One of the Best Dunkers in the World is an Asian Man
Sherman Su was 15 years old when he started throwing down his first dunks. They were simple one- and two-handers at the time, nothing too flashy.
Now 24, the 6-foot-1 Toronto, Ontario native has taken his talents to new heights — quite literally. Flushing nasty windmills and between-the-legs jams on the regular, the high-flying Su is on a mission to smash stereotypes and prove that anyone, regardless of race or any other kind of perceived barrier, can achieve what they want given they put the work in.
Su’s passion for dunking blossomed out of his first taste of success just a couple of years after his first throw-down.
“When I was 17 years old, I won my first dunk contest: the NBA Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown,” Su told NextShark. “And at that moment is when I knew I could be great in this sport.”
The media attention came quickly after that. Ballislife, a prominent basketball media company famous for their high school and college mixtapes, ran an article proclaiming Su — who sometimes goes by the nickname “Sher Thing” — to be the “best Asian dunker in the world.”
“I was still very young, so that really gave me motivation to keep working my butt off,” he said. “But even without all the media attention, I would’ve continued to dunk, regardless, since I fell in love with dunking.”
Being labelled the best Asian dunker in the world can be something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s nice to be the greatest at anything; Su admits that when he first heard it as a kid, he “loved it.” But as he got older, he began to realize it was more of a restriction than anything; that there’s an underhanded implication to the notion of being the best Asian dunker, and not simply the best dunker.
“Now I realize [that title] would be limiting yourself,” Su said. “Becoming the best dunker I can be is the most important.”
That isn’t to say negative stereotypes can’t have their upside sometimes, though — especially when you can defy them as spectacularly as Su can. Showing out in front of a crowd full of doubters is a feeling he revels in.
“I have always been the underdog in competitions — the only Asian guy on the court,” he said. “I stood out everywhere, every event I went to, but that’s what motivates me. Because I know in my head what everyone is thinking: ‘who is this Asian kid?’, ‘why is this guy even in the competition?’
“But once I start jumping and I see their reactions, it’s the best feeling ever.”
Su’s dunking pursuits have taken him far and wide. In 2016, he was invited to participate in the inaugural season of The Dunk King, a TNT reality show in which 30 of the best dunkers in the world face off in a contest judged by the legendary Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny “The Jet” Smith. It was an experience Su noted as the “highlight of my career,” and that being part of that group of men was “humbling.”
Last year, Su toured Hong Kong with fellow Canadian dunk superstar Jordan Kilganon, and later travelled to Beijing to shoot with Jeremy Lin on the set of his reality show, “Dunk of China,” although he was unfortunately injured on both occasions. Now healthy, Su plans to return to Asia to perform a few shows this upcoming summer.
He’s become so successful, in fact, that his studies have temporarily taken a backseat — much to the dismay of his mother. “My parents are very traditional, so they both wanted me to focus on school,” Su said. “Of course, they weren’t supportive [of my dunking career] at all since Asians usually aren’t successful in sports, so I went to school to study kinesiology, while at the same time doing this dunking thing.
“As more opportunities started coming my way, my dad was able to see and understand the potential I had. But even now, my mom still wants me to finish school, which I plan on doing in the future.”