Word on the Street

Superstar Move (soo’-pur-star’ moov) noun. A basketball move that, while technically illegal and/or morally questionable, is regularly executed by superstars and allowed by the officials.

Usage example: “Michael Jordan’s pushoff of Bryon Russell is the most famous use of a superstar move in NBA history.”

The Top 11 Superstar Moves

We all know that superstars are allowed to travel and receive the benefit of every iffy call, but certain players developed a signature move that takes full advantage of the fact that the refs turn a blind eye to their tactics. Here is a list of the “best” all-time superstar moves.

1. The Off-arm Pushoff: In his youth, Michael Jordan had the speed and explosiveness to get to the hoop at will. But he lost a step going into his 30s, and taking it to the cup wasn’t nearly as easy. No matter. Jordan developed a go-to strategy that negated his loss of quickness; he would simply drive with his right hand and use his left arm to wipe away his defender. Just go back and watch some old Bulls games from the 90s. Jordan’s off-arm was like a powerful, slithering snake, squeezing in between defenders and pushing them out of his way. He was a master at doing this without drawing attention to it …although there was at least one occasion where he wasn’t so subtle (see Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals). Notable victim: Bryon Russel. Update: Watch it.


2. The Drop, Flop, and Roll: Dwyane Wade and freethrows are a winning combination, better even than chocolate and peanut butter, though not quite as good as boobs and, well, more boobs. Wade learned this early and used it often – the freethrow thing, not the boob thing – so that by his third year in the NBA he was a league champion and Finals MVP. His signature move is driving headlong into a crowd, drawing some form of contact, and then dropping to the floor like a stone. Knock him down seven times, and he’ll get up eight. Then shoot some more freethrows. Notable victim: The Dallas Mavericks. Update: Watch it.


3. The Elbow-out Jumper: Kobe Beyant is an amazing physical specimen. His combination of speed, strength, and athleticism enable him to create a shooting pocket in almost any situation. And when he can’t, well, he just uses his elbow to fire a warning shot across his defenders face …and that gives him all the room he needs. Of course, Kobe’s errant elbows caught the attention of the league office last season, and he was suspended not for his clearouts but for bashing faces while trying to draw end-of-game fouls. Notable victim: Raja Bell.

4. The Three-Step-And-A-Hop Jumper: Patrick Ewing loved to drive across the lane and shoot the 12 to 15-foot jumper; he scored about 87 percent of his baskets that way. Too bad it was almost always a travel. Ewing would dribble once, take three massive steps, then do a little hop before elevating for his shot. There was nothing subtle about this particular move, but he got away with it again and again during his career (and it led to one of Marv Albert‘s most famous quotes: “Ewing gets the step …YES!”). In fact, I bet that EA Sports has been paying Ewing royalties ever since they added the “pro hop” to the list of special moves in the NBA Live series. Notable victim: The Chicago Bulls.

5. The 23-second Postup: As Charles Barkley got older, his post moves got slower. And …I …mean …slooooooooower. Most of the time, Chuck would run more than 20 seconds off the clock while using his giant ass to back his man deep into the paint. Here’s a general rule of thumb: If your post-up moves are better tracked with a calendar than a stopwatch, you’re probably doing something wrong. The NBA responded to Barkley (and guys like Mark Jackson) by establishing a five-second post-up rule prior to the 1999-00 season. But although it wasn’t technically illegal until his final season, it was always painful to watch. Notable victim: Robert Horry.

6. The Kickout Jumper: During his 18-year career, Reggie Miller was best known for tirelessly running off screens to get open for a jump shot. But he also liked to kick out his legs at the tail-end of each shot. The point and purpose of the kickout was not to aid his deft jumper, but to draw a little extra contact from his defender and hopefully get a whistle. More often than not, the tactic worked, partly because his defenders were usually scrambling madly to catch up with him, and partly because Miller was great at selling the foul by flailing his scrawny arms and letting out a well-timed “Whuuaaaargh!” Notable victim: Spike Lee.

7. The Bowl-Your-Man-Down: For most of the last decade or so, trying to stop Shaq in the paint was like trying to stop fat people from eating gravy. The Diesel was (and still is) bigger and stronger than just about anybody else. And if that wasn’t advantage enough, the refs usually just stoood by and let him smash through his hapless defenders on his lumbering trips to Dunkville. The only way opposing players were able to counter Shaq was to take some contact and then keel over like they’d been shot. In fact, Shaq’s unstoppableness is almost wholly responsible for the Age of Flop we are currently living through. Notable victims: Vlade Divac. Update: Watch it.


8. The Amazing Changing Pivot Feet: Kevin McHale had the best collection of low-post moves of all time: the worm move, the slippery eel, the white salamander, and so on. A large part of his back-to-the-basket repertoire was dependent on precise and well-timed footwork. But every once in a while, McHale would squirm his way into an impossible situation. Since he was a reluctant passer (teammate Danny Ainge nicknamed him The Black Hole), McHale was often forced to – as the announcers put it – “invent a move.” This was usually a clever euphemism for “switch the pivot foot.” That’s the only way to explain how McHale could migrate 10 feet across the paint on a single move. Notable victims: John Salley (who referred to guarding McHale in the post as “being in the torture chamber.”). Update: McHale is too old-school for a YouTube clip, but watch Dwyane Wade do it.


9. The Killer Palmover: I’m not saying Allen Iverson isn’t a great basketball player, but sometimes I think he’d be more at home on the And1 Tour than the NBA. That dude loves to handle the rock, and everything from his standard dribble to his crossover was imported straight from the street circuit …because he palms the ball almost every time. As if his crazy speed didn’t give him enough of an advantage. Notable victims: The Michael Jordan. Update: Watch it.


10. The Five-Step Dunk: I won’t attribute this to any one player (although Michael Jordan perfected it in the 90s) because every superstar (and quite a few non-superstars) is allowed to do it: Take three, four, even five steps en route to a thrilling dunk. Let’s face it, the NBA is a spectator sport – FAN-tastic, you might even say – and the officials give players a little extra leeway when it comes to exciting the crowd. If somebody is swooping in for an uncontested dunk on the fast break, what’s the harm in letting him take a few extra steps? Notable victims: Integrity.

11. The Skyhook Brushoff: How could I forget Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose unstoppable skyhook was made unstoppable partly because his off-arm was thrown up like a defensive wall between him and his defender. And when opposing players bumped that arm, they were more often than not called for a foul. Here are several examples.


Labels: Michael Jordan / Bryon Russel / Dwyane Wade / Kobe Bryant / Raja Bell / Patrick Ewing / Charles Barkley (Chuck) / Mark Jackson / Robert Horry / Reggie Miller / Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq, The Diesel) / Vlade Divac / Kevin McHale / John Salley / Allen Iverson / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar / Dallas Mavericks / Chicago Bulls / 1998 NBA Finals / 1999-00 NBA season / NBA Finals MVP / NBA / Word on the Street


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