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.