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Eliot J. Schechter
Tim Hardaway and Manu Ginóbili will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, among others. Their signature moves might as well go in with them.
In the 90s, Hardaway became almost synonymous with the crossover. Or, in his words, the “killer crossover.”
In the 2000s and 2010s, Ginóbili did so much damage with the Eurostep that it eventually became a borderline requirement for NBA players to have it in their games.
Their enshrinement is an opportunity to celebrate both moves, and we’ll do that in the context of the headline above.
But first, what exactly do we mean by “filthiest?” And how do we define the modern NBA?
This is not a list of the best or most unstoppable signature moves. Sure, effectiveness is a component of filthiness, but this ranking is also about aesthetics. Filthy moves are the kind that drop a defender or make him look silly. But the best punctuation for a highlight is a bucket. The moves below led to plenty.
As for the time frame we’re looking at, there are a few potential cutoffs. Detailed tracking data has been available for the last several years. Play-by-play data is available starting in the 1996-97 season. But we’re going to travel back a little further so we can include Hardaway and some legends from the ’80s.
For our purposes, the modern NBA is the three-point era (1979-80 to now).
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Set Number: X31552
15. Tim Duncan’s Bank Shot
Tim Duncan’s bank shot was filthy in its casualness. He could seemingly get to it whenever he wanted. Its range extended well beyond the paint. And it felt borderline automatic.
14. LeBron James’ Cross-Court Pass
For a player who was at or near the top of the league for nearly two decades, you’d think it might be easier to narrow down his repertoire to one signature move. It’s a testament to LeBron James’ versatility that you really can’t.
He has the cock-back dunk, chase-down block, fadeaway jumper, spin move on the way to a layup and, more recently, the look-away three. But thanks to his size, vision and passing ability, the move he may execute better than anyone is the cross-court or skip pass.
13. Kevin McHale’s Up-and-Under
Fundamentals don’t always translate to “filthy.” Like TD’s banker, though, Kevin McHale’s up-and-under qualifies.
Few players in league history sold the up-fake out of the post better than McHale did. That move got plenty of NBA defenders off their feet.
12. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Sky Hook
If we were talking about the most effective signature moves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook would have a strong argument for the top spot.
Because it was such an automatic bucket for so long, it almost became boring. But the dominance of the shot, and how helpless it made defenders look, is still enough to qualify as filthy.
11. Shaquille O’Neal’s Drop Step
We continue with another post move, this time from one of the most physically dominant players in league history: Shaquille O’Neal.
The drop step is something that most young players are taught at some point. It’s a simple move, and NBA big men have deployed it countless times.
What made Shaq’s filthy was his unparalleled combination of size and explosiveness. He humiliated most big men who tried to guard him (especially Chris Dudley).
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Larry W. Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
10. George Gervin’s Finger Roll
Go ask your parents who had the filthiest signature move in the ’70s and ’80s. You probably won’t hear too many names before you get to George Gervin and his finger roll.
Gervin scored in a variety of ways, but nothing was as filthy (or feathery) as that finger roll. He could get to the paint against any defender, and the range on his finish extended much further out than most layups.
9. Kevin Durant’s “Hesi Pull-Up Jimbo”
For years, Durant has lulled defenders to sleep with a hesitation (typically with the ball in his left hand) that beautifully sets up his picture-perfect jumper. The best example may be his dagger jumper in Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
8. Magic Johnson’s No-Look Pass
The Showtime Lakers are one of the most exciting teams in NBA history, and Magic Johnson is the primary reason why.
He was the engineer of countless perfectly executed fast breaks, and his no-look passes made them far more memorable than they would’ve otherwise been.
7. Dirk Nowitzki’s One-Legged Fadeaway
Dirk Nowitzki being seven feet tall made his basic jumper hard enough to defend. Adding a fade and a knee in between the release and the defender made it borderline impossible to bother.
The one-legged fadeaway was revolutionary for big men and basketball in general.
6. Stephen Curry’s Pull-Up Three
There are examples galore of Stephen Curry hitting absurd pull-up threes from several feet behind the three-point line.
They’re seemingly unstoppable, have caused countless defenses to scramble in transition and bring a moment of tension between the release and the result that a play like a highlight dunk can’t really bring.
There are so many individual plays that could demonstrate all of the above, but none do so as effectively as the buzzer-beater against the Oklahoma City Thunder that inspired what sounded like an involuntary double-bang from the legendary Mike Breen.
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Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images
We may take the Eurostep for granted now. Most guards and wings have one in the bag. They might not use it at every opportunity, but it’s almost a prerequisite for NBA-level playmakers.
That wasn’t always the case, though.
Šarūnas Marčiulionis is credited for introducing the move to the NBA in the late 1980s, but 2022 Hall of Fame inductee Manu Ginóbili was the one who popularized it.
Manu is more athletic than he’s typically given credit for, but he was never on the same level of other star shooting guards from his era like Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant. He made up that deficit in explosiveness (and then some) with craft.
The Eurostep was the most vivid illustration of that.
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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Post moves can sometimes feel a little dry or monotonous. Even legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Kevin McHale and Shaquille O’Neal get docked a bit on the imaginary filthiness scale.
That isn’t the case for Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake, though.
A 7-footer moving with the combination of quickness and grace that Olajuwon deployed on his post moves was anything but boring. The touch he had to finish those moves from outside layup range was a crucial ingredient, too.
There’s a reason why several modern NBA players, including Kobe Bryant, sought out personal tutelage from The Dream.
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Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
One of my former coaches was a big proponent of the KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) approach to basketball. There may not be a more effective ball-handling move within that approach than the crossover.
Plenty can string together a combination that looks fancy but doesn’t take the player anywhere. A well-executed crossover can shake a defender in a heartbeat and open up a number of options to the rim.
Few exemplified that better than Tim Hardaway with his Killer Crossover.
Hardaway would often get his defender leaning one way with a half-speed dribble before dropping to a Barry Sanders-like position and exploding the other direction.
The move was compact, quick, filthy and led to tons of points and assists.
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Photo credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images
In 2017, Tim Hardaway defended his place in filthy-move history in an interview with Scott-Howard Cooper.
“I’m going to tell you this and everybody this: Allen Iverson carried the basketball,” Hardaway said. “I had the original killer crossover and people are doing my move… They’re still trying to perfect my move as the killer crossover, and it’s my move, all right?”
With all due respect to the legend, the game changed (in part because of both ball-handlers), and AI’s crossover felt like the natural evolution of Hardaway’s. It’s something that has happened many times throughout the history of the sport.
Michael Jordan and much of what he did may not have existed without Julius Erving. Dr. J may not have been who he was without Elgin Baylor.
Iverson may have borrowed from or been influenced by Hardaway for his crossover, complete with the hesitation (or carry, if you’re so inclined), but that doesn’t make it any less filthy.
On the contrary, few players in the history of the game handled the ball with as much style as Iverson. That and his unrelenting grit are what made him one of the most influential players of all time.
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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
You’re getting a two-for-one at No. 1.
The filthiest move of the modern era is Michael Jordan’s picturesque fadeaway. And at least aesthetically, Kobe Bryant’s was darn-near a carbon copy.
Dunks, blocks, dribble combinations and passes produce plenty of highlights, but the jump shot remains the fundamental skill of this game. This fadeaway may be the most captivating example of that skill.
Unlike Dirk, MJ and Kobe didn’t have the built-in advantage of being seven feet tall. The separation they created came from footwork and elite athleticism. Converting after launching backward required top-tier focus and touch.
That combination of physical ability and skill not only made Jordan and Kobe two of the greatest players of all time. It made them cultural icons.