LeBron James laughed. LaMarcus Aldridge looked utterly shocked. Only Dwyane Wade really had any idea what was about to happen when he stood in front of the green screen with a stranger.
"Are you about to do some crazy stuff with the ball?" Wade asked.
The stranger was Jesse "Snake" Muench, who has become a YouTube star because of his extraordinary ballhandling skills. Whirling and twirling the ball around as a shadowed figure, Muench can be seen in this year's NBA playoff commercial featuring recording artist Pitbull, James, Wade, Blake Griffin and other NBA superstars,
"I got to give it to Paul George," Muench said when asked who had the best moves out of those he went up against. "Overall, I think he had the best repertoire of moves as far as the tricks and stuff. All of them were kind of fun, they got into a little flow after a little while. It was fun."
Muench said George announced to everyone in the room that "this dude's got moves." LeBron was at first calm and serious, but by the end he was having more fun than anyone, according to Muench. And Aldridge gave him the ultimate praise, calling Muench "the best ballhandler in the country."
"Even if he was joking, I'm taking it," Muench said.
The NBA had tried to showcase Muench's sweet moves in a commercial last year, but it ended up being this season.
"I asked them this year how they found me," Muench said. "They couldn't remember for sure. They said it was either through YouTube or my website. We just kind of went back and forth through some emails, and got everything squared away."
When he's not hanging out with NBA players, Muench works as a ballhandling instructor/motivational speaker, featured in school assemblies, summer camps, halftime shows, promotional events and, of course, commercials. Through his YouTube channel, which has more than 38,000 subscribers, and his website, Muench has posted several videos to help everyone improve their ballhandling skills.
Although he played competitive basketball growing up in a rural town outside of Milwaukee, Muench didn't start focusing on his ballhandling skills until he was about 19 or 20.
"Living out in the country, there wasn't much left to do," Muench said. "I just kind of messed around, trying to learn all kinds of different ballhandling moves, tricks, drills, you name it. Just always working on that."
All of that work earned him his nickname, "Snake." Muench played pickup basketball all the time at his local YMCA, and a kid just started calling Muench "Snake" all the time. Muench says that he isn't sure if the kid just forgot his name or if he just thought it was fun to call him Snake, but the name stuck. After Muench began to practice and feature his moves, the name just began to make more and more sense.
"A lot of my moves incorporate a lot of flexibility," Muench said. "So they say I don't have bones, and I move slithery and stuff like that. It just kind of grew from there."
Muench recorded his commercial in New Orleans during the NBA All-Star Weekend. The production crew had set up everything from lasers to fog machines, to massive video screens and cameras. They filmed for more than two hours, and Muench got to hang out and pass the ball around with James, Aldridge, Wade and George for about 10 minutes. Muench also saw Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic on the set.
"They're all just walking around right past me," Muench said. "It is kind of cool to see all these guys you see on TV all the time. And, of course, being a basketball fan, it's really exciting to be up close and personal with some of these guys and being able to throw passes back and forth with LeBron and Durant and all them. It is pretty crazy."
Muench said each NBA star seemed surprised with his ballhandling skills. In one sequence, Muench spun the ball around his chest, threw it behind his back, brought it back to the front and threw a between-the-legs pass to Wade. Then Wade failed at rolling the ball on his arm behind his back. While Muench caught the ball with his neck, rolled it back to his chest, between the legs and right up his back, LeBron just spun the ball on his finger.
"I figured going into this that a lot of those guys probably wouldn't be as rehearsed in tricks and stuff like that," Muench said.
While basketball and his skills have given him a chance to interact with the biggest stars of the game, Muench says he is trying to convey a deeper meeting in his moves. With his appearances and videos, he tries to spread out a different message than the norm, but one that he feels can really help someone realistically achieve something great.
"My main message that I always give to everyone is to get rid of your dreams," Muench said. "A lot of people think that's weird to say ‘hey, don't have a dream.' My message is that no matter what it is you want to do, basketball or otherwise, don't make it a dream, make it a goal. Instead of having a dream, it's something you can actually work towards and something that you can achieve, and not just thinking 'hey, that would be cool'."