You may not think you know Brandon Armstrong, but if you watch basketball and have an Internet connection then you almost certainly do. He’s known as @BdotAdot5, a blacktop chameleon who can transform his game to match those of basketball's biggest stars. This past summer Armstrong, an Atlanta resident and die-hard New England Patriots fan, became a viral sensation thanks to his YouTube videos that saw him mimic the NBA's greatest stars with incredible accuracy and a healthy dose of good-humored embellishment.
He has most famously parodied Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, and James Harden (among many others), and Armstrong’s unique blend of basketball skill and comedic timing have helped land the former D-Leaguer an ESPN Magazine feature, an ad for Gillette, and over 22 million views on his YouTube channel.
We had a chance to catch up with Armstrong to get his thoughts on his meteoric rise to YouTube fame, what it's like to be texting buddies with the reigning NBA MVP, and what he has in store next. Hint: He might need to dye his hair to get into character.
When did this all start? When did you first start trying to mimic other players? Was it something you were doing during your playing career in college and the pros, or was it something you just did messing around with your friends?
It was something I’ve always done growing up, just messing around with my friends. Whether that’s in practice or just playing pickup basketball, we’d always go into the game saying things like, “Who you going to be today?” and we might be like, “J.R. Smith” or “Kobe.” There are certain things they do—of course we wouldn’t try to portray their whole game—that we would try to mimic, like Kobe’s fadeaway or J.R. Smith’s crazy three-point shot. It’s always something I’ve done growing up so it’s pretty natural.
At what point did you realize that you were really good at it? I’ve played basketball my whole life and used to try to pretend to be Michael Jordan, but I was never good enough to want to put that on film. What made you realize that you could actually do this pretty well?
I guess it was after the Russell Westbrook video. It wasn’t really portraying his game, it was really more about his little on-court antics and facial expressions. But then it turned into everything I did felt exactly like him, so that was the moment where I was like, “OK, let me try someone else since my supporters and followers really like that one.” So I tried Tim Duncan and kept going after that, and it just went up from there.
When you were starting to put these videos on YouTube and get into the viral video world, did you have any favorite videos or “role models” that you used to watch and draw lessons from, or were you just trying to do your own thing?
I started making videos on Vine that were non-sports related videos, so I had a lot of followers via Vine—probably almost 400,000—and was I guess considered what you would call “Vine famous” a little bit back then. Out of every person who got on Vine back then, the one to follow was @KingBach. He created the form “Vine stardom” and used the Vine platform to open other doors. But other than that, I was just trying to create my own content and be original. When I did the sports, no one else was doing or is doing what I’ve done with the basketball impersonations and parodies, so it was basically me finding my niche, creating my own lane, and doing something no one has ever done before.
Has there been a moment that made you take a step back and think, “Wow, these videos are blowing up?”
Probably after the James Harden one, when I was on ESPN almost every week. All of a sudden I was being contacted by brands and sponsorships for different partnerships, and I had to sit back and strategize. I had to stop releasing videos every day, and I had to start releasing a new impersonation video maybe every three weeks instead, making the people wait rather than over-saturating the market.
Would you say that idea of “over-saturation” is the biggest challenge you face now that the videos have become popular?
Just a tad bit. I definitely don’t want to over-saturate the market with an impersonation every day, I think some of my followers would love it, but a lot of them would be like “time for me to move on to something new.” I want to give them bits and pieces, an impersonation here or there, and then some basketball parodies too. Those videos don’t ever get old. The “Basketball Be Likes…” are able to capture those moments that every basketball person or player can relate to. The impersonations are just the icing on the cake.
Why do you think these videos have been so successful?
The big reason is that nobody has ever seen it before. No one has done basketball comedy. Plus, even if you just played basketball growing up and never were a professional you can still relate to these videos. You might go play pickup with your boys, and it might be that some of this stuff you’ve seen in the video will happen in real life. So I think like I said, the reason why they’ve done so well is it’s something nobody has seen or done before, and the people love it.
