DeMar DeRozan was a sixth grader when he soared through the air for his first slam dunk.
It was a moment of athletic brilliance that earned him bragging rights with his friends and set the stage for a life lived above the rim.
“It was at recess, just playing around, trying to show off that I could dunk, and I could pull it off,” DeRozan said after a practice this week. “It was a little bet. You know when you're young everybody's trying to dunk, and I said I could dunk.
“And I got it in, finger tips. . . .that was the first time.”
Fast forward 10 years, and the 22-year-old Toronto shooting guard is one of the most explosive dunkers in the league.
The Raptors high flyer turned plenty of heads in the NBA's slam dunk contest the past two years, but won't be part of this weekend's annual all-star festivities in Orlando.
Fans cried robbery last year when DeRozan failed to make the final after throwing down what many thought was the dunk of the night — a ridiculous alley-oop reverse windmill that he called “The Showstopper.”
The Raptor was the only dunker who didn't use gimmicky props — Blake Griffin rolled out a Kia car and a choir, Serge Ibaka had cheerleaders, JaVale McGee brought in an additional hoop.
“Dunk contests are dunk contests, you just go out there and do dunks. Every time I was in the dunk contest it was just strictly dunks,” said DeRozan, who won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American high school game in 2008.
“I think people want to add more excitement to it because they feel they've seen all the dunks. So sometimes you have to add a theme or props or whatnot. It is what it is. I just like going out there and doing dunks, I'm not all into the props or anything.”
DeRozan doesn't need anything but the lightness in his legs and the rim in his sights.
To those who will never know that high-flying feeling, the Compton, Calif., native offered this description: “It's a rush. You're running and either you're catching lobs or you're dunking on somebody. It's like a rush, being able to do something that quick, that fast in the air.”
The decision to drive and dunk happens in a split second.
“I think everything just happens so quick, when that first thing pops in your mind, that's what you do, it's just a rush when you're that high in the air, thoughts run through your head so fast. You just try to get it in,” DeRozan said.
He doesn't often practise alley-oops with teammates, there's just a connection that develops.
“You just see (the alley-oop) coming,” DeRozan said. “It's just that chemistry you have with your teammates, when you're running the floor. We don't necessarily work on it, it just happens.”
Heading into Wednesday's game against the visiting Detroit Pistons, DeRozan was the Raptors' second-leading scorer behind Andrea Bargnani, averaging 15.5 points and 3.30 rebounds a night.
Already known as a talented player for his ability to finish around the rim and his mid-range jump shot, he added some long-range game this season, knocking down three-pointers with confidence.
But it's his dunks that draw the big cheers from Raptors fans.
“Knock on wood,” DeRozan said, he has never been injured dunking. Not that injuries don't happen.
“You're either going to run into the pads, or run into somebody, anything is liable to happen when you're jumping that high in the air,” he said.
Saturday's dunk contest has Minnesota's Derrick Williams, Indiana's Paul George, Utah's Jeremy Evans, and Houston's Chase Budinger.
General consensus is the dunk contest isn't what it used to be. DeRozan's favourite all-star dunk moment: Vince Carter's reverse 360-degree windmill in 2000. The former Toronto Raptors superstar won the event that year.
DeRozan has tried the dunk, but failed.
“Naw, I can't do that one,” DeRozan said.
He lists any of Carter's dunks, including his mammoth jam over seven-foot-two French centre Frederic Weis at the 2000 Olympics, as his all-time favourites.
“Choose any Vince Carter dunks, they would be my favourite dunks,” DeRozan said. “He was one of my favourite players growing up.”
DeRozan narrowly lost to New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson in the final of the 2010 dunk contest.