The Skyhook

Kurt —  December 1, 2008

It is the most devastating single shot in the history of the NBA.

It is a key reason that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with 38,387 points (best in NBA history), had six MVP trophies and two Finals MVPs on top of that, played in 18 All-Star games and finished with more than one handful of rings.

It is the Skyhook. It was a hook shot but one unlike any thing before or sense. And nobody — not even Andrew Bynum learning at the master’s feet — has tried to duplicate it.

In a recent discussion in the comments, Darius broke down the shot.

While Duncan (and Shaq on occasion) can shoot a running hook, that shot requires the player to put the ball on the ground and then fire off the shot in a sweeping manner similar to the path of a driving/swooping scoopshot. The player takes his momentum forward in a parallel path to the basket and executes the shot. The jump hook is a hybrid of Kareem’s sky-hook as it is executed from a post up/back to the basket move. However the jump-hook comes from a 2 legged base and the shooter turns his body almost completely toward the basket on the follow through. This shot is almost like a shot put at the basket where the players solid/two-footed base gives him the balance to elevate into a defender and still shield the ball (though not as effectively as the sky-hook).

Kareem’s skyhook (like the running hook) is executed off a one-foot release. However (like the jumphook) it is performed, typically from a back to the basket initiation (especially in Kareem’s later years). Also, the Sky-Hook is released with the player only half-way turned to the basket so that he can create a natural buffer between the release point of the ball and the defender, by using his (the shooters) body.

Bill Bridges added something later that really fits in with that last point.

Kareem’s skyhook was distinguished (amongst other things) by the almost total reliance on the wrist snap as the mode of force transmission. Prior to Kareem, hook shots were launch via the swing of the arm. This statue like pose and the seemingly downward trajectory of the ball was unique then and now.

Darius builds upon that:

What made Kareem’s Sky Hook different as well was the fact that it could be taken from much further distance because of the touch put on the ball. A touch that is established because the shooter has much more control over the ball (almost exactly like a jumpshot, but without the guide hand). Kareem could sink that skyhook out to 15-16 feet if needed. A player would never attempt a fifteen-foot jump hook, as he wouldn’t have the touch (based off the typical shot put motion). The Sky Hook was just so unique because no one could block it. (I have seen the same highlight looped over and over again of Wilt as a Laker, jumping as high as he could trying to block the young (Milwaukee Buck) Kareem’s skyhook and falling short).

Underbruin added some salient points:

(Body position) is really the key to the success of the skyhook. While Kareem was indeed an excellent passer and a skilled center, the truth is that barring an enormous amount of pressure from behind it didn’t matter how many people would guard him. Because of his ability to shoot with the ball on the opposite side of his body from the hoop, even 2 defenders were usually unable to prevent his shot. Kareem could fake a move, forcing both players to overplay his back side somewhat, then spin back and shoot over them.

But, you say, every shot can be defended. That was truly the brilliance of Kareem — he was no one-trick pony.

If you overplayed his left shoulder to stop the skyhook, he spun right into the lane (which is what should be your defensive priority) and basically had a layup. So, why not double him? Well, people did, but Kareem could pass very well out of the post. And as a Buck he had Oscar Robertson and others who could hit the outside jumper that opened up. As a Laker, by 1980 he had Jamal Wilkes and Norm Nixon (and later Byron Scott and others) who could make you pay for leaving their man.

And, don’t forget, Kareem had a straight-up jumpshot that he could hit out to about 15 feet. At least early in his career.

But maybe the best way to explain just how devastating it was is to watch for yourself.

49 responses to The Skyhook

  1. By the way, I’ve gotten a few emails about not being able to access the site via iPhone. I am aware and have a fix for the problem, which I will get to installing tonight, so by tomorrow we should be fine *knocking on wood*

  2. The best thing about the skyhook is that it’s a signature move that truly reflects the player.

    Dominant. Reliable. Graceful.

    As much as I’d like to see others try and master the shot, I like the fact that it’s a shot that’s going to be associated with one player, one legend.

