It was the summer of 2008, and LeBron James (aka King James) was about to ascend to his throne. Coming off his fifth NBA season, the 24-year-old was quickly emerging as a generational talent, winning his first scoring title and leading the Redeem Team to gold at the Olympics. Little did he know, however, that his superstar ascension would be momentarily halted by David Kalb, a former Division III player who managed to dominate him in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
How, you ask, did Kalb have a chance to mop the floor with LeBron in the first place?
Cub Cadet, a company that sells lawn mowers, put together a “Trick Shot Challenge,” in which fans could post videos of their best shots online for the chance to play a game of H-O-R-S-E against the company’s spokesperson, who just so happened to be LeBron. Kalb won, and so, the two faced off in Venice Beach.
In the first of two games, Kalb quickly asserted his dominance, handing LeBron a loss with a series of convoluted shots that would have made the Globetrotters proud. LeBron fought back in Game Two, but Kalb once again took him down with relative ease.
Fortunately, LeBron didn’t let the loss haunt him too much. Over the next 12 years, he racked up three NBA Championships and four MVP awards while firmly establishing himself as the best basketball player on earth.
But what about Kalb? What’s he been up to in the ensuing 12 years?
I recently tracked down the trick-shot artist to discuss how it felt taking down LeBron, watching LeBron play in high school in person and why H-O-R-S-E doesn’t work as a televised event.
What was your basketball experience before the contest?
I grew up playing basketball in Ohio. I played in high school and one year at the University of Akron before playing two years at Capital University in Columbus.
How did the contest first come to your attention?
I’d moved out to California, and one of my buddies from Ohio called me. He said there was a trick-shot competition where you film your best trick shot and the internet votes for a winner.
It was nothing I ever filmed before, but I’d played basketball my whole life. I could play basketball all day, but when it came to practicing by myself at the gym and really working on my game, I’d get bored really fast. So I’d always end up seeing what crazy shots I could come up with just to entertain myself.
Were you a LeBron fan?
He was my favorite player. I watched LeBron play in high school. When I went to the University of Akron during my freshman year, he was a sophomore in high school. And that was the year he really blew up, so his high school couldn’t hold the number of people that they wanted to have. So they’d sometimes play their games at the University of Akron, and we’d get to watch them play.
Were you nervous about facing him?
I was mostly excited. Originally, it was supposed to be one-on-one, so I was just thinking if I could score a bucket on him, that would be really cool. I remember right before that, Tony Parker had shown up on some court and a guy managed to score on him and it kind of went viral. So that’s where my thought process was at.
Then, a night or two before, I had dinner with the sponsor and they told me it was going to be a game of H-O-R-S-E instead. At first, I was disappointed but I quickly realized I could maybe beat him. Because I play a lot of H-O-R-S-E.
What do you think was the best shot you made?
The first shot of the second game. I stood at half court, threw the ball in the air, ran around the hoop, caught the ball in the air, and I put it in. I had beaten him the game before, but that shot really got me on a roll for the second game.
What was LeBron like during the contest?
He was cool. This was right after the 2008 Olympics so he was just coming back. We didn’t talk much, but there were a couple of times where he got a little frustrated, which made me feel good. But he was great.
What was it like after the story started blowing up?
I didn’t know what to expect. But suddenly I was getting calls from all over the place. Some were for media appearances, some were just random people wanting to make videos with me. I got to do some cool stuff because of it. I ended up being on Pros vs. Joes.
What have you been up to since? Are you still filming trick shots?
As much as I can. Back in the day, I was posting a lot more because I was a warehouse manager and could go in whenever I wanted to and do whatever I wanted. But I don’t work there anymore, so I do some shots in my backyard. I like to do stuff that nobody has ever seen before. I post videos on YouTube, as well as Instagram and Facebook.
Did you check out the NBA H-O-R-S-E tournament? It hasn’t been getting great reviews, even players are mocking it.
H-O-R-S-E isn’t a great spectator sport. After I beat LeBron, I was talking to some guys who wanted to put on some big H-O-R-S-E tournaments, but I kept telling them it’s fun to play but not fun to watch. It’s just not that exciting. I love playing it, though.