The yell from the stands resounded through the highlight clip posted to TikTok: “Hold up, Jalen!”
Jalen James did not hold up. The 5-foot-9 sophomore received the outlet pass, took two dribbles, and elevated to the rim. An incoming defender flew toward him. James dunked through the contact, grabbed the rim one-handed, and used that momentum to get his entire body over the defender rushing under him.
It was the first in-game dunk of his career.
The Columbia High School (Maplewood, N.J.) auditorium went berserk. The crowd got to its feet. Teammates on the bench started leaping up and down. A handful of students rushed onto the court, unable to contain their glee after watching the most absurd thing they had ever seen take place on a basketball court. Pandemonium.
“I don’t think they’ve seen a dunk like that,” James said in a phone interview days after the game.
At Columbia High School, there are some dunks, but nothing like this.
The Instagram post paints the chaos of the scene in photos:
View this post on Instagram
(Instagram photos taken by Jack Kalsched/@jackkalsched)
That yell at the beginning of the video — “Hold up, Jalen” — came from the parent of a teammate who records the games. Teddy Gay, who has dunked in-game, was streaking in behind James. Wait for Gay to fly by and he could have jammed it in. James, luckily, didn’t hear the call and drove himself.
“He knew that I could dunk, but he didn’t think I was going to dunk it, in-game,” James said, emphasizing the second “dunk.”
It was a power slam from a 5-foot-9 player.
“I’ve been going to the gym for a couple of years,” he said. “I always wanted to dunk, so I tried to work hard.”
One of the best crowd reactions of the year continued the next day at school, with people coming up to James to comment on it. After all, at this school, with a 5-foot-9 sophomore who comes in off the bench, it’s not the norm. James hopes it can become that.
“I need to keep working hard,” he said.