  3. rococo davenport December 1, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    This was a great read.

    I would give anything to see young Andrew bust out with a floating homage to his mentor. Either that, or have Pau premiere a terribly floppy imitation, sink the shot clean, then proceed to mean mug the opposing center as he backpedals the entire length of the court.

    By the way, I’ve been around here long enough to witness the last Extreme Makeover: FB&G Edition; this new design is other-level slick.

  4. yeah….that 33 guy was pretty good…

  5. This is exactly why I love FB&G. Nicely done.

  6. When you look at the last clip of that highlight reel, where Kareem buries the game winner, look at how his teammates are already rushing the court when he goes into the motion of the Skyhook. They all knew it was going in. Classic.

  7. look how slow kareem’s wind-up is; the positioning of the shooter’s body and the release point of the shot prevent you from being able to touch it even when you know it’s coming. it’d be awesome to see bynum bring it back. as bynum gets into the rhythm of the shot, the defender has a second to get into a crouched position and then jump as high as possible once the sky hook comes. it’s like a clash of opposing forces w/ each shot!! of course, the defender never wins, and good triumphs over evil…

  8. @darius, i noticed that too! i don’t think bynum is going to bring it back. Kobe did try it the other night. However, his was more of a running sky hook than the vertical one Kareem seems to favor.

  9. It was a great shot, but it’s not SportCenter material, so we’ll never see anyone ever master it.

    Players with great low post moves are fewer and fewer, and everyone wants to face up now.

  10. Nice piece, typical of why I have become a regular reader of FB&G.

    I thought I read once that Kareem developed the sky hook in part because the slam dunk was made an illegal shot while he was in college. Can anyone confirm this?

  11. Brought back a rush of memories.
    I was @14 when Kareem entered the NBA and he became my favorite player to the point I taught myself his Sky-Hook. I could take anybody into the post and toss it in-never had it blocked. It got to point my friends wouldn’t allow me to use it in games of Horse.
    Range for me was past FT line.(And I made some decent money one day betting on making at least 7 of 10 from the FT line.)
    One thing and another and I stopped playing. Then a few yrs ago I decided I needed to get some excercise and started shooting again. W/out touching a basketball in over a dozen yrs I was able after an hour to start hitting my now very much Ground Hook w/suprising consistancy.(Can’t make a lay-up and my fade-away J is now a glorified set shot,but I can still flip in the Hook.)

    One thing that Kareem’s Sky-Hook allowed was keeping the ball high. He could hold the ball high above his head in his right hand where nobody could swipe it and either pass down to open teammate or rotate his hand and be in position to shoot it.

  12. DBlarm,
    The NCAA abolished the dunk specifically because Kareem was about to play college ball.

  13. “Swing left, shoot right.” Great post, as usual.

  14. ‘Swing left, shoot right’ indeed. Good ol’ Chick.

  15. I remember that last one on the clip. That was in Magic’s first game as a Laker.


    thought i’d give you this link since i mentioned it on the last post 😉

    Remember, the idea behind the skyhook is to always keep your body between the defensive player and the ball.

    Step 1: Use both hands to tuck the ball under your chin.
    Step 2: Step parallel to the basket with your left foot.
    Step 3: Use your momentum from that step to launch yourself up into the air.
    Step 4: As you rise into the air, turn to your left shoulder and extend the ball
    over your head with your right hand.
    Step 5: As you release the ball, aim for the center of the closest part of the rim, arching your shot so it will drop behind the rim.

  17. what is pau’s hookshot?
    he seems to do something that uses the body to block the defender and shoot the hook shot. (when he’s left of basket, he uses left hand, and vise versa). How come it somehow just feels/looks different from skyhook? can someone explain it?
    Also, for some reason, i think it’s easier for Pau to master the skyhook than Drew, because Pau has a MUCH stronger control of the ball and a soft touch. No one thought about teaching Pau the sky hook?

