Jumping straight out of Poznan, one of the oldest cities in Poland and home of 500.000 people, Rafal “Lipek” Lipinski made by himself a name in the dunking world. Crowned in all of the FIBA 3×3 World Tour Final dunk contests so far and owning for two years in a row the prestigious dunk contest from Quai54, France, plus multiple other contests, Rafal became one of the most successful professional dunkers in the world. Let’s meet this 24 year’s old guy who inspired a lot of people and among them a certain guy called Zach LaVine, who happens to be the NBA All Star Game Dunk Contest winner in 2015.
Sport Arena: When did you first realized that you have the ability to jump?
Rafal Lipinski: I would say it was probably when I was 14 or 15. Couldn’t dunk yet but I really have had a pleasure of just jumping over obstacles.
Do you remember your first dunk? Can you describe the moment?
Sure, some say you will never forget your first time (smiles). It happened during a basketball practice with my teammates in my home town. I stayed in a gym just to try to dunk that ball. I was so close previous times so I had to finish the goal. Finally after many tries I was able to dunk from a lob.
Who was your mentor, let’s say, or the guy that pushed you to choose dunking as a lifestyle?
I had many guys I looked up to. First of all I’d choose Kadour Ziani, the dunking legend and a successful dunker from my city Lukas Biedny.
Do you still play basketball, or is only about dunking?
The day I stop playing basketball and put my shoes on a shell will be the day I stop my sport career. My dunking obsession came from the game of basketball and I can’t imagine NOT to play basketball.
When did you decide that was the moment to focus more on dunking, and leave behind the game of basketball?
Actually I never left basketball behind I just kind of get more focused on dunking. The moment I realized that the talent I have is so unique that I had to show it to the world I decided to put a work in it and you can see the results right now (smiles)
Yes, dunking is freedom. I admire that feeling when I’m in the air and everything stops for a moment. However, treating dunking as just a freedom would be very selfish. I use dunk as a tool to get to people. Having such a ‘weapon’ in your hand makes you responsible for people’s inspirations.
What is your preferred dunk?
I prefer dunks that are powerful, stylish or technical. Sometime you can use all of these three attributes and it makes the dunk just perfect.
Is there a dunk that you really want to do it, but still it’s not coming the way you want?
Of course, there are many dunks that are still never done before. As long as I develop myself as an athlete I still gain motivation to be able to make them.
Many are saying that is almost impossible to come with something new in a dunk contest these days. Is a challenge to discover new dunks? How do you work on this?
I don’t have a lot of time or energy to work on my new dunks but when I do I try to use my imagination. And by that I mean I already created a lot of new dunks or variations and they are still in my head until I’ll be able to try them.
You started the adventure with FIBA 3×3 World Tour in 2012 in Miami and since then nobody took the WT Final crown from you. Who was the toughest opponent so far?
It’s a hard question because every dunker I went against was highly motivated and very tough to beat. However I had an overtime dunk-off with Slash in the first FIBA 3×3 World Championship in Miami.
Are you still ambitious, after all the success you’ve had?
I’m always ambitious. It’s just the way I am. But sometimes your goals just change. I think I accomplished so much as a 24 years old athlete in this dunking world that I got to go a little bit further than just worrying about single wins. Like I said before, dunking is a not only an art but also a tool to get to people. Think about it as a key that opens next door.
What is the most important during a dunk contest: the athleticism or the confidence?
The first thing. Simply because confidence comes with an experience and you simply cannot be confident if you don’t have an athletic advantage over your opponent.
What is harder to train: your body or your mind?
Every dunker has to take care about both of these things but I would say body is the factor that keeps you going. Although all of the top dunkers are athletic freaks so basically mind is the thing that makes a change in a contest.
Who is your favorite street dunker?
I was (and still am) always looking up to Air Up There and Myree Bowden. Great style!
Who is your favorite dunker among NBA players?
Oh man, it’s a tuff one. A lot of great dunkers run on NBA courts currently. I love to watch Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan or Gerald Green in action and hey we can’t forget about young NBA Slam Dunk Champion Zach LaVine, who said he was raised on dunk videos… including mine (smiles).
Do you think dunk contests have the power to move on from the entertainment part for basketball events to a standalone discipline with certain regulations and dedicated competitions?
I believe so. Dunking itself has everything to become a legit sport but it’s a long run. I was one of the few guys to set up the possible rules for the Olympic Committee but it turned out to be very difficult. The case is still on and it’s a matter of a time but for the moment let’s focus on making the dunking way more recognizable.
What are your plans for 2016?
Chillin’ with my feet up and margaritas in my hands (laughs). I’m joking of course. I’m very ambitious and each year I set the bar higher and higher. Can’t wait for the biggest basketball tournaments to start, including, of course Sport Arena events. As regarding Dunk Elite, we will step our game up this year with our own championships.