Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Tim Hardaway and the Origins of the Crossover in the NBA
There are a lot of ways to get humiliated in basketball. You can get dumped on and then attempt to throw the ball at the person that dunked on you. You can misjudge your target. You can lose your on the bench. But one of the cruelest fates in the sport that a person can suffer is to fall prey to the cross over, dribble their stumblin slip and fall in confusion. It's not a place that you want to be in the early 1990s.
Tim Hardaway made a name for himself by unleashing his signature version of the move on the NBA. The Killer crossover. It was a baffling, vicious assault on the knees and ankles of the league. But what made his version so special and where did it come from?
Tim Hardaway was an electric bite sized ball handler and score that played 14 seasons in the NBA. His most productive stints were with the Golden State Warriors, the team that drafted him 14th in 1989, and later with Miami under Pat Riley's hair. Hardaway was greased lightning with a basketball. A prolific slasher that made all NBA five times throughout his career. He was also a big time competitor, a famous trash talker, and his confidence was visible in the way that he carried himself in open space.
Staying in front of Hardaway, it was like trying to catch a hummingbird with a pair of salad tongs, and the killer crossover was the centerpiece of his attack. In the years since Timmy retired in 2003, the commonness of the crossover has made it appear simpler than it actually is. It seems like an obvious idea. Bouncing the ball from one hand to the other. But it wasn't always easy and it wasn't always possible. More than just switching hands with the ball.
The move is really about timing, balance and controlling your speed. It's about creating imbalance and then attacking God's QAM God. One of the most influential ball handlers of all time once said that dribbling his footwork, the hands are just an illusion. Today, QAM God is absolutely correct, but hands have not always been free to create those illusions. In fact, the place where the hand meets the bouncing ball has been the sight for an enormous amount of evolution in the game as we know it today.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, this is where an important negotiation took place between the rigid hoops establishment and the subculture that had grown up around it because of the NBA is appalling lack of diversity in its early years.
A massive, enthusiastic subculture developed around professional basketball in the parks and on the playgrounds, away from the rigidity and defined parameters of the organized game. Experimentation, creativity and bravado were encouraged and typically celebrated. Places like Rucker Park, Moss Wood and the Cage became the cradles of basketball innovation. And as the NBA became more and more integrated, that creativity began to permeate the sport. This was highly visible in the way that farming was officiated. Pawling rules were strict during the first three decades of the league's existence.
Clever players could been the rule here and there, but for the most part, your hand was to stay on top of the ball, or it was a violation, although it was largely due to the officiating. Watching ball handlers from that time is like watching Dinero and the Irishman. He can't help but laugh at the stiffness as the officiating on this front became more and more forgiving. Lateral force on the basketball became more feasible and that changed everything. It was like the Blue Note entering popular music.
It unlocked a whole new world of self-expression. Traditionalists stayed big, mad about this well into the 2000s. The ball was to be dribbled with your fingertips, not Jeff Palms.
Players could now really start to take advantage of the uncertainty and the angles that those lateral forces created and primitive versions of the cross over started to pop up. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment or person that did the very first crossover. A lot of people seem to think that it was invented by Archie Clarke, a virtuosic ball handler from the 1970s. Some say that it was Peewee Kirkland. A New York City playground legend. There's zero doubt that Tim Hardaway put it on the mat.
Hardaway's version of the move is actually to micro moves done rapidly in succession. He's always dribbling towards the rim with the ball at about waist level, and the speed can vary. You can see that his shoulders in his head are up, but his eyes are looking down at the defenders feet, which in this case are angled to invite him to drive left. Tim sees this and he takes one hard and fast dribble between the legs from the right hand to the left hand, and he puts his left foot forward and leans his knee, hips, shoulders and head in that direction to sell a potential Durai.
He makes that between the legs, moves so violently and so low to the ground that the defender usually reacts, hoping to hop into the path of the potential drive. But instead of continuing with his left hand, he immediately crosses back over to his right hand. Magic Johnson apparently coined the name for this move and he said once that it can't be stopped, it's bang, bang and you're dead. Tim points to two players as having influenced the move.
The first was a fellow Chicagoans, Isaiah Thomas. By the early 1980s, Thomas was the best small player on the planet, and Hardaway had stated on numerous occasions that much of his swaggy, flashy flair in the open court was patterned after Isaiah. The second influence was parol Washington. Another New York City playground legend. As the story goes, sometime around Hardaway's senior year of high school, he saw Pearl do the move on TV.
He got a real low cross, Galba real low and included and joined the league. He got a fake one way across. I can do it, Dad. So I put a hand between my leg. And yet wanted me to my leg. It had.
So was this move practical for Tim Hardaway? Oh, my God, yes. The killer crossover was highly practical. I'd even say it was necessary. Hardaway was always one of the smallest guys on the court, so he never really had the option to overpower people or go over the top. His game was about shiftiness speed and evasion and open space. He was precise and he had an incredible efficiency of movement. Tim calls this being in the box, which mainly means keeping it simple and avoiding wasteful movement that burns more energy than is necessary.
The crossover for Hardaway specifically was a master key that unlocks spaces of the floor and allowed him to break into the mid range and make something happen. If he didn't score, the help, defense was reaching and scrambling. And by that point, you had a problem. Hardaway posted nine seasons in which he averaged at least 15 points and at least seven assists per game. If he had been slowed by injury and if he hadn't played a chunk of his prime in the same conference as the greatest perimeter defensive core of all time.
Who knows, he might have enjoyed more winning than he did.
This move is extremely replicable, but it does call for some hand eye coordination and balance to make it effective at the highest level. Part of his version of the move is very specific, and although we do still occasionally see it from guys like Kemba Walker, the other crossovers that have branched off of it are a big part of the story. Not long after this move hit the NBA in the early 90s, variations of it began to pop up all over the place.
A more extreme version of the original Pearl move became famous because of Allen Iverson. And there's a lot of debate to this day about who did it better and with more credibility, planning care, he said.
Nobody like Allen Iverson did you being critical of viruses Cross OverDog saying it was basically a Kerry cariño trap.
Coleby and I was with Kerry. That's why they call FAS. And Sam was illegal. And I was carrying, you know, that's when I took a bit, too. And I will carry my cross over all the way into the Hall of Fame.
This move has been remixed over and over again behind the back. Crossover's Throw crosses the entire family of fake crosses.
To think about where this moves started and where it is now is somewhat mind boggling, compounded by the fact that players aren't just using the moves laterally anymore. They're very often using the moves to create North-South separation. And then a good look from three. Also, as ball skills have begun to show up and players with taller frames, so has the crossover. Today, it's not uncommon to see a player six, nine or tall or unleash an effective one with a live dribble.
It's a brave new world that's only getting stranger. The crossover has become one of the fundamental weapons for self creation in modern basketball. It's had a massive impact on all levels of organized play and in the broader basketball culture, it's one of the most important and impactful moves of all time. Getting crossed is something that happens in the park, in the office at the Y, or even in the NBA finals.
It's a move that's extremely ripe to go viral at any moment. There's a survival of the fittest nature to the way that moves and ideas get passed along. The most useful and effective moves hang around.
And as long as breaking down the point of attack of a defense is important in basketball, some version of the crossover is always going to exist. I think that there's a lot of beauty surrounding the evolution of this move.
The name of the move actually represents what the idea itself did. It crossed from one side of the basketball spectrum to the other, from the loose boundaries of the playground game to the organized game. A Chicago kid like Tim Hardaway sees an idea from the New York City playground game, attempts to emulate it, and then ends up giving birth to an idea that would inspire an incalculable number of players. I think that's pretty damn cool personally. Let me know if you agree.