The ”Dunk father” Kadour Ziani on ‘Dunk or Die’ and the future of slam-dunk athletes

When the team of Kadour Ziani approached me to give me some insight on the documentary “Dunk or Die”, which was released on Feb.22, just days before the All-Star weekend in Cleveland, I was intrigued.

I immediately started my own research on what I could expect from a pro-dunker with a great following during his career, which he spent going around the world with Slam Nation leaving people happy and amazed at the same time.

The ”Dunk Father” started small from Saint-Dizier, located approximately 193 km east of Paris, halfway to Strasbourg. Ziani had to avoid a life of petty crime and overcome all the adversity to finally find his purpose, which was to travel around the world and dunk.

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“You don’t have any choice than to survive. The one who survive is the one able to adapt. In my mind, everything was about adaptation. I was like close to die, close to fall every day walking on something so ‘thin’. I needed to escape the danger and later the praise and personal corruption throughout my career. That kept me really focused, and I felt like ‘you’re a choice, you’re a decision’.”

Ziani chose to speak on his life through a documentary, which is named “Dunk or Die”. I asked him if the title seems a little provocative for the story of a pro-athlete, who made his way to the top through sear hard work and repetition on his craft.

“The only certain event in life is death. That’s the only thing we are sure of. It’s only happened to those, who have lived. It’s not provocative, it’s reality. The life is exciting, it’s good. I was like walking a tightrope. For me, It was the best reality I needed to be focused and not daydreaming too much,’’ he assertively answered.

Later, Kadour felt comfortable to share the reason behind his own decision. After losing his sister, Ziani decided to stop ‘rushing to the death’ and realize that reality is brutal. The personal tragedy and the danger pushed him to become the best dunker in the world.

He devoted himself to the art of dunking, as a Shaolin monk would do to his religion. He created a character, “Zianimal”, and decided to help younger athletes make their dreams come true.

Zianimal was inspired by Michael Jordan and his enamored dunking skills early in his career. Ziani talked passionately about the way the NBA legend inspired him to become one of the best dunkers in the world.

Going to the All-Star weekend in Cleveland, I asked him, which was his favorite NBA Dunk contest. Ziani’s eyes sparkled when he started talking about the contest between Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.

“For me, the best dunker in the world is still Michael Jordan. He was a freak athlete, his body was like a Greek ancient statue. For me, he was a symbol of aestheticism, he was gliding in the air, he played with the perception of the dunk, his hang time, his form was beautiful, he was too much.

If I had to write a book, I would refer more to him than to me. He revolutionized and influenced not only the game but the world. He showed to the world that a man can be a good influencer in different areas like sports, business marketing and even politics. I have so much respect for him because he become what I want to be, an example for other people.”

Kadour Ziani
Photo: Lisa Trifone

Kadour has a deep connection with the NBA consulting with current players from France, giving his expertise on how they can elevate their body, mind and their skills.

“I’m talking with several professional players including French players in the NBA like Frank Ntilikina, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert. I tried to be useful to them to share my knowledge, my methodology and meditation. I created the Zianimal Academy to help all people from all ages, including professional LNB Pro A League players and beginners.”

Ziani holds the record for highest kick (3m03), while he also possesses the Champagne-Ardenne high jump record with 2.18 m. After finishing his pro career, he organized various European and World Dunk Championships for aspiring athletes to showcase their talent.

He decided to tell his story to inspire more people and prove that anything is possible if you work hard enough.

“First, I wanted to talk to myself and then to learn myself trying to be a better person, trying to use my story like a way to talk to the world,” Ziani noted.

Talking on how Ziani wanted to improve the perception around slam-dunk contests as something more than entertainment, he created the World Dunk Association.

“It’s a big platform for all dunk community to register. We want to unify the dunking community and talk in one voice,” Ziani said. “We gonna grow like the break dancing or skateboarding community. They did it, so why not us.

We created a “Google of dunk” where you can see all the Dunk Contests around the world. We even have the “Dunking Map” where you can find your favorite dunker in any place of the world.

They call me the “Dunk Father” my responsibility is to become an activist like Tony Hawk in skateboarding.

I need to tend this responsibility to organize my discipline to make everybody say that ‘If you want to have competitions like FIBA’s 3X3, you have to make it clear to the world’.”

Kadour Ziani
Photo: Lisa Trifone

Before that, I asked Ziani on how the slam-dunk can return to its former glory, considering that basketball coaches and executives turned their focus on the three-point shot in the last 5-10 years.

“If the NBA decides to focus on dunking and developing dunking disciples all around the world, they could make the dunk an open door for NBA players to enter. If you put more energy on developing the players, the art of dunk could be a ticket to the NBA,” Ziani told me.

“We’re trying to do that in the Basketball African League and help young players work their skills as an opportunity to make it to the NBA. If you want to just use the dunk for entertainment purposes, that does not work anymore. Now, It’s a great opportunity to use it as a skill and push the world and the NBA to have respect and treat it as a sport.”

Then, a question popped up in my mind, while, Kadour was talking on how the fascination for dunking could make its glorious return to the basketball world in a new form. Could we see a slam-dunk contest in the Olympic Games?

“Not, right now,” Ziani replied. “We don’t have a considerable community in women athletes. It will take a lot of time and consideration.

If you put money and organize dunking like a discipline, you gonna have a lot of events, a lot of prize money and consideration, and then you gonna have a national champion or an international champion.

If you do that, maybe we can attract the interest of women in the sport because women can dunk. Currently, there is no interest, they prefer to go in the 3X3 or 5X5.”

As we were approaching towards the end, I told Ziani to finish with a statement regarding the documentary.

“The message is obvious, I want to give hope with hoops. The more you jump, the more you understand that everything is possible. I’m the example of that. If you understand that (everything is possible), there’s no excuse. You can dominate and master any craft by sear discipline and repetition.”

You can watch ‘Dunk or Die’ on-demand and all major digital platforms in the United States and Canada.

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