A barrel-chested 30-year-old man who stood barely 6 feet was offering to help the NBA's reigning dunk champion defend his crown.
Chuck Millan is the founder of Team Flight Brothers, a group of world-class dunkers who have gained a following uploading gravity-defying slams to YouTube and delivering jaw-dropping performances across the country. More than 100,000 YouTube users subscribe to their channel and millions of people have seen their videos.
Luckily for Millan, Ross had watched Team Flight Brothers videos since he was in high school. The 6-foot-7 second-year pro enlisted Millan's help coming up with never-before-seen dunks tailored to his two-footed jumping style and teaching him how to execute those consistently enough for a contest setting.
"Chuck knew what type of jumper I was and he gave me new ideas on what to do," Ross said. "I was so blown away by his knowledge of how to do certain things, how to maneuver in the air. It was honestly like learning how to dunk for the first time. He was a really big help."
When Millan arrived in New Orleans for All-Star weekend, the bizarre Eastern Conference versus Western Conference format of the 2014 contest enabled him to not only help Ross but also offer a few pointers to teammates John Wall and Paul George. The East team swept the contest in dominant fashion and Wall won the fan voting with a dunk Millan walked him through that day, one in which he soared over the Washington Wizards mascot, brought the ball down below his knees and threw down a smooth reverse jam.
Word of Millan's expertise apparently spread quickly in NBA circles because he has become a guru to the contestants in the dunk contest the past couple years.
Last February, Orlando Magic shooting guard Victor Oladipo hired Millan and flew him to Brooklyn to help him prepare for the dunk contest. Millan is not working in person with any of this year's four entrants, but there's a good chance his influence will still be apparent during the contest.
When Orlando forward Aaron Gordon reached out through Oladipo a couple weeks ago, Millan sent the second-year pro a compilation video of six dunks never done in the contest and well suited to his Dominique Wilkins-esque style. Millan has also texted back and forth with defending champion Zach LaVine about one high-risk, high-reward dunk that not even any of the members of Team Flight Brothers have managed to pull off yet.
"When he's up in the air, he flips it behind his back to himself with his right hand and does a windmill dunk with his left hand," Millan said. "He could do it. It's right up his alley. If he even attempts it, the replays will look like nothing the NBA has ever seen before."
Playing a small role in the NBA contest is exhilarating for someone like Millan who has been infatuated with dunking since he first threw down a simple two-handed slam at age 14. It was always a passion for him, but it never occurred to him it could be a job too until 2004 when he received an opportunity to tour Taiwan with a dunking team known as Slam Nation.
"While I was doing that, I was like, 'Man, there's a lot of guys who can do this better than I can,' " Millan said with a chuckle. "When I came back, I started gathering up guys locally and trying to put together a team of my own."
There was little indication Team Flight Brothers would become a huge success story until two events happened within a year or two of one another. YouTube had just emerged as a mega-popular video-sharing service by the time Millan recruited a dunker with star power to take advantage of that platform.
Terry Cournoyea, or T-Dub, was a 5-foot-9 former high school basketball player from St. Paul, Minn., who had developed a reputation in his home state for aerial assaults on the rim. When Millan tracked him down and flew him to Florida for a video shoot, YouTube featured the 90-second clip on its front page and it became one of the most viewed dunk videos of all time.
"All of a sudden, there are boys and girls clubs getting a hold of us, and all these people want to see us perform," Millan said. "It slowly escalated from there. Slowly but surely it's become financially beneficial."
To find dunkers capable of joining Team Flight Brothers, Millan scours college basketball rosters, low-level dunk contests and videos he's sent on social media. The minimum qualifications are typically a running vertical jump of at least 45 inches, energy and charisma performing in front of crowds, and an array of contest-ready dunks.
Members of Team Flight Brothers earn money jet-setting across the country entertaining crowds at anything from parties and festivals, to corporate events, to halftime of college and NBA games. They supplement that participating in dunk contests in which the winner earns $1,000 to $5,000 in most cases and as much as $15,000 to $30,000 for the biggest events.
As Team Flight Brothers has grown, Millan's sphere of influence has spread. In addition to running the annual college slam-dunk contest and the national high school slam-dunk championships, Millan also offers competitors guidance on what dunks to choose and hands-on assistance learning to execute them.
Ultimately, it's Milan's goal to run the NBA dunk contest someday, and he has a litany of ideas for what he'd do differently than those in charge of the event now.
He'd notify contestants months ahead of time so they have more time to prepare and perfect creative dunks. He'd focus less on the star power of potential entrants and more on their dunking ability and desire to participate. He'd invite the D-League champion to participate since the D-League contest has outclassed the NBA one in recent years. And he'd work with every contestant ahead of time to help them come up with innovative dunks.
"I'm here to help," Millan said. "This is what I want to do. I want to facilitate making this the best event. I want kids to feel the same way watching it that I did when I was growing up."
Would Millan be an asset to the dunk contest? One of the NBA players who has worked with him emphatically says yes.
Before both of his dunk contest appearances, Ross recalls feeling overwhelmed at the thought of trying to come up with ideas that were fresh and innovative yet weren't too difficult for him to learn in a couple weeks. He believes Millan's expertise could help other guys in that position, ensuring the dunks the public sees on All-Star Saturday night are creative and cutting-edge rather than retreads dressed up with costumes or props.
"Chuck's amazing at what he does," Ross said. "The guys coming into the league are super athletic, but most of the time they don't know they're going to be in the dunk contest until a couple weeks before and they don't have much time to prepare. No matter who it is, Chuck probably has a good idea of what that guy can do and what sort of creativity he can incorporate. He's a life saver."
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