NBA players possess artistic creativity and innovative talent with the capability to drop jaws and induce “aws.” Basketball athletes conjure novel skills on a dime, with some players repeatedly turning to the same signature move when the opposition has no answers. Championships are won with bread-and-butter stylistic choices, and at other times, fans come to games just for a glance at a crossover or behind-the-back pass. These are the 22 best signature moves in NBA history!
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Sky Hook
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leveraged his 7'2” height and enormous wingspan to perfect the sky hook. This sweeping shot over the top of the defense demoralized the opposition and helped Abdul-Jabbar become the NBA's all-time leading scorer for over 30 years until his record was broken by LeBron James in 2023.
2. Dirk Nowitzki's One-Leg Fadeaway
Dirk Nowitzki's shooting ability pioneered a new way to play basketball at 7′ tall. With height on his side, the German star couldn't be blocked when he got to the mid-range and shot on one leg. Players like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant have tried to duplicate it, but nothing tops the original.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon's “Dream Shake”
Hakeem's signature postmove felt so original it needed a nickname. Olajuwon performed many spins- turns, fakes, up-and-under moves, and more to get even the best defensive players in league history turning in a tizzy. It was simply unfair for a center to move like this!
4. Magic Johnson's No-Look Pass
Magic Johnson ran the fastbreak better than any point guard to play the game. With a 6'9” frame and vision never to be replicated, Magic made all his teammates better, but they always needed to be ready. Often, Johnson would send a no-look pass directly to James Worthy or A.C. Green on the break for two points!
5. Steph Curry's Relocation Three-Pointer
Steph Curry gets plenty of praise for his three-point shooting prowess but doesn't get the requisite acclaim for his off-ball movement. When Steph lets go of the ball, defenders turn into chickens with their heads cut off, trying to find where the legend is relocating to on the court, often running more miles than a track athlete across 48 minutes of action!
6. Tim Hardaway's Crossover
The crossover dribble has defined guard play for decades now. Tim Hardaway deserves a lot of admiration for this move, combining a fluid motion with speed and quickness that left defenders in puddles at the perimeter while Hardaway was already finishing his score at the basket.
7. Kyrie Irving's Up-And-Under
Kyrie Irving doesn't just dribble and finish around the rim. He instead conducts a symphony of bombastic basketball endeavors never before seen. Irving often adjusts mid-air with an up-and-under to get the ball around more prominent defenders, and it feels like watching a ballerina or poetry in motion.
8. Michael Jordan's One-Hand Jam
Michael Jordan didn't receive the nickname “Air Jordan” because it sounded flashy. Jordan introduced a new level of athleticism and leaping ability into the game in the 1980s, soaring like an angelic eagle to the basket both in-game and during dunk competitions with one-hand jams.
9. Kobe Bryant's Turn-Around Jump Shot
Kobe Bryant tirelessly perfected his offensive game, adding something different to his bag of tricks every season. His turn-around jump shot, which Michael Jordan and eventually Dirk Nowitzki influenced, showed off every facet of the Black Mamba's footwork and originality.
10. Dikembe Mutombo's Finger Wag
Dikembe Mutombo won four Defensive Player of the Year awards throughout his career, and you knew it was time to stay away from the hoop if Mutombo wagged his finger in your face after a rejection at the rim. Mutombo perfected the timing and intellect needed to guard the rim better than anyone else during his prime.
11. Tim Duncan's Bank Shot
Tim Duncan was nicknamed “The Big Fundamental” because he adhered to the game's rules and opted for the most imaginative, most conventional play. Duncan's bank shot was lethal within a 15-foot range, and it helped the San Antonio Spurs win five championships across two decades.
12. Tony Parker's Floater
Tony Parker was a blur in the paint, but the French point guard's frail frame made it arduous to complete layups over towering centers. Parker innovated and utilized a floater over the top of the outstretched arms of defenders to consistently put up some of the best scoring numbers in the league. He often led the NBA in paint points among guards.
13. Rajon Rondo's Behind-The-Back Fake Pass
Rajon Rondo's best physical feature that helped him during years on the Celtics and several other teams was his gigantic mits. Rondo craftily took advantage of his hand size by palming the ball behind his back and making the defense think he was passing, only to lay the ball right in the basket.
14. Pete Maravich's Wrist Pass
Pete Maravich engineered moves on the basketball court that made him look like an alien or shaman. His best spell was a pass in which his arms and hands moved one way, and the ball ricocheted in the opposite direction. Decades later, and with training videos all over the internet, it still doesn't make sense how he does it!
15. George Gervin's Finger Roll
George Gervin was a scoring machine in the 1970s and 1980s, and his go-to move was a soft finger roll that lofted right over the defender. With effervescent finesse and swag, the Iceman went to this incredible move several times a game.
16. God Shammgod's “Shammgod” Dribble
You know a move is remarkable when you get your name in the title. God Shammgod's crossover dibble, in which the ball crosses from one side of the body to the other with one hand, deceptively fools defenders on playgrounds worldwide to this day.
17. Steve Smith's Half-Turn
Steve Smith didn't seem like the spearheading type, but the former San Antonio Spurs player used a deadly half-turn to the baseline, making it look like he was turning around, and then he'd burst to the basket in one fell swoop. Smith's use of the move became synonymous with his name, and the fake is now called “the Smitty.”
18. Lebron James' Chase Down Block
For all of LeBron James' offensive skills, it's almost fitting to his versatility that a defensive one would become his trademark. LeBron takes off on the open floor like a gazelle prancing across a field, and no shot attempt is safe from him.
19. Kevin Garnett's One-Hand Rebound
The Big Ticket carved out his place in NBA lore with hard-nosed play, but sometimes his talent became the overwhelming factor in success. Garnett ferociously rebounded the ball, often with one hand outstretched over the competition.
20. Kevin Love Outlet Pass
Kevin Love scored and rebounded with the best of them, but his signature play certainly stands as the outlet pass that kickstarted so many fast breaks for the Timberwolves, Cavaliers, and Heat. The velocity and accuracy of the outlet pass are unmatched.
21. Dwight Howard's Alley-Oop Dunk
Dwight Howard's athleticism frightened defenders as they didn't want to be the one on the other end of the center's powerful dunks and alley-oops. If the ball were near the rim, Howard would throw it down in his heyday with Orlando.
22. Carmelo Anthony's Triple Threat Pump Fake
As Carmelo Anthony got older, fans started to tease the forward about how many jab steps it took to get a shot off, but Melo perfected the art of the triple threat better than anyone else. It was a fundamental play that almost always resulted in two points.