Home > Essays > Essay: Breaking Down The Crossover, Part I

Essay: Breaking Down The Crossover, Part I

A few days ago, Rahat Huq, creator of the True Hoop Network’s Houston Rockets blog, Red94, approached me about my willingness to participate in a one on one discussion regarding the crossover dribble. I, of course, agreed. What follows is the first part of what I fear may be a never ending, life consuming conversation.

Rahat:  The crossover dribble move has long been my favorite “thing” in sports.  From dunks, to touchdowns, to offspeed sliders, there is a lot to be fascinated by in the world of athletic entertainment.  But to me, nothing quite holds the intrigue of the crossover dribble.  There is the obvious aesthetic appeal, yes, but the move represents so much more than that at a social level; it might be the greatest innovation in the game’s history.

When I found your blog I was excited.  So I must ask, what inspired its creation?

Michael: I suppose in some disconnected way, it all started years ago, when I was just a little kid who loved basketball. Going out and playing everyday at recess, I wasn’t necessarily shorter than all my friends, but for whatever reason, every time I attempted a shot, a perpetual fear of it being swatted back in my face popped into the forefront of my brain; it was rare that I would shoot at all. Then one Sunday afternoon when I was in the second grade, the crossover appeared in front of me on television. It was either Tim Hardaway or Kevin Johnson who just absolutely destroyed somebody, drove to the basket, and finished on an uncontested layup. No hand in their face. No defender near. So I thought to myself, if I can practice that one move and get it down tight, having a shot blocked wouldn’t be the least of my problems. Fast forward 15 years and the crossover has become an evolving manifestation to everything that’s beautiful about basketball. When executed to perfection at the game’s highest level of competition, it’s a combination of showmanship and productivity, popping in for rare appearances here and there. I knew I wanted to create a blog about the NBA. My way of differentiating it from the dozens upon dozens of wonderful ones already out there was the same thing that helped me evade third and fourth graders on the blacktop: The Crossover. I’ve since outgrown the embarrassment of having my shot blocked in pickup games, but my need for the move still stands stronger than ever.

Rahat: Kevin Johnson was my favorite player growing up; Tim Hardaway wasn’t far behind.  Before I really jump in, let me ask you—and this will sound sacrilegious—is the Hardaway “killer” crossover perhaps overhyped out of romantic reverence due to it being the first modern iconic crossover?  Someone in the NYTimes video—which might have been the best documentary piece I’ve ever seen—mentioned that what made it great was how difficult it is to master…and I kind of scoffed. No disrespect to the move—it’s an amazing move and incredibly effective—but I think it’s much more difficult to master some of the other ones that are out there.  Am I way off on this?  People talk about him coming down the court at full speed before doing it, but that’s not really true.  He slows down, and then it comes. In my opinion, that he goes through his leg (instead of bringing it out in front) is what makes it simpler because you’re not required to be able to control the ball with your arm at a straight angle; it’s easier to hold onto the ball when the arm is diagonally tilted back like that.

Michael: Regarding the great admiration that people hold for Tim Hardaway’s crossover, I understand where you’re coming from, Rahat. He’s a man whose cross wasn’t necessarily “better” than some others we’ve seen, (Iverson and Marbury to name a couple) but Hardaway’s name grew synonymous with the move. He could knock down shots, and penetrate and kick with the best of them, but for whatever reason Tim Hardaway is strictly remembered for his crossover, while others who were equally potent are remembered as more complex offensive weapons.

I will disagree that on the fast break he could go between the legs and cross someone at full speed (thanks for coming out Chris Childs) as smooth as anybody to ever do it—one of the most difficult moves for ball handlers everywhere. In terms of difficulty, I’d agree that the between the legs hesitation is one of the easiest to do, but it’s also the ballsiest. If the defender doesn’t bite, you’re left with few options in a no man’s land, of sorts. I think my favorite variation is either the in and out fake cross or when a player drives hard to the basket stops on a dime seamlessly brings it back between his

already spread legs and is greeted with a wide open jumper. Don’t hesitate to stop me if I’m getting carried away.

