Interview with TJ ”Air Up There” Fontenette of AND1
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to make a solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic, though he wasn’t the last. Had developers working on a similar project been a little quicker to complete construction, Lindbergh may never have been heralded as a pioneer of aviation.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, though he wasn’t the last. It was equal parts aptitude and fortune that led to his name being one of the best known on the planet, and a different set of circumstances may have meant that it was another who stepped out of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and into history.
In 2006, TJ Fontenette became the first man to complete a 720-degree dunk, and, at present, is the only person to have done so. As far as it is known, it is a play that, in a world with some six billion inhabitants, only one 6’2’’ Texan can manage.
I will undoubtedly be criticised for placing TJ in the same category as two world-changing figures, but I apologise for nothing. He might never appear in a textbook rocking flying goggles or a spacesuit, but he’s a pioneer of flight nonetheless.
Two revolutions in the air? A preposterous proposition prior to its primary performance, and I never believed it until I saw it with my own eyes. To those who haven’t, it sounds less hoop dreams than pipe dreams, and I still wonder if someone slipped a little crack in my cereal every time I watch it.
Two revolutions in the fucking air? Forgive me if I keep returning to the same idea, but it’s a little difficult to discuss anything else, old news though it may be. Evel Knievel could halt global warming, but he’ll forever be known for motorcycle jumps and broken bones. Pamela Anderson could solve world poverty, and she’d still be remembered as that big-breasted blonde broad from the TV. The Air Up There could be elected president, and kids would still see him as Mr. 720 from the 409.
The kid with sick hops from Hitchock’s shit stopped the world of streetball spinning momentarily – ironic given the jam itself. Will it go down as the best slam ever? Possibly. Will it define Fontenette’s career? Probably. Will it be recognised as the start of the new era of dunk? No doubt.
We touched base with The Air Up There when the 2006 AND1 Mixtape Tour made its annual stop in Miami. Read on for the exclusive interview with streetball’s highest flyer, available only at HoopsVibe.com.
C.Y. Ellis: I’ll start by asking you the question you’re going to get for the rest of your life: What was up with the 720 dunk? Where did it come from?
Air Up There: It was just something I thought of when I was younger. I tried it in my front yard, and then I decided I’d try it on a ten-foot goal, and it came off!
CYE: People are putting it up there as the best dunk ever, above the Vince-on-Freddy-Weis, Dr. J’s “Rock the Baby” and the rest. Where do you think it ranks?
AUT: I don’t know. I can’t really rate my own dunks; I’ll just let people rate it for me. It’s just another dunk that’s up there with the greatest. I wouldn’t say it is the greatest, but it’s up there with the greatest.
CYE: Obviously, it’s going to be a tough act to follow. Where do you go from here? Eight hundred degrees? Nine hundred?
CYE: You know, there are people out there who have studied the tape frame-by-frame who think you might be able to manage a few more degrees if you took off quicker and cocked your wrist a little more!
CYE: I see you’ve got a cast covering most of your hand there.
AUT: I busted it dunking. I got two more weeks, and I’ll be nice. I had to get a couple of pins in there, but it’s all good.
CYE: You seem to have bad luck with injuries.
AUT: Oh yeah. I broke my right foot twice. I broke it last August on tour, then the same thing happened again.
CYE: Has that had any noticeable effect on your athleticism?
AUT: In high school, I tell you, I used to be able to stop on a dime and take off, and it was like nothing. It was so easy. It’s still easy, but…
CYE: What’s the best dunk you’ve ever done that we haven’t seen?
CYE: So you’ve got dunks in your repertoire that we don’t know about?
AUT: I got two or three, but I’m not letting it out. It’s like a dude who do magic; he don’t tell his tricks. Just wait and see.
CYE: The profile of the dunk has risen in recent years. Who are some of your favourite dunkers besides yourself?
CYE: Talking of James White, have you ever thought about trying to go between the legs from the free throw line?
CYE: That’s a good point. Jumping off of two feet puts you in the same bracket as Dominique Wilkins, Jason Richardson and them.
AUT: That’s who I learned from. I learned from the best. Dominique, Drexler…
CYE: Clyde was mainly a one-legger, though.
AUT: Yeah, he was. When I was young, I liked him, Mike, Dominique. Now there’s Jason Richardson, Vince Carter…I like LeBron James, too.
CYE: I know you’ve had to sit out a lot of it due to injury, but how’s the tour gone for you so far?
AUT: It’s been good, man. The crowd’s been loving me. People been wanting to see me. What more can I ask for? The fans helped me, so I’m ready to get back and give ‘em what they want.
CYE: Tell us a little about the journey of TJ Fontenette. A few years ago you were just a young dude in Hitchcock, and now you’re a fan favourite on the AND1 tour.
AUT: Man, I was living at home, being a security guard. Now I’m out here travelling the world, seeing all these new places. I’m on TV, and it’s crazy right now! I’m loving it right now, though. It’s a blessing. It’s like a big dream right now.
CYE: Was there a moment when it hit you that you were famous?
AUT: I’ll never really think I’m famous. I’m still the same old dude. I don’t really consider myself famous, ‘cause I got a lot of attention in high school, too. I wouldn’t say I’m used to it, but…
CYE: Man, you can’t say you’re not famous now. My grandma back in England knows who you are! Do you think that fame might help you on the path to playing professional basketball, or is that something you’re not looking at right now?
AUT: I’m not trying to go to the league, but I’m focusing on going overseas and getting my game straight. Once I get it right, I’ll try for the league someday.
CYE: Have you had any interest yet?
AUT: Not yet, but my agent’s checking on them. I just now received an agent, so he’s just now getting talking. Hopefully, within the next year, I’ll have something coming for me.
CYE: How conscious are you of marketing as an athlete? I mean, you’ve already got your own shoe and other branded apparel. I’m living in Harlem right now, and you can even get an “Air Up There” t-shirt there at 125th.
CYE: I’ve seen a lot of bootleg AND1 stuff with your name on it being sold on the block. Do you ever think about what you’re worth in terms of product endorsements?
AUT: Not really. I mean, until I see the shirts…Maybe when I see them, it’ll come to me!
CYE: You’ve got your own shoe, though! What more can you do?
AUT: Man, that feels good. I would never think I was going to have my own shoe.
CYE: Ideally, where would you see things going from here? I mean, if you could wave a wand and have things set out perfectly, what would it be like?
AUT: Man, I want to have my own clothing line, my own clubs, record label. There’s a bunch of stuff I want to do. Look out for me, man! There’s a lot of stuff coming. You’ll see some things.
CYE: In past years, there’s been some tension on the bus. How are things this summer?
AUT: There’s no tension. We all love each other, man. We all know we gotta do what we gotta do on the court. It’s all love. We just gotta respect each other and let everybody do what they gotta do. I think the hardest thing is when egos get in the way. But the way we’re playing, it’s like a family this year. It’s been real cool this year.
CYE: Looking at the mixtapes through the years, it seems as if there’s been a shift from tricksters to dunkers. Is that trend going to continue, or do you think it’ll go back to tricks in the future?
AUT: There’s going to be a lot more tricks coming, but we trying to let people know that streetball is not all about tricks. It’s about the originality of the whole game.
CYE: What about you personally? We know you can dunk, but are you planning to mix it up a little with some tricks or crossovers?
AUT: I’m not going to do no tricks ‘cause I don’t want to have no bad habits in my repertoire. I’m just playing my game. Dunking’s what made me.
CYE: Finally, do you have a message for your fans?
AUT: Keep supporting, and I’ma give y’all a show.
– CYE in MIA