Aaron Weinberger swears he never intended for his son to become a YouTube sensation.
But when he looks back at iPhone footage that started it all -- the clip of then 2-year-old Zack Weinberger knocking down 15 straight shots at a Chuck E. Cheese while unknowingly channeling his inner Stephen Curry -- the pieces begin to fit together.
What started as a father chronicling his son's love of basketball for posterity sake has become the newest entry into a growing cottage industry of trick-shooting toddlers taking social media by storm.
So move over, Trick Shot Titus -- you've got company. Say hello to Dunkman Zack.
YouTube's newest trick shot artist is self-named and lives in New Jersey among the 80 or so basketballs that inhabit his parents' home. The first time Aaron Weinberger pulled out his phone and captured footage of his son standing on the second floor and propelling a basketball over a railing and into a toy hoop below, it was mostly to provide evidence to unbelieving friends.
It only grew from there. With each shot, the degree of difficulty increased, showcasing the toddler's talents. But putting a collection of head-scratching trick shots out there for the world to see was never really his father's plan.
"It was more for us -- I just wanted to record things for posterity and just to remember it," Weinberger says. "Kids grow pretty quick and in the blink of an eye and so you want to be able to look back and remember these things."
Joseph Ashby can relate.
Ashby, whose Twitter bio identifies himself as Trick Shot Titus' dad, always planned to keep the video footage of his son's shooting abilities to himself. That was, however, before a YouTube channel was created, blasting his son -- now 4 -- into the celebrity universe that has landed him in nationally televised shooting contests against the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and actor Channing Tatum among others.
Two years in, there is part of Ashby that has difficulty believing how much an innocent video clip of his son kneeling on the couch and heaving a basketball across the room and into a miniature plastic basketball hoop, snatched up at a garage sale, has taken off. He has tried to take everything in stride, hoping to maintain some semblance of normalcy despite his son's rising stardom.
Some days are tougher than others.
"It's like a dream," Ashby says. "It doesn't seem real."
But for the two 4-year-olds who only know of each other from the Internet footage they've seen, trick-shot stardom is all now part of their reality, intended or not.
Ask Zack Weinberger what his name is and he energetically blurts out, "Dunkman Zack."
Ask him how old he is and he quickly displays four fingers. From there, the questions range from why he loves basketball so much to what he wants to do when he grows up.
Dunkman Zack is always ready with an answer.
On why he plays so much: Because it's my favorite and I like to do it.
On his future plans: To be a basketball player, wearing No. 23
Why 23? "Just like Michael Jordan and LeBron."
Much like the Tom Hanks character in "Castaway," Zack nicknames each of his basketballs based on what is printed on them, ranging from Wilson (his favorite) to Spalding, Duke Blue Devil and an assortment of others.
By his parents' calculations, Zack shoots baskets anywhere from 4-6 hours a day. He has his choice of targets ranging from the five hoops in his bedroom to the one in the driveway, the one attached to the backyard trampoline and others scattered around the house.
His basketball kingdom has extended to random strangers' houses (the count now sits at about 80) when he sees a hoop in the driveway, always looking to tackle a new challenge. Even on simple rides, his excitement gets the best of him when he spots any kind of backboard and goal.
"Hoop," Zack squeals, his voice changing pitches in mid-syllable.
By now, his parents don't expect anything else.
"He just shoots hoops -- it's his life," Aaron Weinberger says. "It's like nothing I have ever seen before. He's 4 years old and he doesn't know who Batman is, he doesn't know SpongeBob, but he knows Michael Jordan, he knows Stephen Curry, he knows LeBron. It's just wild."
Zack also knows Dude Perfect, who, along with NBA slam dunk contests, make up the entirety of Zack's video-watching habits. Dude Perfect is the collection of five friends and a mascot Panda that has become a huge hit on YouTube with their trick shots. The group is become Zack's favorite. Weinberger established a YouTube channel with hopes of reaching out to Dude Perfect to set up a meeting between the trick shot artists and their 4-year-old understudy.
So far, his efforts have not panned out. Dude Perfect did not respond to interview requests for this story.
In the meantime, Zack keeps shooting and Weinberger keeps recording his son's basketball accomplishments. What started with basic dunks to bouncing balls off walls and into a nearby hoop and flinging a no-look shot over his head and into a 10-foot basket behind him at age 3 has transitioned into an outlet for Dunkman Zack's basketball creativity, giving the youngster and his father something to bond over.
Zack's shooting prowess has drawn the attention of everyone from Knicks owner James Dolan and landed him on the home pages of overseas web pages.
