Kind of Like How AI learned His Crossover


Back in SLAM magazine about seven years ago, which is before SLAM turned into SI for Kids with street cred and better photographs, there was a quick blurb on a player (whose name I now forget) that attended Georgetown with Iverson and claimed to have taught AI the deadly cross that became the staple of his game. That single move defined Iverson on the Sixers. It was so vicious that the NBA had to start re-enforcing palming violations because the cross-over became damn near impossible to defend.

The player who passed the knowledge to Iverson, presenting him with the single move that best utilized nearly every asset Iverson possessed, of course gets little to no credit for having mastered a game-changing skill. The story remains with me to this day because rarely do you hear about how NBA players attained such a mastery of their craft. Likewise, you almost never hear about players compiling individual skills as though they were video game characters.

Today, I stumbled across another instance of such a moment. The quote is taken from a November 16th post (Friday) on Mark Madsen’s Mad Dog Blog, but I discovered the quote on Henry Abbot’s blog TrueHoop (a continuously updated basketball encyclopedia–go there at least once every hour if you don’t already):

“In all my years of playing basketball you’re always taught not to go for pump fakes of opposing players. Especially when an opponent is trying to post you up, you never want to jump in the air to block the shot. It just puts you too much at risk for a foul. I’ve only been on the same team with Al Jefferson for two months, but I have never seen a post player get so many of his defenders up in the air and then just drive past them. Each game, I know it’s going to happen that he gets his post defender jumping in the air like a pogo-stick. The other day in practice I told Al, that I’ve never seen a player get so many defenders to go for his fake as does. Al told me that he learned his fake from Paul Pierce and their years together in Boston. Tonight was no different as Al got people in the air and utilized his signature, go-to move of the soft jump hook that seemed to be unstoppable.”

This may not be exactly the same case as Allen Iverson’s crossover, Pierce did not invent the pump fake nor did he revolutionize it, but it is definitely of the same category. No one in the NBA, with perhaps the exception of Dwyane Wade (as a side note, T-Mac’s arms-extended ball fake is effective sometimes, but very slow), utilizes the pump fake as effectively as Paul Pierce. Think about how many times a game Pierce gets to the free throw line. Nearly every year he leads the league (or would lead the league if not for injuries) in attempted free throws. The pump fake, along with strange, deceptive dribble moves and a knack for drawing contact, keeps Pierce constantly at the line.

If we’re talking about learning moves from a master of the craft, it’s no wonder that Al Jefferson’s pump-fake is so effective, who better to teach him than P? Adding that move to an expanding offensive arsenal may make Jefferson an All-Star in the near future, and perhaps a teacher who passes his own moves on to an up-and-comer later in his own career.

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