One night, 8-year-old Kenny Dobbs awoke to the sound of people breaking into his home. Terrified, he ran to warn his father, only to discover his dad and an unknown assailant wrestling over a gun in the hallway.
"I just see a gun waving in the air," Kenny told Eternity Sports in 2019. "My dad sees me, and he yells to me to go grab his shotgun.”"
Kenny and his father often went hunting together, so the child was familiar with how to carry and use a gun, even at that young age. Once Kenny had the shotgun, he returned to the hallway, aimed, and waited for his dad to tell him to shoot.
Fortunately, the sight of a small child holding a shotgun stopped the attackers, who fled the scene.
"I just thought, 'Man, we live in a bad neighborhood. This is what happens,'" Kenny said. "But my mom knew the truth."
Kenny's father was using and dealing drugs. The break-in proved to be a tipping point for his mother, who gave her husband an ultimatum: he needed to change his life, or he was going to lose his family.
While Kenny's parents separated for a time, they eventually reconciled, and both of his parents quit using drugs and other criminal activities. But the seeds of dysfunction and lawlessness had already been planted in young Kenny's life.
The one constant in Kenny's life was sports. He began turning more and more to basketball. As his skills improved, he began participating in dunk competitions.
SOW THE WIND …
Little Kenny dreamed of being a professional athlete. He played all different types of sports—baseball, football, and basketball. But his life choices derailed his dream for a time. Instead of playing sports in high school, winning college scholarships, and going on to the NBA, Kenny turned to drugs and crime.
Kenny first smoked marijuana when he was just 11 years old.
By 13, he was selling drugs on the street.
By 15, he had dropped out of school, been kicked out of his parents' house, and had progressed from marijuana to cocaine to methamphetamines.
The one constant in Kenny's life was sports. He began turning more and more to basketball. As his skills improved, he began participating in dunk competitions. But despite his talent, the streets called to him.
… REAP THE WHIRLWIND
While Kenny's life was spiraling out of control, his family was improving. His mother became a Christian. One by one other family members began making their way to the altar as well, until finally even Kenny's father had surrendered his life to Jesus.
In his interview with Eternity Sports, a nonprofit with a mission to "connect and grow Churches and Christian athletes/coaches—and inspire them to impact their game for eternity," Kenny says he turned to the streets and "thug life" for acceptance and a sense of family. To support his drug habit, he began robbing people. He broke into cars and even homes.
"I was taught that the streets—your neighborhood, your family—would have your back," Kenny told Eternity Sports. "I had turned my back on my true blood—my parents, my family. And turned my back on God."
A robbery attempt went awry. Kenny managed to avoid arrest and capture, but his friends were not so lucky. The next morning, he awoke to the police arriving looking to arrest him. His friends had ratted him out to the cops.
'I was taught that the streets—your neighborhood, your family—would have your back. I had turned my back on my true blood—my parents, my family. And turned my back on God.'
Even though Kenny was just 17, he was charged as an adult and faced about six to nine years in prison. At first, Kenny stubbornly refused to express any remorse for his actions. A few years behind bars? He thought he could do that. But then he started thinking about the effects his incarceration would have on his family. He realized, too, that prison could be a volatile place—what if he got into a bad situation and tacked on a few more charges and sentences during his incarceration?
What if he went to prison and never came out?
For the first time in his life, Kenny fell to his knees and called out to God. He begged for a second chance and swore he would serve Jesus if he could somehow get out of this situation.
At trial, Kenny and his attorney learned that there were mistakes made by the police during his arrest. His friends chose to take full responsibility for their actions, rather than agreeing to plea deals that would strengthen the case against Kenny. In the end, Kenny's sentence was reduced to a heavy fine.
"It's a miracle you’re not going to prison right now," his lawyer told him after court was adjourned.
A miracle. The word pierced Kenny's heart and soul. He knew Whom to thank. And he knew what he had to do.
LEARNING TO SOAR
Kenny turned his life around and began following a new path with Jesus. He went back to school, got his diploma, got married, and started a family.
He's made mistakes along the way—he's relapsed and gone back to drugs and alcohol—but even so, those vices no longer held the same thrill and comfort they had before. Instead, the Holy Spirit would convict him. Soon, he no longer responded to the call of his past sins.
Meanwhile, Kenny's athletic talent has taken off. He's won dunk competitions, made videos that went viral, and begun building a platform as a slam dunk artist, touring the world to showcase his prowess. He's also developed a 48-inch vertical jump.
"When I gave my life to Christ, immediately I wanted to do something for His Kingdom," Kenny says. "I wanted to help build. I wanted to share that [Gospel] message."
God took his desire to serve and responded in ways Kenny could never have imagined:
He created my own platform. He allowed me to use that creativity that He's given us all, not only [as] a way to make money and provide for [myself], but [as] a way to impact people and draw them closer to Him. With dunking, that was just something that I gave to God, and He gave me a platform and allowed me to multiply that.
'When I gave my life to Christ, immediately I wanted to do something for His Kingdom. I wanted to help build. I wanted to share that [Gospel] message.'
INVESTING IN THE NEXT GENERATION
But Kenny is doing more than just slam dunks on the basketball court.
He’s worked with the Arizona Department of Behavioral Health to help at-risk young people get back on track. In September 2019, he joined Hillsong New York and Prison Fellowship® to host an Angel Tree Sports Clinic™ in Harlem for 200 children with incarcerated parents.
In addition to learning basketball skills from a master of the game, kids got a dose of Dobbs' hard-earned wisdom about making good choices to keep their lives on track.
Angel Tree Sports Clinic exists to help break the cycle of crime and incarceration by treating children of prisoners like champions. It's a calling Dobbs agrees with wholeheartedly. "I believe this [mission to help the children] is the reason I'm here," he told the news organization Indian Country, "and I thank God I am now living out His purpose for my life."
And in 2020, Kenny agreed to host virtual basketball training sessions for Angel Tree during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video series includes 10 sessions of dribbling fundamentals and drills, plus encouraging words and testimony of Kenny's life story. The virtual clinic was first exclusively offered to Angel Tree® children through the Angel Tree Sports YouTube channel. Now, the videos are being made public for the first time for any child interested.
'I believe this is the reason I’m here, and I thank God I am now living out His purpose for my life.'
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