Upon first look, Dawson Gurley is unassuming. You definitely notice how tall he is, but he carries himself gently.
Get him a good barber, though, and a No. 11 Golden State Warriors jersey, and he transforms into the best Klay Thompson lookalike you’ll ever see. He even sounds somewhat like the taller Splash Brother. All Gurley needs to do is switch out his Nike Air Huaraches for a pair of Klay’s superfly Anta KT3 sneakers and he’d have every detail down. Maybe Anta can hook him up next time he decides to attend a game in Oakland and prank the fans.
Gurley, 24—also known as Big Daws—is a professional YouTube prank artist. He dove headfirst into the field of online celebrity shortly after he graduated from high school. His channel currently has over 3 million subscribers.
Gallivanting around the U.S. to perform his pranks, the Kansas City native is leading a charmed life. “My demographic is mostly all college kids, so I travel to different schools and film videos there,” Gurley tells Bleacher Report. “I’ve filmed in probably 30 different states.” He counts Hawaii, San Diego and Miami among his favorite spots to visit.
Though his pranks run the gamut from eating junk food in the gym to dressing like a nerd and freestyling to playing an awkward pickup artist, he is most widely known for his impersonations of the Golden State Warriors shooting guard.
In a way, Gurley’s rise coincides with the rise of the Dubs. The franchise toiled for years to ascend to NBA powerhouse status, and Thompson steadily improved his game as well. By 2014, Thompson was a known commodity to NBA fans, and Gurley’s followers began to notice the resemblance.
“After like thousands of comments, I decided to do a video two years ago where I went around and played people in public pretending to be Klay,” says Gurley, who has been playing basketball since he was four years old.
“It went super viral.”
Sitting at 15 million views, "Klay Thompson Plays Basketball with Strangers" is a must-watch for any fan of hoops and pranks. Big Daws followed that up by attending Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Klay-face. And just this week, he went viral again when he was able to come back to Oracle Arena for the Warriors’ ring ceremony with a little help from his sponsor, SeatGeek. (He originally sourced that gainful partnership through an Instagram direct message.)
A huge basketball fan who had dreams of playing in the NBA, the prankster grew up idolizing Allen Iverson, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady but says, “I dethroned [T-Mac] because he was talking s--t on SportsCenter.” Among the insults the Hall of Famer leveled at “Fake Klay” on Wednesday’s ESPN broadcast was the assertion that he couldn’t possibly have success with women. In fact, Gurley counts his wife Kelly among his biggest supports.
“I’m going to potentially drop a diss track on him as Klay,” he says, only half joking.
Basketball was a family affair for Dawson. His uncle Greg Gurley played at Kansas in the '90s, and Dawson occasionally got to try his luck at hoops against former Jayhawk and NBA big man Scot Pollard.
Big Daws would earn his nickname playing for the nationally ranked Olathe East Hawks of Olathe, Kansas. He was in high school when the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City as the Thunder and became a fan because they were the closest team to Kansas City.
(Now, he says he's starting to root for the Warriors more: “I feel like I’m a part of the team.”)
After high school, he says, “I had the opportunity to play at community college, and I just didn’t really see that as a valuable opportunity.”
Gurley had been developing other skills, though. He saw the movie Jackass when he was 11 and was inspired to start filming his own stunts and pranks. It just seemed right that he should pursue his second childhood passion full-time.
That decision has paid off.
Cameron Alford, 20, has been traveling with Gurley for the last three months, functioning as his videographer and road dog. “I’m stoked to be a part of it,” Alford says. “When we have fun, we have a lot of fun.”
That said, he adds, “At this level, it becomes just as much of a job as it is fun." Alford helps Gurley produce a new prank video about once a week, along with one to two vlog entries to keep his millions of fans satisfied.
Both Alford and Gurley are bemused and inspired by the mechanics of virality. “Right now I’m really focused on trying to get my YouTube channel to 10 million [subscribers],” Gurley says. “And from there [a] TV show, potentially a movie. I want to do it all.”
One thing he hasn’t been focused on is his physique. When asked what if felt like to hear Warriors head coach Steve Kerr take a crack at his apparent lack of conditioning, Gurley didn’t hide his amusement.
“I saw it and I just busted up laughing,” he says, recalling his days as a skinny hoopshead. “I’m not that fat right now, but I’ve definitely got a dad bod, which I’m actually really proud of.”
Even more so than his slightly doughy physique, Gurley is proud of his ability to brighten people’s days: “I am just passionate about making people laugh and trying to do what I can to bring positivity into a world where there’s so much negative things going on.”
There are certainly less noble causes for a YouTube celebrity to embrace.