How a few legends shaped the game we know today
Basketball is a game of evolution, growing better with each generation. One era of players learn from the last, building upon the skills and successes of their heroes. As a result, today’s game has become a fast-paced and exciting global brand.
The shot is a good example of this development, moving from set shots in the old days to the absurdly-long threes of today. Once upon a time, nobody left the ground when they shot, and two-handed shots were relatively common. Many players have been credited with inventing the jumpshot, which revolutionized the game by allowing players to rise up and shoot contested shots.
Even so, the game was still played cautiously, with most shots taken close to the basket, although pioneers like Pete Maravich started to gun away from distance. With the implementation of the three-point line in the NBA back in 1979, the long-range shot eventually caught on, with early snipers such as Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. Today, transition threes are a norm while Stephen Curry and James Harden have taken the three-pointer to new heights with pull-up and step-back attempts from way beyond the arc.
The lay-up underwent a similar evolution, from a largely under-the-basket form to an aerial spectacle, beginning with Elgin Baylor’s swooping layups and George Gervin’s deadeye finger-roll. Julius Erving turned this into an art-form with his athleticism, popularizing the dunk. In today’s NBA, spectacular athletes such as LeBron James essentially live above the rim, while the artistry of Kyrie Irving’s acrobatic layups have brought them back as well.
Some of the most aesthetically-pleasing plays can come from ball-handling moves and no-look passes. These creative elements have similarly changed over the decades. Bob Cousy proved that flair and championships could come together with his incredible passing, in stark contrast to the textbook two-handed chest pass, but he too relied more on defensive one-handed dribbling moves. The flair of legends added to this arsenal gradually, from Earl Monroe’s spin move to Allen Iverson’s unstoppable crossover to Jason Williams’ unpredictable bag of tricks, taking the sport from strength to strength. As a result, today’s game is creative yet functional as a perfect blend of art and sport, reminding us to pay homage to those who have come before us.