Signature Moves That Changed the NBA
We all have favorite players. These personal heroes leave everlasting impressions on sports fans.
How we choose to remember our own personal favorites varies, but in basketball, reminiscing on a player’s career conjures up specific memories, moments and moves.
Basketball is unique. Every single player has his own style, his own way of moving and a distinct arsenal of moves, refined into near perfection after years of competition. These are the moves that defined some of the best in NBA history.
Magic's No-Look Passes
Not everyone is old enough to have seen Magic Johnson in his prime, but thankfully for basketball nuts, YouTube exists.
The passes he would make in transition were unparalleled in precision, style and just overall coolness. Magic made these passes look easy and effortless, despite often being in full-speed attack with his eyes on his flanking teammates.
These iconic feeds from one of the best ever became the footprint for Showtime in Los Angeles. Magic’s style perfectly matched the city and the team he played for. He got everyone involved, made the correct play seemingly every time and never failed to amaze the Forum faithful.
It’s no wonder celebrities wanted a front-row seat to Showtime, because you had to get that close to appreciate the artistry of how Magic distributed the ball.
The Dirk Lean
Whenever he retires — and it will happen at some point — Dirk Nowitzki will close the story of the best European career in NBA history.
Nowitki has been many things during his time on the court: an MVP, leader of a championship team and a franchise cornerstone.
The image that sticks out in the minds of most is the one-legged fadeaway from the big man. Nowitzki’s patented shot is completely unguardable.
Players like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis have taken the evolution of the big man to the next level, combining the range of Dirk with guard-like dribbling and quickness.
But Nowitzki always will be regarded as the original 7-footer known more for his outside game. Nowitzki utilized his length advantage over nearly every other player to give himself open mid-range looks. He’s the first to show how a big man could create his own shot and dominate the league.
Seven feet tall. With some of the longest limbs in the league.
Kevin Durant is almost unstoppable because of his shot-making ability and length, which allow him so much room to get off a shot. When you combine those skills with the “Hesi-Jimbo,” it’s borderline unfair.
This hesitation pull-up jumper that Durant has become known for has carried him to MVPs, scoring titles and championships. The move will one day carry him to the Hall of Fame. The sheer combination of length and this quick-twitch movement give Durant the space to knock down dagger after dagger.
Durant’s game has the chance to age with grace based on this move alone, so expect to see KD sinking open jumpers until he decides to hang up the Nikes.
Kareem's Sky Hook
No player is as synonymous with a move as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is with the sky hook. The play led Kareem to score more points than anyone in NBA history and is cemented in NBA lore as the most unstoppable ever.
At 7 feet, 2 inches tall, with all the passing and post skills you ever could want, Kareem dominated the league. The sky hook made him untouchable. And unguardable.
The ball came out of his hand raised more than 10 feet in the air. Blocking the shot was impossible, and the way Kareem angled his body to isolate his right arm negated any challenge from less statuesque defenders.
The move has a lot to do with how he spent 20 years playing at the highest level, never averaging less than double-digit points in a season.
Manu's Euro Step
When Manu Ginobili burst onto the NBA scene as a 25-year-old rookie on a championship Spurs team, many wondered how a skilled, yet underwhelming athlete could create space under the basket.
Ginobili’s ability to get into the lane and score was mystifying. Many assumed his lack of burst and pure speed would limit his ability to get past perimeter defenders. That was not the case.
Ginobili mastered a move that has become an essential for NBA guards, the euro step. Along with Dwyane Wade, Ginobili made the move a staple for ball handlers. His smoothness as he glided into the paint, combined with his tremendous body control, gave Ginobili the space to finish at the rim or get fouled.
He kept opponents off guard by changing speeds, similar to the way James Harden does today. This move rarely was seen before Ginobili’s emergence, but it has since been implemented for guards looking to create space with unpredictability.
Shaq's Black Tornado
Shaquille O’Neal would have been difficult to defend even without all the ball skills he flashed during his career. His sheer size and strength was enough to overpower a majority of centers in a league dominated by big men, but Shaq’s black tornado spin-move dunk made it almost unfair.
He did an inverted jab step with his outside leg, putting his weight into the defender, and then used his ridiculous agility to spin toward the basket and humiliate the defender with an emphatic exclamation point.
Although he slowed down with time, injuries and the gradual deterioration of just being that large, Shaq carried the Black Tornado with him to the end of his career. Teams found use for him, because he stilkl could put that move on some of the best defenders in the league and have them looking silly.
Duncan Off the Glass
The rare great probably lauded more for his off-court demeanor and leadership capabilities than even his historically great on-court production. Tim Duncan made a living out of facing up and knocking down shots off the glass.
Duncan was far from a one-trick pony in the post, but his favorite and most reliable move was to face up the defender, hesitate and bank it home for the easy two points. A true master of the post, this move was made even more devastating by the threat of Duncan backing you down for a quick hook or layup.
This move was the fundamental predecessor to bigs stepping out even farther away from the basket. Anthony Davis is the closest mirror to Duncan in the modern NBA, paying homage frequently with the patented Duncan bank.
Jason Kidd's Bounce Passes
So much flash and control. Jason Kidd took the NBA by storm with his ability to thread the needle with fast-break passes. Kidd was notorious for finding the perfect angle on the floor and putting spin on the ball for expert, in-stride delivery to his teammate.