  18. #17. Kenny,
    Pau shoots a jump hook. While he does do a good job of using his body to create space and shield the ball, he shoots it from a two footed base. Also, Pau does not really elevate on his hook (unlike Kareem on his Skyhook) and thus his hook is more easily blocked. This happened on more than one occasion in the Finals last season (weenie shots?!) and I recall it happening in the New Jersey game last week when Sean Williams came from the weak side and blocked Pau’s hook attempt.

  19. The dunk was not temporarily abolished because of Lew Alcindor (Kareem). John Wooden has repeatedly talked about this and I was following UCLA during this time. The rules change had more to to with Houston’s team (Elvin Hayes) than with UCLA.

    Kareem was upset about the rule change, but John Wooden explained to him that the new rule would actually help him because it would force him to perfect other shots in his arsenal. He then began perfecting the sky hook.

  20. Actually, I’ve seen Wilt block Kareem’s sky hook. Twice. On the same possession.

    About 25 seconds in. Another amazing thing about that clip is Kareem doing the sky hook with his left hand. Really two of the greatest athletes ever.

  21. the other Stephen December 2, 2008 at 6:53 am

    18. plus, a lot of times, it seems that pau is giving up position, or not really holding his ground as he goes up for the hook shot. maybe it’s his lanky frame that deceives me, but it just *looks* weak, unlike other players–shaq, for example–who stay upright, jump straight up, and even perhaps lean a little bit forward, as they rotate their body to follow through in the direction of their shooting arm, so that they come to face (be parallel) to the basket. i haven’t personally seen him shoot one in a while, so i could be wrong.

  22. the other Stephen December 2, 2008 at 7:05 am

    maybe it’s because he shies away from physical contact, or perhaps it’s just because he’s just not physical enough at all, but he doesn’t lean into his defender much to create space. he makes space based on timing, and speed on little driving hooks that run him parallel to his defenders, but closer to the basket and out of defenders’ reach. more clearly, it kind of looks like he brings the ball around and arches his arm as high as he can, depending on his height and reach, rather than on his jump. all this, of course, is only when he is taking those weenie shots, which is not all of the time.

  23. Pau’s definitely not a contact guy, although I must defend him a little.

    I’ve read in SI NBA preview issue that Pau was more comfortable facing up while Marc was a more traditional low post bruiser. Perhaps. But most of the guys in the league just wish they had Pau’s low post moves, which are fairly advanced.

    But…. at the same time, true, he doesn’t really like contact. Which is not so much a catch 22 as it is a hindrance to his ability to score. I would argue that he’s not really a face up guy because his jump shot’s not great and because he’s not very quick. He’s very crafty with his body and pump fakes, can go both ways with his back to the basket, and has a good array of moves going either way.

    So he is very comfortable in the low post, just not very comfortable with a long-armed bruising defender like Kendrick Perkins on his back.

    As for his jump hook – he doesn’t appear very comfortable shooting it from a standstill position in the low post. What he likes to do is post up in the left block, get some space with his body, and then take a dribble right of the defender to shoot a driving hook around the middle of the lane – it gets him a half-step ahead of his defender’s arms so he can cleanly get it off. It’s also a rhythm shot, so he can make most of the time if all goes right.

    If his defender plays the driving hook to the right, he feigns going that way with his back to the basket, spins his body left towards the baseline, and drives for a reverse layup.

    Since this is his comfort zone, I would say he most definitely posts up but chooses to drive it in for a shot, rather than taking a dribble and shooting a jump hook or a banker off the glass like a ‘traditional’ low-post big man would.

    So can he actually learn to shoot a skyhook, like Kareem’s? I believe anybody can learn to shoot it: it took me several years to learn it from watching old footage and practice, but I got it down to the point that I can make it 50-60% or so of the time – not great, but not bad.

    Pau’s not as quick as Kareem was at getting off his shot – he appears hesitant, almost, unless he is absolutely sure his shot will go in, as in his dunks, driving hooks, or reverse layups. Take a look at videos of his jumpshots or the traditional jumphooks Perkins made him take in the 2007 Finals. The release is slow, almost mechanical.