Did you try to promote your videos at all before they blew up and you were on ESPN all the time, or did you pretty much let them grow on their own?
I basically just used YouTube because I had created a little buzz on Instagram and Twitter. The company I signed with, Fullscreen, told me that I should upload my videos on YouTube and it would be better [than just Instagram, Twitter, and Vine], so I started doing that. How I got so many followers was just from me tagging the players in the videos. Thank God for Brandon Jennings. He followed me after I think the “LeBron James Be Like…” video, and when he retweeted me after the Westbrook video that’s when things blew up. So really it was Brandon Jennings who got me out there by retweeting and promoting a lot of my videos.
Have you honored Brandon Jennings by doing a video of him yet?
I haven’t yet. My boy @Famouslos32—who played college ball with Jennings [sic] —does basketball parodies and just funny videos in general, and he actually did a Brandon Jennings parody. It was pretty funny and pretty accurate too.
Besides Brandon Jennings, have you heard directly from any NBA players? I saw you did something with Dwyane Wade a little while ago. Have any of them reached out and actually asked you to imitate them?
Mo Williams. He DM’d me on Instagram asking me to impersonate when he scored 52 points last year. I was at a club in L.A. last year, and Josh Smith came up to me and said, “Where’s my video?” I’ve heard from Jodie Meeks and a few others too. They just think it’s cool to see someone portray them. Me and Steph Curry probably talk once every two weeks via text. He texted me not that long ago and was like, “I’m thinking about you when I’m on the court, I feel like I’m impersonating you.” When I read that I just started laughing. It was pretty cool.
Have you heard from any surprising non-basketball people since your videos became so famous?
I’m a huge Patriots fan, and Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson follow me on Twitter. They retweet my stuff, follow me on Instagram, and comment on my stuff a lot. One of the baseball players, a guy from the Toronto Blue Jays whose name I’m forgetting, Steph had him on Snapchat saying how much he loved my videos. There’s been a lot of good support outside of basketball.
Of all the videos you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
Probably the Westbrook video of course, and then probably “When she asks to play 1 on 1 for y'all's relationship.” That one went pretty viral. Steph Curry said that, that one was actually his favorite video. So that’s probably one of my favorites.
I saw on your channel you recently did a Michael Vick video and a few other football ones as well. Have you considered branching out into doing players in other sports?
It’s always good to switch it up and give my followers something different. It would more likely be some of the high-profile players or something pertaining to football. I was going to do “NFL Centers Be Like…” because they are moving around on the line more than the quarterback, so I can definitely put a little comical twist on that. Of course you’ve got guys like Cam Newton as well. I’ll probably drop one of those every month and a half, just randomly to get a reaction. There’s been a good response so far to the Michael Vick one and the “NFL WR PreGame vs. NFL WR In Game Be Like,” and I might do something to cross the two sports where I could do Russell Westbrook as a running back or how Kyle Korver would be as a quarterback. Those could be pretty funny, but I haven’t touched that yet.
Any hints on what player might be next?
I’m going to do a whole team. We’ll be doing a team with the most personalities, and I haven’t done anybody on them except for Paul Pierce: the Los Angeles Clippers. There are probably 10 players on the team I can do, from Austin Rivers, to Jamal Crawford, to even Doc Rivers. It’s basically going to be like how I did my NBA Dream Team impersonation. I might be Chris Paul, throw it up, and turn into Blake Griffin. I think it will be fun, so that’s probably going to be my next major video.
I’d put in a plug for doing my team, the Celtics, but I don’t think anybody would watch that.
It’s funny, they actually hit me up a while back and asked me if there was anyone on the team I could impersonate and I’m like, besides Isaiah Thomas and my boy R.J. Hunter who is actually my good friend, I don’t know.
Besides the videos, do you have any other big projects or collaborations in the pipeline?
We have a Gillette commercial that I just finished shooting, and that should probably be coming out in late December sometime. That’s about it. I don’t have anything major set in stone yet, besides of course a few more impersonations. We’ll be tapping into some of the older players, probably Charles Barkley or Dennis Rodman to start the old-school guys off.
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