June 12, 2011

European Creativity

My upcoming VDARE article is about the NBA finals between the Miami Heat's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh versus the Dallas Maverick's Big One of Dirk Nowitzki, but I finally found a picture to illustrate why the seven-foot German's fall-away jumper is, despite its awkward look, so hard to block. 

For a righthander, the right foot is the more adroit one, the one you prefer to balance upon while doing something delicate. For example, a righthanded baseball batter puts his weight on his back (right) foot while beginning his swing. Once he's committed himself, his weight shifts to his less-coordinated left foot. Similarly, if you are going to balance upon one foot while accurately hurling a ball overhand, whether shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball, the natural combination is to start by balancing more on the right foot. (When throwing a baseball pitch, a righthander pushes off his right foot but ends standing on his left foot. But the right foot is the dominant foot for a righthander).

During Nowitzki's NBA career, however, this righthander developed a a radically different shot where he takes a step back with his left foot, lifts his right leg, and jumps off his "wrong" (left) foot. 

One advantage to jumping off the left foot is you can get your right hand higher off the ground, so it's normally used in, say, open-court dunks. But the point of a dunk is to cut down on the need for precision by not releasing the ball until its inside the basket. So, for the difficult one-footed fall-away jump shot, using the left foot as the dominant foot is awkward.

The big advantage in leaping off the left foot, I believe, is that Nowitzki can simultaneously raise his right leg as a shield to keep the defender farther away. 

This picture, where the non-jumping defender is almost getting kicked in the groin by Nowitzki, represents an extreme example -- normally the defender leaps and Nowitzki keeps his knee bent more, his foot down, and his right leg more perpendicular to the flight of the ball so he doesn't get called for an offensive foul -- but the general principle is the same: Nowitzki's raised right leg keeps the defender too far away too block the shot. If the defender hits his upraised right leg, the ref might give Nowitzki two free throws. And even if the ref allows the defender some contact, Nowitzki's raised leg is more like a shock absorber than the torso or arm, so the bump is less likely to affect his aim.

Say you release your shot right-handed from above your right ear. If, like a normal step-back fall-away jump shooter, you jump off your right foot, you could try raising your left leg as a shield, but to get it in front of you where it's effective, you have to twist your body more unnaturally than when Nowitzki jumps off his left foot and raises his right leg. (Try it.)

Somebody must have tried shooting like this in the past, right? But I can't find any mention of it. Is it just too hard for most people to do accurately? Do you have to be kind of ambidextrous? Or do you just look too gawky doing it for it to be cool in America? Has anybody started to imitate Nowitzki? He's been hugely effective doing this.

Of course, just because a shot is effective doesn't mean it will be imitated -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar poured in about a million skyhooks on TV between 1966 and 1990 and the rest of basketball treated the shot as if Kareem has the intellectual property rights to it tied up until 70 years after his death. The skyhook is the ultimate example of jumping off the left foot to maximize the right hand's height.

Interestingly, Nowitzki says he came up with this shot on his own, not with his off-season coach, physicist Holger Geschwindner,

From an interview with Geschwindner on the unusually high arc on Nowitzki's shots:
The reflection behind it is quite simple. How do you have to throw the ball so that, despite committing as many mistakes as possible, it still finds its way through the net? It’s a question of error tolerance. But every college student should be able to make the same calculations. Take differential and integral calculus. Make some derivations and create a curve. Everybody can do it. It’s no secret. The optimal angle depends on the player’s height and the distance. I’ve calculated it for Dirk and my other players.

My impression is that European basketball players have generally been more creative than American players. This goes back to the first European I can recall, BYU center Krešimir Ćosić of Yugoslavia, who battled Bill Walton of UCLA in the NCAA tournament in the early 70s. Walton was an amazing basketball thinker, but the big Croatian made him look like a stick-in-the-mud when it came to on-court weirdness. As a convert to Mormonism, presumably Ćosić wasn't smoking as much dope as Walton was, but you couldn't tell from watching his game, which consisted of shots that maybe were old hat in Zagreb but weren't standard operating procedure in Pauley Pavilion and looked like something out of an H.R. Pufnstuf version of basketball.

I'm certainly not up to date on basketball, but my impression is that the 1970s conventional wisdom of black players as innovative and white players as fundamentalist was already outdated by the 1990s, partly because of the arrival of goofy Europeans, partly because blacks got much better at fundamentals, partly because white Americans got increasingly winnowed down to the ones who had something extra in their repertoire (not just Larry Bird -- anybody remember Jeff Hornacek and all the bizarre-looking shots he took?)

Forty years ago, Earl Monroe was doing all sorts of crazy spin moves, but I don't see that much statistical evidence they were overwhelmingly effective, which is why he remains a legend -- he didn't have that many successful followers. Moving laterally along the court in unexpected ways is cool, but it's mostly a distraction from moving up and at the rim. I watched a lot of Michael Jordan and, sure, he had a lot of "How did he do that?" plays, but not as many "How did he think of that?" ones. Jordan's game was fundamentally sound and (until, after his baseball exile, when he developed an effective fall-away jumper to save his body--here's MJ's video tutorial on shooting his two-footed fallway), his predominant instinct was the predictable but most rational one: to head for the rim.


Anonymous said...

there's an old new yorker article about bill bradley that desribes the myriad shots he developed and practiced.

it's behind the paywall but a classic article that you should check out if possible

Miley Cyrax said...

The observation that European players are more creative is simple and obtuse, but it might be right. Another example is the "Euro-Step," popularized by Ginobili and now adopted by Wade.