    So if Pau does indeed learn it, I think it would get blocked occasionally. Or if not, he would miss. Because he’s mechanical rather than fluid when he’s shooting something he’s not comfortable with, he tends to miss those shots. So the biggest hindrance in Pau not shooting the skyhook is ultimately his own doubts.

  24. One thing about Pau’s hook shot that always catches my eye is the release. I’d have to go back and watch it in HD slow-motion to give a really good description, but it looks to me like the ball comes out of his hand earlier than it should. Then, his arm continues its upward motion, almost following the ball. Most players release the ball at the apex of their arm movement, right? Anyway, that might not be exactly what is going on but I’ve always thought that Pau’s hooks looked different from everybody else’s.

  25. BTW, I was never that clear on the Laker’s colors.

    I had a neighbor several years ago who had a kids Lakers basketball – it was purple and yellow (gold). Magic’s jersey looks like it has purple and yellow.

    But it looks like the current Laker jerseys are royal or navy blue and gold.

    Which is it?

  26. Actually both of Wilt’s blocks look a lot like goaltending to me 🙂

  27. 26…I was going to say the same thing too…and it seems more of a running jump hook then a Sky Hook since Kareem was in motion across the key

  28. I have to agree both of those blocks by wilt looked like goal tending. The first one was close, but the second block definitely looked like goal tending to me.

  29. The skyhook was unbelievable. I remember a game at the Forum against the Knicks in one of Kareem’s last years. Patrick Ewing was in his second or third season, an unbelievably athletic force, and the game was close in the fourth quarter. Kareem shot the hook on three straight possessions from the right baseline, with Ewing pushing him farther and farther away from the paint and leaping to full height with arms extended, and Cap just kept draining them in his face.

    I vividly remember the slow-mo replays -twin #33’s, Ewing straining and sweating and swearing, and Kareem, almost 20 years older, looking like a Galapagos turtle with goggles, just flicking his wrist and burying the guy.

  30. Hakeem Olajuwon was the king of the skyhook.

  31. #25, DC, if you look at the top of this blog you’ll get the answer about the colors, purple, vs blue, etc…
    or just click on this link

  32. Kareem was forced to develop the hook in High School in NY where dunking was banned because of him. It continued in college. He practiced that shot hundreds of times a day after practice with his teammates…

  33. Pacers preview up

  34. Another thing about the sky hook, pounded into me by coaches: Kareem supposedly insisted on bringing the ball up behind his ear, not in front. It made a big difference to how his arm was positioned and the kind of elbow extension he achieved. But most of all, bringing it up behind the ear pushed the ball straight up vertically before committing to the shot, giving the ball a balanced feel in the hand just prior to the final elbow push and wrist-snap to the basket. Try doing it in front of the ear sometime, and you’ll find yourself shooting the shot completely differently–and earlier than you intend.

  35. I saw Kareem warming up for a game once, and he was easily hitting the skyhook from around 18-20 feet on the right side of the basket. He must have hit 20-30 in a row with no one defending him. He didn’t miss any. It was amazing. And yes, he did it well with either hand, though I think there was a clear preference for him to use his right hand.

  36. Truly the most wonderous player ever. His fabled shot was just one weapon in an arsenal that made everyone around him better.
    Andrew will only add to his legacy not by bringing back a shot unique to the man, but through realizing profound potential.

  37. #23

    Pau’s jump shot is nothing to sneeze at. Infact, since the Olympic games he’s been absolutely on fire with it. It’s to the point where im suprised if he misses it. Very nice summary, though.

  38. I can never understand why Kareem gets dissed on most “best center” lists in favor of Wilt, Russell, and even Shaq.

    Kareem was the most skilled of the three. Scored the most point in NBA history. Was excellent for the longest period of time.

    Has more titles (6) than anyone but Russell. Better scorer than anyone but Wilt, and had more points. Had the MVP’s (6) and Finals MVP’s (2) to back it up.

