Essay: Basketball’s Controversial Rip Move
Last night the Thunder and Warriors played in one of the more exciting games we’ve seen since the All-Star break. Down six with less than 15 seconds to play, Reggie Williams knocked in a long ball to cut Golden State’s deficit to three, and on the ensuing inbound pass, Daequan Cook threw the ball to Monta Ellis who, of course, drained a game tying three-pointer. It was a miraculous comeback in a sea of regular season muck, but as the narrative tends to lean in basketball games played in Oklahoma City, the Thunder managed to pull things out in the extra period, winning the game 115-114 after Monta Ellis missed what would have been a game winning jumper as time expired.
The greatest reason for OKC’s victory was Kevin Durant, the man of 39 points. It goes without saying, here, that Durant has quickly become a once in a generation scoring talent. A player who can drop buckets at will, when he wants, where he wants, on who he wants. And he’ll continue to do so for the next 10-15 years. Durant’s as likable a superstar as the NBA’s had in years—consider this writer a proud member of the fan club—but nobody’s perfect. There’s one aspect of his game, and I’d hardly consider it the least his fault, that is rapidly drawing the ire of coaches, players, and fans across the league. It’s known as the rip move, and nobody uses it more to his advantage than our scoring leader.
A couple of months ago, John Rhode of The Oklahoman wrote a very interesting piece on Durant’s rip move, and what some people around the league think about it. Here are some of the collected thoughts:
Thunder center Nick Collison: I hate it when they do it to me. I understand where it’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like a natural play. I should love it because Kevin gets the call more than anybody gets it called on us. When it happens to you, it drives you crazy.
Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha: It’s a good move because they call a foul, but I’m not sure it’s the right call, actually.
Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin: Personally, I think they should take it out of basketball. I don’t think that’s playing basketball, but it’s part of the game. You’ve got to abide by it and you’ve got to know who you’re playing. I think (Durant) does an excellent job, no matter where your hand is. He’s so long. No matter if you have your hand back or not, he finds a way to do it.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks: It’s a foul.What are you going to do, outlaw all fouls? Just play playground basketball? A foul is a foul, any way you look at it. A lot of teams do that with Kevin because they want to use some strength against him, crowd him, get in his face. But if it’s a foul, you have to call it.
NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson: He (the defender) is not entitled to stick out his leg, or his arm, at an offensive player while that player is in a shooting motion. That has always been, and will continue to be, a foul.
Thunder guard Kevin Durant: When a guy does it on me, I don’t think it’s a good basketball play. But when I do it, it is. But like I said, it’s not my call. Once they take it out the game, that’s when I’ll stop doing it.
During one play in last night’s otherwise great game, Durant ripped his arms in an upward motion, thinking he’d draw contact with some part of Dorell Wright’s body. Instead, the ball knocked off Wright’s knee with zero contact being made between the two player’s actual bodies. As if a button were pushed or a sensor activated, the moment Durant’s move was completed a whistle blew. Wright’s reaction was both incredulous and much heated, but no technical was served, like the referee understood Wright’s anger and would rectify the situation by refusing to make it worse.
It seems like you see a falsely called, knee jerk reaction foul immediately following almost every rip move that’s made in today’s game; whether it be by Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, or any other elite one on one offensive threat. The unfair referee assumption which comes when a player rips his arms up and through the air, throwing the ball wildly towards the rim, isn’t good for basketball. It makes defense nearly impossible, and offense a cop out. Looking to draw contact by swinging your arms is exactly what defensive players are taught not to do; the same standard should be set for a scorer. When a player has the ball and he’s looking to score, he should be forced to, you know, beat his man—cross him over, hesitate the dribble, go between his legs, behind your back, then twirl around him. Pass and cut, wait for a screen, jab step, or ball fake. Anything but a rip move.
Because Durant is so talented—watching him flail his arms like some sort of secret handshake between him and the official, then being rewarded with one or two or three free-throws—is what makes this move so frustrating. Maybe it’s greed talking. The greed of a ravenous basketball fan who enjoys watching elite scorers creatively sidestep the most complex defensive strategies in the known basketball universe. I want to see as much of that as possible, and the rip move steals precious possessions from right under my nose. The play should either be illegal or paid much less attention to by the referees. (Let a superstar throw the ball out of bounds three or four times and see if he thinks twice about using the move again.) Everyone benefits: the fans, the pending hopeless defenders, the sport of basketball, and, in the end, the Kevin Durants of the league, who will only get stronger once this petty crutch is done away with.