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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Skyhook

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Skyhook

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook was unstoppable, even when you knew it was coming. Left leg sweeping across the lane, ready to root itself to the ground like a tree trunk. Right leg bending 90 degrees at the knee, suspended in mid-air. Right arm tucking behind the head before slowly unfurling straight in the air. Left arm raising to protect the inside of the ball, then sweeping down into your air space like a floating shield. The same thing, every damn time. And every time, the defense was hopeless.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook was unstoppable, even when you knew it was coming. Left leg sweeping across the lane, ready to root itself to the ground like a tree trunk. Right leg bending 90 degrees at the knee, suspended in mid-air. Right arm tucking behind the head before slowly unfurling straight in the air. Left arm raising to protect the inside of the ball, then sweeping down into your air space like a floating shield. The same thing, every damn time. And every time, the defense was hopeless.

Abdul-Jabbar claims nobody has ever blocked his skyhook head-on. “Maybe a few people got to it, coming to help where I couldn’t see them, but if I knew where someone was, that person was not going to block that shot, because I always got my body in between them and the ball before I released the ball, and it’s impossible to get to it.  It felt unblockable, and there’s nothing more demoralizing than a move that has no defensive counter.

The most important reason the skyhook became unstoppable is also the most boring: Abdul-Jabbar is tall. He was listed at 7’2, but he played much bigger than that. When he fully extended his right arm and leaped into the air off his left foot, he could reach higher than any human ever could. 

Crucially, Abdul-Jabbar still had the arm strength to give the shot some arc while spinning it off his middle and index fingers. That separates the skyhook from a more traditional jump hook, which tends to be shot on the way up and lacks the soft backspin of the skyhook. It’s easier to think of the skyhook as a one-handed, one-legged, sideways jump shot released at 11 feet, where nobody could block it.

 

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