Basketball legends come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
A group of 20-something players found that out when they accepted the challenge of an older gentleman, who rode up on a bicycle.
Millions witnessed a YouTube star and former college player get their comeuppance, unable to dunk against the decades-older street-wise man at a city park in Salem, Oregon.
Little did Joe “Fresno” Salazar Jr. know that this particular interaction would be captured on a smartphone and go viral. ESPN Sportscenter tweeted the video, and Salazar achieved anonymous fame.
Now, Salazar is telling his story, anonymous no more.
One Fine Day at a Park
A.J. Lapray played basketball at Pepperdine and other schools. While the NBA wasn’t his future, he’s kept his hoops passion burning. He has posted numerous videos about basketball — tips, drills, and challenging all comers to dunk on him.
Lapray is known to offer players $100 if they can dunk on him. Salazar saw Lapray and others playing in Salem and flipped the challenge on them. Salazar dared Lapray and his crew to dunk on him.
“I thought it was a ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ movie being made,” Salazar tells GV Wire℠.
For most of his life, the 55-year-old Salazar has played street hoops whenever he could. He started on the courts of Calwa near Fresno and never stopped — whether it was a formal rec league or any court he could find.
“I’ve seen bigger guys come at me on Fresno playgrounds,” Salazar said. “They ain’t going to do that on me!”
Salazar was worried he might have bitten off more than he could chew.
“I remember what coach said, if they come at you, block the lane,” Salazar recalled.
To the surprise of the players and the internet, this old-school player rejected shot after shot.
Master of the Art of Trash-Talking
“I’m 59-years old, look at him,” Salazar says on the video.
Salazar explained that he purposely embellished his age.
“I had to add a couple of years because it was trash-talking,” Salazar said. “They were telling me (the) old man can’t jump. It was my turn to trash talk.”
And, he capped the viral video off by hitting a sweet hook shot. Swish.
“Those youngsters brought it out of me. So I just slapped him with a 30-foot hook. Don’t mess with me,” Salazar said.
A stunned Lapray gave Salazar $20 for his exploits.
“Fresno, out!” Salazar says, his nickname a nod to his hometown.
Salazar then biked away along the Willamette River.
“Everybody knows me here as ‘Fresno.’ But when I go to Fresno, they call me ‘Salem,’ ” Salazar said.
A Viral Star
Even though more than 2.6 million people have watched the video since Sportscenter tweeted it on May 24, Salazar has received limited attention for his court heroics.
City workers approached Salazar, asking him to replicate his hook shot. He did.
“They were like, man, this thing is for real,” Salazar said.
Twitter users had fun with the video. One post shows Peter Griffin of the “The Family Guy” dunking on Salazar — when Lapray couldn’t.
I dunked on him. The cameras just weren’t on pic.twitter.com/ySjU1FTQ4F
— Peter Griffin Burner (@PeterGriffinAcc) May 24, 2020
Salazar is taking the video in stride.
“I don’t know how it led me to this video, to be the star, they say. I do it for the love of basketball (but) also for the love of Fresno,” Salazar said.
Raised on Hoops in Fresno
Salazar has played basketball since elementary school. He attended Roosevelt High and Fresno State but concentrated on playing in rec leagues.
“I could have played a lot of high school basketball. I could play college, I’m sure. But, I was a troubled kid, grew up with the wrong crowd. And I got mixed up in some things which hurt me in school, which in turn hurt me in basketball,” Salazar said.
He grew up in the projects, across the street from Edison High School, one of six children.
“When there was violence in the home, I would get my basketball and I would go play for hours, from early in the morning until late at night, so I wouldn’t have to hear it,” Salazar said.
Salazar grew up watching the highly successful Fresno State teams of coach Boyd Grant. He says former Bulldogs Jervis Cole and Carl Ray Harris are friends.
Away from the court, he has worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ for KSJV “Radio Bilingue” and a furniture mover.
He and his family moved to Salem in the early 1990s, where his wife Renee grew up. But, his passion for basketball didn’t wane with the move.
“I dang won nearly every street-ball tournament they have in Salem,” Salazar said.
Now, Salazar is retired after raising two kids and four grandchildren. He still has family, and his heart, in Fresno.
“Fresno’s been so good to me. Fresno is my love, my heart. Bulldogs forever!” Salazar said.