ball behind his back in the opposite direction of his spin, which sends the ball floating above the rim. As he completes his rotation and faces the basket, he reaches for the ball — again with his right hand — and slams it home. A few friends watching him in the gym go wild. Kilganon screams in celebration.

“I have this crazy obsession for dunking, just the way dunking feels,” Kilganon said. “But I also have a love for creativity and inventing new things. I get extremely bored.”

Kilganon named the dunk, which he invented, the Lost and Found. Shaquille O’Neal posted the video on his Facebook page and called for Kilganon to be included in the next N.B.A. slam dunk contest. Jalen Rose praised it on his Grantland podcast. It was shown on ESPN and websites across the world. It went, as they say, viral.

Most basketball fans might be surprised to learn that competitive dunking is a full-time job for a dozen or so globe-trotting athletes with more than 40-inch verticals and a flair for the dramatic. Dunkers compete for prizes that can range from $1,000 to $15,000, but that math, and perhaps the visibility and popularity of the sport, is about to change drastically, thanks to the TNT cable network. TNT, which also airs the N.B.A. slam dunk contest, will premiere “Dunk King” during this year’s Western Conference finals. The four-episode series will follow 32 dunkers, including Kilganon, vying for a $100,000 prize.

In the professional dunking world, 720s (two complete rotations), going between the legs and behind the back in the same dunk, or putting the ball under the legs while spinning 360 degrees over four earthbound humans has become customary.

Even among this group, Kilganon’s inventiveness sets him apart.

“He’s relatively new to professional dunking, but in that short time he’s already done so many dunks that nobody else has done,” said Billy Doran, 28, the founder of Dunkademics, a website that began in 2011 and posts dunk clips. “He works harder than anybody. He’s the epitome of dunking.”

Many of his competitors, almost all of whom consider themselves the best in the world, appreciate that Kilganon is unique.

“Jordan will probably end up the best dunker ever in terms of creativity,” said Porter Maberry, a 5-5 professional who can be seen dunking in a 2012 Samsung commercial featuring LeBron James.

Maberry, 25, is one of the six members of Dunk Elite, a team of professionals that Kilganon joined in September 2014. The London-based founder and chief executive, Simon Piechowski, formed the team in 2013 and estimates that the group’s members perform at nearly 100 shows and contests annually.

Professional dunking is not new. Kadour Ziani, famous for his ability to kick a ball off the rim and widely considered the father of professional dunking, led one of the first professional dunk teams, France’s SlamNation, starting in the late 1990s. Team Flight Brothers, a group based in the United States, formed in 2003.

But it was YouTube that freed dunking from the shackles of actual basketball games. It also exposed an adolescent Kilganon, who first dunked at 16 (“a weak two-hander”), to a wide world of dunking he might have otherwise missed growing up in Ontario.

“I realized it was a thing you could do professionally,” he said.

Kilganon started filming himself dunking on low rims throughout his native Sudbury. His videos caught the eye of Nils Wagner, 30, a co-founder of HoopMixTape.com, who was recently hired by NBA Entertainment as a video editor. Wagner paid to fly Kilganon to Los Angeles in 2013, and the two spent the summer recording dunk sessions on regulation hoops.

Kilganon now has 200,000 followers on Instagram. Profiting, however, is tricky.

Guy Dupuy, 30, whom the Team Flight Brothers founder Charles Milan called the “Floyd Mayweather of dunking,” says he has made $75,000 to $150,000 a year from dunking, but that number is an outlier. Kilganon, one of the sport’s biggest stars, estimates he made $30,000 dunking during the summer. (He also recently began marketing a $59.99 vertical training program that he said had sold 1,000 copies in four days of limited prerelease.)

Although top dunkers receive appearance fees, winning dunk contests is the only way to make a living in the sport. Kilganon won his first major dunk contest over the summer at a street ball tournament in Latvia and took home a check for 7,000 euros, or $7,694.

“It was the best day of my life,” he said.

Competitors have acknowledged that Kilganon’s inventiveness can hurt him in contests. He often performs dunks that impress other dunkers but are nearly incomprehensible to judges, some of whom are local celebrities unconnected to dunking.

“Jordan is coming up with new dunks quicker than any of us can keep up,” Piechowski said. “How can you possibly blame a judge for misjudging it?”

Advertisements