It has also opened up learning opportunities that Weinberger never imagined the first time he filmed one of his son's trick shots.
"You get a lot of kids who say, 'I can't do this, I can't do that,'" Weinberger says. "When he started with basketball, he'd shoot from some crazy distance and he'd say, ‘Daddy, I can't do it.' And I'd tell him, ‘Zack -- you can do it. If you set your mind to it, you can do it. Try again.'
"Now, he'll shoot with other people and they'll say, ‘I can't do it' and he'll say, ‘You can do it. Just try ... There's no failure. With him, he just keeps going. It's only a failure if you give up. He just keeps going and keeps trying."
It's a lesson that Trick Shot Titus, the Pride of Derby, Kansas, is still mastering.
Like his trick-shooting contemporary, Titus started small, both literally and figuratively.
The first time Titus launched a shot across the room as ways of entertaining guests, the proud father in Joseph Ashby took over. When Titus showed a propensity for hitting any number of shots, Ashby got the idea to start the YouTube channel -- not as a way of turning him into an online personality -- but to chronicle his son's basketball talents.
But not long after Titus' first video, shot on Super Bowl Sunday in 2013, went viral thanks to a SportsCenter appearance, requests for Titus to appear on morning shows began to flood Ashby's inbox. As the father of five children who do not watch television and are home-schooled, Ashby had concerns about his youngest son becoming an overnight sensation.
"I didn't want my child to be famous, per se," Ashby says. "At least, I wanted to make sure we could maintain our normal life while having some amount of being in the public eye."
Yet, despite only being 4, Titus has made numerous television appearances and has a serious web presence. In addition to the YouTube channel, Trick Shot Titus has a Facebook page and has become the face of the new generation of trick shot artists all while managing to maintain as normal of a childhood as humanly possible.
Like with Zack, Titus is young enough to keep from getting overly absorbed in the attention that has come from his shooting abilities. While the Ashby family isn't connected to pop culture, Titus has some grasp that he has done things that other 4-year-olds haven't.
There was the time Ashby shot a trick shot video in the Kansas statehouse in Topeka, bringing Governor Sam Brownback into the act. Before Titus uses the capitol building as his personal playground, he and his dad bump into Brownback. As part of the schtick, Ashby pretends that he doesn't recognize Brownback, then asks him, "Hey, buddy, If you see the governor, keep this quiet, OK?"
"Your secret is safe with me," Brownback says in the 3½-minute video.
But Ashby, who accompanies Titus on appearances like the ones he has made on Jimmy Kimmel Live, has tried to turn the attention into learning opportunities. He wants each experience to be positive for Titus, but also strives to pass along the benefit of working hard and being disciplined -- even in the tasks of focusing on reaching the goal of achieving a shot Titus hasn't yet mastered.
So far, so good.
"He doesn't know he is a minor celebrity or a YouTube celebrity," Ashby says. "But he does know what work is and so we're happy with that."
Both Weinberger and Ashby have done their best to keep things in perspective as it relates to how far they will take this.
With Dunkman Zack and Trick Shot Titus already starring on their respective social media channels, both fathers are willing to allow their son's audiences to grow under the right conditions.
Ashby wants Titus' endeavors to center around fun, but also knows that his son's popularity could also create some opportunities for his family. The latest Trick Shot Titus video also includes his three older siblings, turning his passion for hoops into a family affair.
As long as the video venture doesn't get out of hand, Ashby is willing to consider the possibilities. The aforementioned Dude Perfect once reached out about Titus introducing one of their videos. But after some initial correspondence, the possibility of such a pairing has fallen by the wayside.
Weinberger, who recently launched a website, DunkmanZack.com, still hopes to grab Dude Perfect's attention. But the idea of bringing his son and Trick Shot Titus together for some sort of a friendly shooting competition similar to the one staged in a McDonald's ad featuring Michael Jordan and Larry Bird has crept into his thinking.
"I thought it would be kind of cool to have two 4-year-olds going at it," Weinberger says. "It would be cool because they can both do things that kids twice their age can't do and they're both obsessed."
It would all be in fun, of course as a way of bringing the two sharp-shooting 4-year-olds and their proud fathers together to celebrate the abilities that a popular video social media channel has presented to the world.
"We're open to it," Ashby says. "We'll see if the opportunity presents itself. ... We've tried to avoid competitions that are anything but super playful. Yeah, we shot against Kobe Bryant, but Kobe Bryant clearly threw the match.
"It's fun to just show off and do stuff that people kind of drop their jaw at, but I'm not sure how legitimate of a competition I want my young son in. But if the conditions were right, we'd consider it."
We'll take that as a yes. Stay tuned.