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From Viral Sensation to Slam Dunk Champ

  • January 30 2012

Jacob Tucker stands just 5’10”. He played guard for Illinois College, a little-known Division III school with just 1,000 students. And he has mad hops—a reported 50-inch vertical leap. Still, nobody would have heard of Tucker had it not been for a YouTube video he and his teammates posted last March trying to get him a chance to compete in the College Slam Dunk championship during the NCAA Final Four weekend. Since IC plays against Grinnell and Beloit, not Kentucky and Duke, they figured his candidacy needed a push.

On the video, Tucker astounds with windmills, reverses and 360s, goes between his legs, tosses a couple off the side of the backboard, and leaps over a teammate. In a day, the video had been seen 600 times. Then it got caught in a social media maelstrom. Within five days, it had 816,000 views, and Tucker was showing up all over the Web and on ESPN. (Today, it has 4.9 million views.)

Intersport, which produces the State Farm-sponsored event, took notice, and launched a Facebook-based contest to let fans choose the final slot from among non-Division I contestants. Tucker pulled in 88 percent of the vote. And he was hardly outclassed by the Division I competitors—he won the competition and scored perfect 50s on two separate dunks. Tucker now plays for the Harlem Globetrotters. What was the name of that Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson movie again?

For 2012, Intersport has built a “dark horse” vote into the competition, inviting anyone to post a collegian’s dunk video to the competition’s Facebook page. The social media impact has not only breathed new life into the event, but has also helped State Farm get more from its sponsorship dollars, according to Shannon Dan, VP of digital media at Intersport. “It extends State Farm’s sponsorship beyond the two hours on TV to the two months [leading up to the event],” Dan says. “The key to making this work is that it’s something authentic.”