By Nathan Smith
LOS ANGELES – Jesse Jones is almost too famous to be here.
A dozen men took turns shooting threes and executing exotic dunks in an empty Staples Center on Wednesday, all part of the dress rehearsal for the NBA All-Star Weekend’s competitions. Some, like Jones, played college basketball. But only Jones can boast Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James as fans.
“I’m trying to play overseas,” Jones says, “but now I have a big brand, I don’t know if you heard of it, it’s called Filayyyy.”
Jones was a lightly-recruited, undersized shooting guard out of Passaic County Community College. He transferred to Division II Bridgeport University, where he was a reliable scorer off the bench. In between his junior and senior seasons in 2015, he posted a video on Instagram, a highlight of then-Kentucky commit Isaiah Briscoe. The video debuted a style, and a catchphrase, that would change Jones’ life.
Jones provided Briscoe with singing commentary, narrating the guard’s crossover and fadeaway shot with staccato soul, before belting the crescendo “ooh, filayyyy!” The video received 4,200 likes. His next videos included highlights from Irving and Stephen Curry. Popular websites like Bleacher Report and House of Highlights began sharing Jones’ videos, leading @filayyyy to attract over 600,000 followers.
Despite his notoriety, Jones continues to work out furiously to keep in basketball shape, he says. He’s looking for any team, in any country, who will pay him to create highlight reels rather than narrate them. He says it has been difficult for him to find interest, which he believes can largely be attributed to playing in obscurity at Bridgeport.
“I played Division II, so it’s a little tough to be seen,” Jones says. “You’re not really showcased on TV.”
Jones came to Los Angeles for the first time to participate in this dress rehearsal. His face lights up when asked if he thinks his performance could help him attract foreign interest.
“You never know,” he says with a shrug. “Somebody may see something from this and be like, ‘Hey, come over here,’ you know?”
Jones stood in for Klay Thompson in the three-point contest and hit 18-of-30 attempts. He assisted the stand-in for Victor Oladipo by throwing alley-oops. When the stand-in slammed the ball through the basket, the p.a. announcer began to sing “Filayyyy,” before going off key and trailing off.
There’s someone to play Thompson. There’s someone to play Oladipo. Now, there’s someone to play Jesse Jones.