His highlight reel is just an absurd array of no-look, one-handed, between-three-defenders dimes that led to easy baskets. Kidd put his own flavor on these passes and was at the peak of his powers when he played for the New Jersey Nets, leading the team to back-to-back Finals appearances.
That era of Nets basketball was special, and the athleticism of teammates Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin made the team a terror on the fast break. With Kidd leading the charge, defenders never knew which one of the athletic finishers would wind up with the ball on a fast break, feeding right into Kidd’s skillful hands.
Responsible for more broken ankles than black ice. The cause of more hurt feelings than ghosting. Allen Iverson’s crossover move was the ultimate in humbling experiences.
Most of us watch the NBA for the athleticism, the highlight plays, the tremendous skill of the best athletes in the world playing at the highest level. Iverson gave us one more reason: to see those same athletes look ridiculous.
The combination of hesitation, agility, supreme control and oh-so-much swagger made Iverson a nightmare to guard one-on-one. Many worried about Iverson’s size translating to the next level, but that same size proved pivotal in his ability to keep defenders off balance and either blow by them or pull up in their face.
Iverson’s best display of this came in the NBA Finals against the Lakers, when he stepped back against Tyronn Lue, drained the corner jumper, and stepped over a humbled Lue on his way back down the floor. Never gets old.
LeBron's Chasedown Block
Probably the most intimidating move on this list, because it comes out of nowhere.
When LeBron James emerged as a superstar two years before entering the NBA, it was all about athleticism and instincts. Neither of which has gotten worse with age. The fear guys have in the open floor against a LeBron-led team is real and noticeable.
This will be his legacy on the court. His jump shot has gotten to a point where it’s a good tool. He’s solid in the post and unstoppable off the dribble, but nothing is more impressive than seeing him run at full speed coast-to-coast and pin an easy bucket on the back board.
The block on Andre Iguodala is the first that comes to mind. The ability to squash a team in transition with regularity provides a real mental edge, and you can see now, with LeBron on the floor, players look over their shoulder a little more often.
Gervin's Finger Roll
This move should be in a teaching video for how to play basketball.
George Gervin’s finger roll is a textbook example of how you can rack up points by mastering control of one move. Gervin’s ability to score with the finger roll from all sorts of angles played a big role in his legendary career.
The size and speed to blow past defenders, Gervin exhibited an early mastering of changing speeds with a graceful-looking finish that he could alter as needed. It’s remarkable how one move can have so many variations. The height, speed and angles of his varying finger-roll finishes are mind-blowing.
His style and touch are the keys. The soft roll he was able to put on the ball, while extending it to rim level allowed even off-target layups to bounce and fall through the net for an easy score.
Kobe's Spin Jumper
A man who built his legacy on one thing — scoring.
Kobe Bryant’s determination and ego (in both good and bad ways) led him to one of the most divisive and interesting careers in NBA history. What cannot be denied was Bryant’s ability to score being among the best to ever dribble a basketball.
The move he perfected, and one that is now in the arsenal of many of the best scorers today, was his spin-pivot jumper. Bryant’s supreme confidence and shotmaking ability were illustrated in how he executed this move.
Dribble, post up, back him down, plant the pivot foot, spin and fade away. Nothing but net. When Bryant was on, it started with this move, a move that would extend all the way to the 3-point line when he felt like being a little extra Mamba.
Tim Hardaway's Killer Crossover
The first to be known as Mr. Crossover.
Tim Hardaway displayed insane dribble moves in the East Bay for the 1990s Warriors. Equally devastating with both hands, Hardaway deceptively hung the ball out to one side before snapping it the other way and driving to the hoop in one seamless, athletic burst.
The Run TMC teams that balled out in Oakland were instrumental in the how the NBA evolved into a form of athletic, awe-inspiring and flashy entertainment.
When Hardaway took his talents to South Beach later in his career, the crossover came with him, allowing East Coast fans who were typically asleep for Warriors games to see the killer crossover at work.
Even more impressive is that this was the era of hand-checking defense, which is why in many of his highlights, it looks like the defender whiffs on a punch after Hardaway crosses him. Pretty hilarious if you want to check it out.
MJ's Reverse Layups
Probably the most underrated in the vast skill set of Michael Jordan was his ability to hang and change hands in the air on layups. That says a lot given how his legend has grown.
Known most for his dunks, killer instinct and game-winning mid-range jumpers, Jordan built his scoring legacy on finishing at the rim, avoiding the many great centers he had to face in the process.
The way he eluded some of the best shot blockers and most dominant big men of all time may be the most impressive set of highlights from Air Jordan. He made Shaq, Patrick Ewing and so many others look befuddled as he got shots up, over, under and around their outstretched arms.
Dunks on top of people or splashing game-winners take the lion’s share of Jordan’s highlights, but for basketball purists, nothing compares to a reel of his layups. The body control and athleticism is unequaled, mirrored best in the modern-day game by Kyrie Irving and LeBron.
The Dream Shake
Before Dirk Nowitzki, there was Hakeem Olajuwon, and "The Dream" might be the best international player in NBA history.
Hakeem Olajuwon used a variety of post moves on his way to becoming one of the best and most accomplished big men ever. None of these moves has been copied more or received more praise than the Dream shake.
Olajuwon’s deceptive shoulder shimmy allowed him to feel the post defender’s balance, and quickly choose a pivot foot, off which he scored more often than not. The move carried the Rockets to the pair of titles that interrupted Michael Jordan’s run in the 1990s and has been emulated by nearly every big man to enter the league since.
None could do it like the Dream.