However, this may not be because European players are inherently more creative by virtue of being European. Bear in mind that American players that go to EuroLeagues may also bring new tricks to the trade over there that we just don't hear about. Also, European players already use moves popularized by Americans because more European players watch the NBA than American players watch European leagues. Lastly, European players in the NBA may be indirectly selected for craftiness, as European players tend not to have the athleticism that American black players do and thus the only ones that can make it in the NBA are particularly crafty.

Anonymous said...

don't think that's bosh in the picture.

Miley Cyrax said...


"don't think that's bosh in the picture."

It is. You can see the number on his jersey.

Anonymous said...

The premise of your article is wrong. The only right-handed basketball player I ever saw regularly shoot a shot of the right foot was Chet Forte, the 5'7" Columbia University guard who battled University of Kansas center Wilt Chamberlin for the NCAA scoring title in 1957.

As a huge Chet Forte fan I copied the shot though I also shot a more conventional jump shot as well. Forte's shot was taken driving to his right taking his right hand shot with his left foot in the air. It was a unique shot. I have never seen anyone else take it.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to push off one foot while hurling a ball overhand, whether shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball, the natural combination is right hand / right foot. During Nowitzki's career, however, this righthander developed a a radically different shot where he takes a step back with his left foot and then jumps off his "wrong" (left) foot.

If you're right-handed, your natural jumping foot is going to be your left foot.

If you're right-handed and pitching a baseball or throwing a football, your left shoulder points in the direction you're throwing towards and you push off of your right foot.

In basketball however, if you're right-handed your left foot isn't the "wrong" foot to jump off of. If you're right-handed your left foot is the "right" or natural foot to jump off of. That's why the natural lay-up for a right-hander is jumping off of your left foot and laying it up with your right-hand.

When you shoot jump shots in basketball, you're going to jump using both feet or your natural jumping foot i.e. your left foot.

Anonymous said...

Say you release your shot right-handed from above your right ear. If, like a normal shooter, you jump off your right foot, you could try raising your left leg as a shield, but to get it in front of you where it's effective, you have to twist your body more unnaturally than when Nowitzki jumps off his left foot and raises his right leg. (Try it.)

Normal right-handed shooters DON'T jump off their right feet. The left foot is the dominant or natural leaping foot for right-handers. When a right-hander goes for a lay-up, he jumps off his left foot because that's the natural foot for a right hander.

Nother said...

I'm not sure that you are right about the natural -right hand right foot combo.

Form layups are to jump off the left foot when doing a right handed layup.

When a right hander throws a football, his left foot is the plant foot.

right handers swinging golf clubs put their left foot in front and put the weight on that foot.

His shot is goofy and shooting backward off of one foot while using the other as a way to ward off defenders is unique though

Anonymous said...

I think most players would be better served trying to improve their jump shooting before they work on their creativity. It shouldn't be forgotten that at the free throw line, when he's not being guarded by anyone, Nowitzki is shooting 95% during the playoffs. He's a great pure shooter.

Kevin Love is a good free throw shooter as well. Around 85%, I believe. Maybe you and Love can get together during the off-season and come up with an impossible shot to block.

Steve Sailer said...

A layup or dunk while moving toward the basket kind of like a righthanded pitcher throwing from the mound: he starts with his weight on his right foot, lifts his left foot in the air, and then begins to throw the ball before finally planting his left just before releasing it.

The fallaway jump shot can be shot two-footed (as Nowitzki often does), but when it's shot from one foot, the natural thing is to lift the left foot. It's like throwing a baseball pitch without planting the left foot. It took Nowitzki until his mid-20s to come up with the idea of lifting his right foot instead of his left foot.

brings down his left foot well in front of the rubber before finally releasing the ball. That gives you maximum extension toward home plate. But, the

If you are facing the basket, which foot would you naturally put more weight on: left or right?

Anonymous said...

If you play pick-up a lot, it's not uncommon to see this kind of shot. It's also not unusual to find yourself doing it if you're being guarded by a taller guy or a guy who can jump pretty well. It's not necessarily conscious or deliberate. As you try to get your shots off, you'll find yourself jumping back as you shoot, especially if you've been blocked a couple times. And once you start jumping back as you shoot, you'll find yourself sometimes putting up your knee or leg to create distance.

Another move that's similar that you'll find yourself doing unconsciously is putting up your non-dribbling arm, elbow, hand against the guy guarding you, especially if you've gotten the ball stolen a few times.

They're kind of natural movements you find your body doing against defenders.

Anonymous said...

A layup or dunk while moving toward the basket kind of like a righthanded pitcher throwing from the mound: he starts with his weight on his right foot, lifts his left foot in the air, and then begins to throw the ball before finally planting his left just before releasing it.

But the right-handed pitcher drives the power for his pitch off of his right foot.

While in a right-handed layup, you're driving the power, the jump towards the basket with your left foot.

Anonymous said...

The fallaway jump shot can be shot two-footed (as Nowitzki often does), but when it's shot from one foot, the natural thing is to lift the left foot.

If you're right-handed, it's natural to lift the right foot since that means you're jumping off of your left foot.

It feels awkward to lift the left foot and jump off of your right foot if you're right-handed.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point. To me it looks like Dirk is doing with his foot/leg what Kareem accomplished with his sky hook technique.

I heard Kareem on ESPN a while back and he answered the question -why don't people use the sky hook?

I didn't quite follow his response. It was something about how kids aren't trained to play with their backs to the basket anymore. But he pointed out that Lamarcus Aldridge uses it well in Portland.

BTW Steve, if you weren't such an evil troglydite you would make the necessary inferrance that since Dirk is such a great ballplayer we need to support immigration *period*.

Cheers and Go Dallas. (Never thought I'd be saying that last bit.)

Anonymous said...

Threaten to kick the balls as you shoot the ball.

Steve Sailer said...

If you are righthanded and shoot the basketball from above your right ear, try shooting a free throw standing on each foot. