When Dunking Days Began

When Dunking Days Began
Star of “SeeJoeDunk.com” revisits his climb up the ladder


by Truman Reed / special to Bucks.com

Joe Alexander comes from a family of high-flyers. He used his brother's atletic ability to help motivate him to get to the top. (NBAE / Getty Images)
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January 5, 2009

Some critics have deemed “White Men Can’t Jump” as one of the better basketball movies ever produced, generally more for its humor than its serious basketball legitimacy.

Milwaukee Bucks fans, by the way, ought to enjoy one particular scene that features former Bucks forward Marques Johnson. Many fans of the film consider it one of the highlights.

Bucks rookie forward Joe Alexander was 5 years old when the movie was released in 1992. Ever since, several of his family members have done their best to defy the stereotype the movie’s title suggests.

By now, most Milwaukee fans know that Joe spent eight of his first 15 years living in China, where his father, Steve, was employed.

Chances are that the house in which the Alexanders lived had some tall doorways and high ceilings. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have accommodated any Nerf basketball games Joe and older brothers John and Jeremy might have played there because, as Joe puts it, “My brothers could get up. My dad was a leaper when he was a kid, too.”

Like most younger brothers, Joe followed in the footsteps of his two older siblings, even if his feet couldn’t get as far off the ground as theirs did for a number of years. Those footsteps often led to a basketball court.

John and Jeremy became the first two foreign players to be named most valuable player of the basketball team at Beijing High School. 

When Joe was introduced to the Milwaukee media last summer, he revealed that, when he was a youngster, he admired his older brothers’ basketball prowess so much that he believed they would one day play the game at its highest level, in the National Basketball Association.

His goal was to join them there, but it took him longer than he would have liked to catch up to his brothers, who are two and four years his elders.

“My oldest brother is now 26, the other is 24,” Joe said. “They’re 6-1 and 6-4. I didn’t pass them up until late in my high school career. And they were both leapers. They could get up. They were ridiculous jumpers, especially my 6-1 brother. He could really get up – he could do 360s, anything.”

John and Jeremy were pretty brutal pickup game opponents for Joe during his pre-teen and early teenage years. They worked him over. He longed for the day to arrive when he could exact some payback.  

“Right,” Joe said. “I’d been watching them dunk for years. I was kind of like the runt of the family. I was really small and skinny and couldn’t get up at all. So ever since middle school, I’d watched them throw it down on people and celebrate. I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t fair. These two can do this and I can’t.’

“So I decided, ‘I’m gonna start dunking.’ And then it happened.”

The majestic moment, which took place at Joe’s high school (the International School of Beijing, Shunyi) caught everyone, including Joe, by surprise.

“My first dunk of my life came unexpectedly.” Joe said. “It was after my sophomore year of high school, the summer before my junior year. I was 15 years old and about 6-4. I was in China, and me and my buddies were playing a three-on-three pickup game. My teammates and I were getting our butts kicked, so we were pretty angry. I think one of my brothers was beating up on me during that game.

“After the game, I was all heated because we had lost. So I just thought I’d show everyone. I said, ‘Hey everyone, watch this.’ I had never dunked it before. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, something came over me and I was like, ‘I can dunk it right now.’ So I just ran in and slammed it – with authority. They couldn’t believe it, because they’d never seen me dunk before, and I couldn’t believe it, either. Ever since then, it’s been easy.”

Alexander rarely passed up an opportunity to throw it down during his years in high school and prep school.

“In my basketball culture, after almost every practice or shootaround, if not a crazy shootaround, there was always an impromptu dunk contest at the lower levels,” he said. “That kind of starts to stop in college, but in high school and prep school, there’s always a dunk contest after every practice. So I’ve probably been in 100 or so unofficial dunk contests.”

He entered his first official dunk contest during his high school years, but he wasn’t quite prepared for it.

“I was in one in high school my senior year,” he said. “But I was just in it because I was tall. I couldn’t even jump at that point. I think my vertical was about 23. And I lost it.”

Joe didn’t become an innovative dunker until he was a year or two into his collegiate career back in the United States.

“I couldn’t do any kind of, spectacular dunks until I got to West Virginia – actually probably my sophomore year there,” he said. “Up to that point, all I could do were one-handed or two-handed dunks.

“My sophomore year is when I really started to do crazy stuff, like windmills and sticking my elbow over the rim and stuff like that.”

The next official dunk-off Joe entered came during his West Virginia years.

“That was in my junior year at West Virginia’s Midnight Madness,” he recalled. “I won that one. That was a great one, actually, because we had a lot of guys who could get up on my team.

“It was good because Midnight Madness is about entertaining the fans, and a dunk contest is usually the best way to do that.”

Since his senior year of high school, the kid who once longed for the day he could dunk has added about 17 inches to his vertical jump.

And in case you haven’t visited bucks.com thoroughly, Alexander is now waging a campaign as one of the candidates for the final spot in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, to be held in Phoenix during All-Star Weekend in February. His competitors include fellow rookies Rudy Fernandez of Portland and Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City.

Joe even made a new year’s resolution to unseat Orlando’s Dwight Howard as the NBA slam-dunk champion.

Bucks.com is presenting a series of  YouTube videos promoting Alexander for the contest and encouraging fans to vote for him. In celebration of his campaign and as a thank-you to fans for their votes, Joe is discounting all $37 seats for all games during his campaign and giving away an autographed campaign photo with every ticket sold.

Fans can simply buy their  tickets using the password "JOE" and take their tickets to All-Star Alley (located outside Section 218), where they can vote for Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Luke Ridnour for the All-Star team and pick up their autographed photo of Alexander.

Joe wouldn’t go into great detail about his strategy for the competition, but he did say that he is not into the gimmicks that some competitors use.

 “I wouldn’t say I have things up my sleeve, because when you say that, people tend to think tricks and crazy stuff,” he said. “I don’t have any crazy props or circus act, or anything like that. I just have a few dunks that no one has ever seen.

 “I’m at a point now where I don’t have to work on my vertical. I don’t have to focus on that anymore. When the time comes, I’ll just go out there and do it, without really preparing.”

Alexander has received plenty of input from those around him.

“I probably average a suggestion a day from somebody, whether it’s a teammate or  whoever : ‘Yo, Joe,’” he said. “Everyone wants me to jump over their son, or their girlfriend, or their car, or whatever. I won’t have any gimmicks, though; just straight dunks.”

When pressed on the subject, Joe did make an exclusive revelation of some little-known personal dunking trivia.

“My favorite cookies to dunk are the toll-house ones,” he said. “You know, the ones with the little trolls in the trees? They make the cookies with the M & M’s in them. I like those soft ones.”

There you have it, Bucks fans. Insider information right here on bucks.com