Rahat: My personal favorite is the wide, hanging Iverson crossover.  Like some sort of sword in his hand, he’d wield it out of nowhere.  It was fascinating in that the move was literally a cultural phenomenon.  Suddenly, everyone in the park was doing it, and every NBA point guard afterwards had his own rendition.  While I’m no historian, I don’t feel like the league has ever seen anything like the Iverson crossover, wherein it just took a collective audience by storm from its arrival.  And I think, honestly, it ruined things for me; I was spoiled by it because I don’t really appreciate crossovers as much anymore ever since it was banned.  When jaws drop today over some ankle being snapped, I can’t really get as excited – it just doesn’t look as good to me as when the ball is almost up near shoulder-level like it was for everyone cerca 1996-2000.  And of course, carrying it that high also requires a greater degree of skill…

Michael: Oh, no question. That move was a piece of art. In a way, though, I’m glad it was retired from the league. Phasing it out as the NBA successfully distanced itself from the self-obsessed egotistical era was smart. The overall game’s just so much more watchable today, and I know that crossover was just a tiny slice of the pie, but cutting it out ended up making the whole a bit sweeter. I’d put Kobe and McGrady’s shoulder high crosses a notch below Iverson’s, and Steve Francis maybe a little below those. Also, Vince Carter had a nifty one. It’s kind of ironic that as that move was eliminated from the game, a majority of the guys who utilized it were never really the same. Not that that move made Tracy McGrady a great scorer or anything, but the parallels between those who used it and who we retroactively look down upon as more entertainer than focused basketball artist, is funny. Shifting the conversation a bit, who do you think are the five best to ever use a crossover dribble? In order.

Rahat:

1. Iverson

2. Kobe

3. Tim Hardaway

4. Wade

5. Jordan

Couple of thoughts – I’ve only been watching basketball since ‘95, so I don’t know of any of the old school guys that might have done it, hence the list is strictly confined to the modern era.  Secondly, on Kobe – he doesn’t do it much anymore, but he had one of the best in his younger years before the move was banned.  Finally, on Jordan: He had already checked out before the modern crossovers really took off, but watch some old clips from his pre-retirement days.  He consistently used a primitive form of the move that was absolutely devastating. (Instead of bringing the ball out with his arm though, the move consisted basically of just stepping in one direction and then going the other way.)  In fact, I’ve hypothesized before that Jordan may have been the first superstar to ever really consistently make use of the move.

Which brings me to my next point: it was almost a completely different sport in the 70’s and 80’s.  Watching clips, guys dribbled down the court with one hand in straight lines and could only score by out-quicking their man (something impossible to do in today’s league of near athletic parity on the perimeter), or pulling up for a weak, ugly jumper.  It’s beyond me why purists romanticize about this era as something emblematic of true “skill” and “fundamentals”. Beauty to me is the ability to go anywhere you want on a basketball court and turn your defender inside out.

Michael: Yea, man. In terms of visual elegance, the game’s definitely evolving for the better in terms of one on one battle. But I think when people reminisce on skill and fundamentals, they’re referring to the team aspect of unselfish efficiency. (Not overall efficiency, as the popular philosophy way back when was the more possessions/shot attempts a team had, the greater chance there was at winning. The Dallas Mavericks were a tad retro in that they made their mark gift wrapping extra passes and playing off each other throughout the playoffs, but in the end they needed a transcendent player to win. Teamwork was important, but not the main factor.) I can’t say I’m going to defend basketball that was played 20-30 years ago over today. The present day’s version is just so much more exciting—at least it was. Most notably, discounting Pete Maravich and possibly Tiny Archibald, there really weren’t any ball handlers interested in creatively dribbling there way around the court. I can see why people don’t like the crossover of today. But those people are probably really grumpy.

Part II, coming soon.

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