After playing four years at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, then playing professionally in Spain, social media sensation Brandon Armstrong refused to give up on basketball entirely. Instead, he geared his passion and athleticism towards a unique, perhaps even more fulfilling dream.
Introducing the king of NBA star impressions, Brandon Armstrong. The social media comedian and actor has dedicated his time in recent years to creating hilarious, spot-on impressions of his favorite NBA all-stars. His viral fame has placed him on the radars of ESPN and all-stars including Carmello Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook.
The only thing more impressive than Armstrong's incredibly accurate parodies are his solid basketball skills. He was even recently invited by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to hang out with the team and practice alongside MVP Steph Curry and Jerry West. However, Anthony assured us that despite growing up longing to be in the NBA, he wouldn't trade the life he lives now, thanks to his immense YouTube success, for a spot with the pros.
Armstrong's story just goes to show how YouTube and other social media platforms can be used to showcase one's skills and talents for wide-spread audiences. What started as fun, entertaining videos in which Armstrong inhabited the kinesthetic tics of his favorite all-stars has turned into a full-fledged career. Clearly social media, particularly YouTube, is a massive platform for entertainers to become influencers.
We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Armstrong about his favorite impressions, reactions from the players and his potential next steps in the world of sports and entertainment.
What made you decide to make your impersonation videos of NBA all-stars?
I've always made videos via Vine. I was Vining before I started making impersonation videos, but my first video was the NBA pull-out moments in 2013 like the Golden State Warriors and the playoffs in general. The first person I impersonated was LeBron James because they used to always say he travels. The next one was Derrick Rose when he got a shot and didn't have a facial expression. After that, once the playoffs were over, I came out with the Russell Westbrook one.
You met Westbrook, didn't you?
Yeah I met him, it was pretty cool. When I was in Westwood, California near UCLA I saw him in the middle of the street. It was very random but it was a pretty cool moment.
When you set out to impersonate a famous person, how do you figure out exactly how to nail each of their quirks?
I already pretty much know all about them, so I basically just look at the film a little bit to see exactly what they do. It's pretty self-explanatory for any basketball player or sports fan growing up watching these players, they know all of their different antics and the different quirks they have. The only time I really have to go back and look at footage is if there's a specific move or footwork like with James Harden. He dribbles the ball a lot before he goes into the signature move. I also watch the film to get the commentary because the commentary really makes the video.
How many takes does it typically take for you to nail your videos?
It usually takes me no longer than seven minutes to record. If I mess up or feel that we can get a better look or different camera angle, I'll re-do it. But I typically don't do more than two or three takes. I usually don't show myself making the basketball shot, it's just all on me so it's just me getting down the antics and quirks of whoever I'm impersonating.
Which athlete is your absolute favorite to parody? Why?
Westbrook. He's my favorite player. I loved doing that one not just because it was the one that popped everything off, but also because it was pretty exact. I didn't look at any film or anything because I just knew exactly how to impersonate him.
Is there a player you've tried to impersonate that you just can't get right?
I did do a Michael Jordan impersonation but, it's not that I didn't get it right, it's just that I rushed it. So I just squashed that one and will try again when I have more time to do it. But for the most part I haven't come across any that I couldn't do. Ginobili was probably the most difficult just because of his footwork and his jump shot is really weird.
How does it feel to know that the people you impersonate are actually watching these videos? Does it ever make you nervous?
I don't get nervous just because the whole point is for them to see it. When they retweet or acknowledge them it just makes them that much better. Basketball is second nature to me it's what I do. It's like waking up every day and going to work so it's pretty simple. The anticipation of them seeing it is really high but I don't get nervous.
I know that your dream growing up was to play in the NBA, but then you got into social media and became a viral sensation through these videos. Would you trade it all for a chance to play in the NBA now?
Wow that's a tough one...I've never even thought about that! I would probably say no just because I'm the only person who does what I do. I created this whole sports parody basketball line. A lot of people who play in the NBA can get overlooked, I mean they get a good paycheck, but it's not like what I'm doing. I get to travel all the time, my job isn't wearing and tearing my body and I'm not waking up at the crack of dawn with someone telling me where to go or what to do. It's just all on me. And I have so much fun doing it. So I'd probably say no.
I saw in an interview that you started doing this all for fun, and that you still do it for fun but now you just get the additional perks as well. What's the best perk that comes with your YouTube fame?
Just that everyone knows who you are. That's pretty cool. Little kids or even grown men will come up to me and be like "I like your videos, man, they're funny." So that's definitely a big perk. And then of course the money is always nice. It makes a lot of things easier.
What was your first big purchase when the money started coming in?
I really don't spend money like crazy, I'm a pretty conservative type of guy. My boys and I did go to the club to celebrate, though. We had a good time. I bought a 32 inch flatscreen television and a sound bar. And I did buy a basketball goal for my house. But that was only like $100, so nothing crazy.
How has social media helped you pursue your passions and career goals?
It was either become a basketball player or do something in the entertainment business for me. Social media has opened up many doors for that because I have a large following via Vine, Instagram and Twitter so I can use that as a platform to get my foot into other doors within the entertainment industry. It's really helped in a lot of ways, especially because I want to be a top entertainer.
If you could have any NBA player, besides Westbrook, make a cameo in one of your videos, who would it be?
My second favorite player is Steph Curry so probably Steph I definitely have some ideas for him. Or Swaggy P. Nick Young is probably the coolest person in the NBA. He's somebody that I can see myself hanging with off the court. His whole swag and the way he carries himself, he's just cool and laid back all the time.
Have any players reached out asking you to impersonate them?
Yes, a few players have. Mo Williams messaged me on Instagram and said I should impersonate his 52 points that he scored last year. He said that'd be funny. I saw Josh Smith in the club in L.A. a couple weeks ago and he came up to me and was like "When are you doing my impersonation?" There are a couple who reach out to me. It's cool for them to see someone else impersonate them, plus it gives them extra relevancy. It makes them even more known.
Who are you planning to impersonate next?
I'm probably going to do some old school players. My first old school player will probably be Charles Barkley.
Are you working on any new projects or videos right now?
I'm meeting with some talent agencies to further my career outside of the sports parodies. I'd like to pursue television or movies. They've pitched a few things to me. I'd like to just be a full personality and entertainer from acting to hosting red carpets to hosting events. I want to put my foot in every door I can.
Do you have one piece of advice for a young person trying to make it big in the entertainment industry?
It's important to do something that'll make you stand out in a good way and to stick to it. If you have a certain niche that someone major likes or that nobody else does, stick with that niche. People tell me all the time that these impersonations are getting over-saturated and that they're done but ESPN doesn't think it's done. They still post my stuff. So if you have a niche, and it's working for you, just keep doing it.
Click through this slideshow to see clips of some of Armstrong's best basketball parodies:
Watch this video to see Armstrong's hilarious Westbrook impersonation:
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