On Dec. 29, 2014, Michael Porter Jr.’s life changed forever when he took off from just inside the free-throw line at the Jefferson City High School gymnasium and soared for a one-handed dunk.
By the end of the day, Porter Jr., then just a sophomore at Columbia’s Father Tolton High, would own the top play on the evening edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Nearly three years removed from the game, Porter Jr. is the nation’s top-ranked recruit and starts his college basketball career at his hometown school, where he’s expected to revive the Missouri Tigers’ program.
He, his Tolton coaches and teammates, and Cannon Carlock, who shot the only known video of the dunk, relive the game and the aftermath.
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Pregame: Despite boasting one of the nation’s top sophomores in Porter Jr., Tolton entered the Joe Machens Great 8 Classic tournament overshadowed by players like OG Anunoby of Jefferson City, who now plays for the Toronto Raptors, and Jefferson City Helias star Hale Hentges, who plays tight end at Alabama. Having lost 58-56 to Helias the day before, Tolton coaches and players weren’t sure how the team would respond in a Monday consolation game.
Jeremy Osborne, Tolton boys basketball coach: I didn’t know if we were ready to win that game. Especially after losing to Helias.”
Michael Porter Jr., Tolton forward: “What was crazy was that wasn’t even a championship game. … There wasn’t a big crowd.”
Nic Frericks, Tolton assistant coach: “We lost the night before and Jontay (Porter) took the last shot. … We came to win the tournament so there was this weird vibe playing that game. The whole atmosphere was weird until (the dunk) happened.”
Ryan Chappell, Tolton guard: “We were deflated after that Helias loss.”
Cole Buchanan, Tolton guard: “We were supposed to win the whole tournament. The first game we played was the No. 1 ranked team in Ohio. … we beat them pretty good (62-36). We went into Helias with a bunch of momentum and I don’t know what happened. We had a huge hiccup. We didn’t play well at all.”
First half: No one could successfully recall the score early on. Players and coaches remember a back-and-forth game throughout the first half with Ray South’s star player, Bryant Trimble, who now plays for St. John’s, giving Tolton trouble.
Derrone Wilson, Tolton assistant coach: “Trimble was shooting the ball well for them.”
Osborne: “Their athleticism was giving us trouble. We were shooting the ball really well but they were doing everything else. They were creating turnovers, getting easy buckets, they were getting out and running.”
Third quarter: The game went into halftime with the score within one possession. In the third quarter, Porter Jr. grabbed a rebound.
Brad Hayes, Editor-In-Chief of Missouri Roundball Magazine (underneath the basket at the time with Porter coming toward him): “Five minutes before it happened I was up there talking to my nephew and I said ‘You guys should shoot some video of him. He’s been a highlight reel for every game so far this year.’”
Cannon Carlock, Hayes’ nephew, who took only known video of dunk: “I had my phone ready half the time but you can’t hold your phone up there forever.
“So I put it down and my buddy who I was with said, ‘Hey he’s kind of coming down hard, the wing is pretty open and he’s coming down fast.’
“I take out my phone, I didn’t even look at my phone, and swipe over to the video, and I click it and you can only see it for three seconds but it was at that exact spot.”
One step inside the free-throw line, Porter took off.
Osborne: “We got the rebound and they swung it to him, and he literally just took one dribble from the three-point line. That’s why nobody expected it … His foot was on where it said Jays.”
Josh Boyer, Tolton forward (on floor, underneath basket): “I see him kind of dance around at the top of the key, and I swear to you I’m wide open on the post. I said, ‘Damn Mike, kick it down here.’ He does this little stutter step and starts driving middle.
“He takes off at the free-throw line and I’m like, oh he’s definitely going to drop it to me because he jumped from so far away. I’m ready to get this catch real quick and throw it down and he keeps going. I’m like, what’s he doing.”
Chappell: “He got the rebound … took off down the middle of the court and I was on the right wing in the corner. Right when he took off from the free-throw line it was slow motion.”
Steve Walls, Raytown South assistant coach: “He got the rebound and took it up on the left side and crossed over the middle of the floor. And there was actually a player that was at the three-point line and whiffed at the ball. He went around him and went up.”
Midway through the air, Porter briefly lost control of the ball.
Boyer: “He’s going up with one hand, his right, and it starts slipping out of his fingers a bit. And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, of course he’s going to lose the ball.’”
Chappell (on floor, towards the top of the key): “He didn’t ever palm the ball when he dunked, so he was in the air and his hand was above the ball. He kinda lost the ball a little bit so there was a space, he regathered it in the air.”
Porter picked up momentum as he approached the basket and slammed it down on top of Raytown South’s Dominic Herndon.
Osborne: “Some kid tried to take a charge … that poor kid. It was rough.”
Walls: “We were down and trying to battle back and that dunk took over. … I didn’t think he was going to make it but he came down right over (Herndon). I think Dominic had tried to take the charge.”
Frericks (on bench next to Osborne): “There was a guy close to the rim, he was maybe 6-foot and I remember thinking, what is this kid doing. Mike went right through him.”
Ben Dierkes, Tolton assistant coach (on bench): “He stuck his knee in the guy’s chest and propelled higher, and then just threw it down.”
Carlock (in stands shooting video on his phone): “I was watching him, not my phone. I just happened to get it perfect.”
Osborne: “The craziest thing that I remembered was Mike landed and you could tell that he had never done anything like that before because he looked surprised. He almost paused.”
Boyer: “He throws it in like this kind of Blake Griffin kind of thing. He throws it down, stumbles on the floor a bit and looks at me and goes ‘Did it go in?’ And I’m like ‘Dude that went in!’ and he goes ‘All right!’ and we take off down the floor.
