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Adams: The most unstoppable moves in basketball

| Friday, September 27, 2019

In the sport of basketball, there are numerous legends, and many of them had an iconic, go-to move that only added to their fame. Michael Jordan had his cradle dunk, Kobe Bryant had his fadeaway and Allen Iverson had his crossover. However, there are only a select few moves ever deployed in basketball that have been unstoppable. Here are my rankings of the most un-guardable moves in the history of the sport.


5. Shaquille O’Neal — The Black Tornado

I actually didn’t know O’Neal called it this until recently, but the move was really pretty simple. Shaq would back his defender down in the post, then spin around and dunk on them. Despite its simplicity, the Black Tornado was deadly, and Shaq was the perfect player to perform it. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, nobody could handle a prime Shaq in the post (save for Ben Wallace in the 2004 NBA Finals.)

I personally saw a talk by a former NBA player who said he once grabbed Shaq’s arm to try to foul him, and he almost dislocated his shoulder when Shaq spun around. That said, some players did manage to pull off a “hack-a-Shaq” before O’Neal could get a shot off and send him to the foul line, where he was abysmal for the whole of his career. Since there was a way to counter really his only go-to move, the Black Tornado falls in the rankings.


4. Wilt Chamberlain — Dipper Shot

For those who don’t know, Wilt Chamberlain’s nickname was “the Big Dipper” because he was so tall that he had to dip through most doorways. On the basketball court, he was so tall (7-foot-1) and long (7-foot-8 wingspan) that when backing down in the post, once he got close enough, he could jump and twist and stretch to roll the ball directly through the hoop.

This shot, also known as the “Dipper Dunk,” was deadly primarily because Wilt played in an age where he towered over everyone else, and the only big man who could guard him was 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell. Given the circumstances of the time in which Wilt used this shot, it moves up the rankings, but because it would be less effective in the modern age with more athletic and taller big men, it falls short of the top.


3. James Harden — Step Back 3 (traveling optional)

You can tell how I feel about this move. It’s annoying — sometimes illegal — but dang, is it good. Harden will cross the ball between his legs and across his body repeatedly to lull his defenders to sleep. Given his ability to drive and finish at the rim or draw fouls, his defenders can’t just hug up on him, so when he takes a step (or two, or three) to bound back and shoot a three, he often has plenty of space to get it off. What makes it even more impressive is the strength a shot like this takes when changing momentum from backwards to vertical in order to get the ball to the rim.

If Harden had managed to take the Rockets further than the Conference Finals, this move may have ranked higher because it would have produced greater results. However, with what Harden’s already done with this move (and how he may improve on it, especially with video footage of him working on a one-legged step-back 3 this summer) his move is already legendary.


2. Dirk Nowitzki — One-legged Fadeaway

It helps your signature move greatly when you have the size to make it even harder for a typical defender to guard (a conclusion supported by the move in first place on this list). Nowitzki stood 7-foot and released the ball well above his head, making it practically impossible to block him unless he accidentally leaned too far back on his fadeaway. Speaking of, he’d back an opponent down in the post (primarily on the baseline), then turn around and shoot off one leg to get the shot off quicker.

Being so tall and strong allowed Nowitzki to consistently shoot at least 50% on fadeaways, while attempting drastically more of them than any other player in the league. This move was also how he continued to be so effective well into his mid-to-late 30s, leading the Mavericks to an NBA championship on a crazy run in 2011 at the age of 33, when most players are considered past their prime. While a fantastic move, first place should be obvious …


1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — Skyhook

That’s right, there was never any doubt. At 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, “Cap,” as he was known, played with a grace never before seen from a big man. Always on the lean side, Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t consistently overpower opponents like Chamberlain or Shaq, so instead, he elected to shoot over them. Turning his shoulder to his defender and flicking the ball with his wrist at the apex of his reach (well over 10 feet in the air when jumping) was just not fair.

Chamberlain’s size and athleticism almost led to basketball rims being raised to 12 feet, but Kareem’s “Skyhook” probably should have motivated it. In fact, Chamberlain is possibly the only player to ever be able to block Kareem’s “Skyhook,” and when it takes a 7-foot-2 guy with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and a (self-proclaimed) 46- to 48-inch vertical in his prime to block a shot, you know it’s the most unstoppable ever.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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