    Best. Center. Ever.

  39. 31. Chris H

    Thanks for the info. I will now call purple “forum blue” from now one.

    23. bran

    I never said it was nothing to sneeze at. Pau can be very good at shooting it and making the standstill jump hook, but it’s not his preferred shot. His preference is clearly the ‘running jump hook’, or his countermove spinning the other way, the reverse layup. He is comfortable doing either from a back-to-basket position or from a face up.

    But the key to succeeding with either move (and any shot) is getting a rhythm, and Pau is clearly more comfortable getting a rhythm when he’s in motion with his shot. He is far less comfortable in a standstill isolation position, either on a jumpshot or a jump-hook, so he never really gets a rhythm going if he’s put in this position.

    I watched Spain a few times in the Olympics, and I got the gist that the offense was more movement oriented than isolation oriented. Pau is pretty good with either, as seen in his success in the NBA and FIBA. Either way, he’s more comfortable shooting his shots in motion.

    In Spain’s movement oriented offense, I remember Pau not being put into many slow isolations in the low post – AKA Calderon didn’t just dribble it up and dump the ball into him down low while everyone else stands around. Those tend to kill his rhythm, especially if a solid long-armed big man is defending him.

    Instead, whenever they passed the ball to him, he made quick decisions with the ball while his teammates moved and cut all around him. If he was double-teamed, he passed it out, and the Spaniards were deadly shooters. If he was single covered, he would shoot a jumphook in rhythm or use one of his moves to get his shot – either way, his shots were almost always in rhythm.

    It also helped Pau that the FIBA big men, Dwight Howard included, were inferior defenders relative to the NBA’s big men.

  40. bynum would be an embarrassment to the hook shot

  41. probably helped that kareem was 7’3″ and had crazy long arms. with him raising the shooting hand and warding the defender off with the other, defenders hardly had a prayer of stopping him. can’t really block what you can’t touch 🙂

  42. Louis H. in L.A. December 3, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Like kareemfan33, I once got to watch him practice. It was at the forum in the mid-seventies. He was hitting them very consistently, with either hand, definitely. The difference back then is that along with bringing the ball up behind the ear, like djangone mentioned, Kareem also practiced with a rebound ring on the basket. It reduced the diameter of the basket by half. Not many people remember this, but the basket is basically twice the diameter of a ball. That’s why his arch was so perfect in games…

  43. Kareem has made the Skyhook his signature shot as much as Michael Jordan will forever be associated with his own Fade Away jumper.

  44. I swear I saw Hakeem block one of Kareem’s sky hooks. I know it was in 1987 because I discussed the same block with a classmate of mine and we both graduated that year

  45. One thing that really helps is being over 7ft. tall with an abnormal wing span.

    But yes it is the most dominant shot in the game. Also a really hard shot to get down…I’ve tried many times.
    Us kids these days just don’t have the patience to stand around and practice the same shot over and over and over and over.

  46. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s “patented” Skyhook was almost impossible to defend and with “Illegal Defense” rule (Isolating Kareem in the Low-Post), he dominated the low-post with this beautiful shot. Magic depended on Kareem at the crunch time and Kareem delivered and gave the Lakers many wins and championships. Most young kids these days think that 1996 Chicago Bulls is the best team ever but haha! no way! Magic/Kareem/Worthy in their prime was no match for 96 Bulls with Jordan/Pippen/Rodman. The reason Lakers lost to the Bulls in 1991 Finals was because James Worthy was injured with his sprained ankle. Healthy James Worthy would’ve made the series look interesting. I miss Kareem’s Skyhook very much. I don’t know if Andrew Bynum will fully develop this shot someday but nobody does it like Kareem. I love you Kareem!

  47. when did kareem develope and start using the skyhook, was it at UCLA or in high school.

  48. The skyhook was developed after the dunk was outlawed in college. John Wooden said the dunk rule would make Kareem a better player and he proceeded to prove Wooden right.

  49. Did Kareem use the hook shot in high school games.