“It’s funny because just before the play I’m like ‘What’s this knucklehead doing?’ I thought it was going to be a floater or a pass and he wound up just taking it to the rim. He practically leaped over that first kid.”
Buchanan (on bench): “I thought he was going up for a layup but he just cocked it back and slammed it down. And literally everybody on the bench didn’t know what to do. He dunked it on top of four people in the game.”
Hayes: “Me and my partner were right underneath the basket on the floor when he dunked it. It happened so fast that my partner, is our photographer, he didn’t get any shot of the dunk. He was so in awe of what was happening, he wasn’t able to put his camera up.”
Frericks: “I remember after it, Jeremy is yelling at the other guys to get back on defense and Mike looks over at the bench with this shocked look on his face like he didn’t know what just happened. And I’m yelling, ‘Get back, get back!’ Me and Jeremy just look at each other and put our heads down like, ‘What just happened?’ In the moment it was something you couldn’t grasp.”
Boyer: “The other team didn’t even pass it in quickly. We knew something wild just happened.”
With Tolton’s bench erupting and its players celebrating on the court, a timeout was called and Osborne tried to get his players refocused on the game.
Frericks: “Nobody was listening to anything we were saying. Everyone was talking about where they were when it happened. It took half a quarter to come down from that moment.”
Walls: “(Herndon) had run over to the sideline and his eyes were big. It was kind of one of those things where everybody was like, ‘Wow, that just happened.’”
Hayes: “You can even see by the look on (Porter’s) face that he had done something he had never done before.”
Carlock: “The next thing I knew, I passed my phone around to a couple of guys that were near me and I looked down three seats and some stranger has my phone, so I get my phone back. It was a crazy situation.”
Boyer: “We all got to the bench and Coach Oz is trying to get us not focused on the dunk and I’m like, ‘How can we not talk about this.’”
The dunk gave Tolton the momentum it needed to close out the game. The Trailblazers began to pull away with a double-digit lead.
Wilson: “That dunk took the air out of them.”
Hayes: “Raytown South was a much more physical team than Tolton was. And this swung the momentum so fast. It was game over at that point.”
Frericks: “After it happened you could kind of see it. Their body language and their faces. That moment. OK, Mike isn’t going to let this team win. They knew at that point it was our game.”
Tolton won 66-54. Porter scored 26 points. Once the game was over, players, coaches and fans all wondered if anyone had captured the dunk. Osborne’s student manager had forgotten the video camera at home, which took one option off the table.
Dierkes: “I don’t think we had anyone filming that game. So it’s like ‘Is someone going to get it?’
“I think there’s one person that got a video of it. And that’s the only one that there is. Obviously it’s still circulating the Internet.”
Hayes: “Our three local TV stations, none of them have any footage of that. After the game was over I said, ‘Hey Mike, my nephew’s got that on video on his phone if you want it.’ I had assumed at this point that a lot of other people had captured that on video. I can’t to this day believe that there was no school or the other team that no one was shooting video but I’ve never seen any other video surface in the three years since that happened.”
Carlock: “To this day I’m still shocked that I was the only one to get that on film.”
Porter Jr.: “After the game I was heading out and he showed me the dunk, and I’m like ‘Oh!’ and I asked if he could send it to me. I think I posted it on Twitter and from there it went viral.”
Porter posted the video to his Twitter account, which has since been deactivated. The tweet quickly picked up steam and was the top play on “SportsCenter” later that night. Tolton players and coaches all had their phones blow up while the tweet racked up favorites and retweets.
Bri Porter, Porter’s older sister and Missouri women’s basketball forward (was not at game): “These things don’t stand out to me very much because he did so many things in high school.
“It was different to see him on ‘SportsCenter.’ That was kind of a more mainstream platform than I’d ever seen his name mentioned on. That was kind of striking.”
Osborne: “I always send out a message after the game on Twitter and everybody was (tagging) SportsCenter. I knew it was big, but you know how they show high school plays. I go to sleep that night I wake up and had 47 text messages. I had 17 voicemails. I still remember it. Every single one of them. I got one from my mom that said, ‘Does that Michael Porter kid play for your school?’ I said ‘Yeah Mom.’ She said ‘He was on SportsCenter, what did he do?’ I said you should go watch it.”
Boyer: “I tweet something like ‘Hey I know you guys are all going crazy over Michael Porter’s dunk but check out No. 51 waiting for the block out.’ Skip Bayless or someone liked that tweet. I was like, this is nuts.”
Buchanan: “When he posted it on Twitter and two minutes later it already had 500 favorites and retweets.”
Frericks: “I saw the video when we were leaving the gym. I think when I saw it it was maybe 1,000 views. Before I know it I’m getting text messages, people messaging me on Twitter but before I knew it had 20 million views. (Porter) literally blew up on Twitter after that. He quadrupled his followers.”
Boyer: “He comes in as a freshman and is getting 100 likes on his Instagram page. I thought, wow that’s a lot. After that game he’s getting hundreds of thousands of likes. It’s funny because I remember junior year we were thinking, wow 100 likes! He definitely became a sensation after that.”
Hayes: “It was a pretty neat night for basketball in central Missouri. It’s not often that we make statewide news, let alone the national news.”
Tolton’s next game was against Eldon on Jan. 2, 2015. The gym was significantly a lot more full than in recent games, with spectators of all ages having their phones out whenever Porter touched the ball.
Frericks: “Our very next game was crazy packed. … there were kids from Eldon lined up all out there with their phones out the whole game.”
Buchanan: “It really changed the atmosphere where we played at. Everyone wanted to see what he was going to do next. He just skyrocketed from there.”
Porter Jr.: “Before that dunk many people didn’t really know the name Michael Porter Jr., so that really kind of put me out there.”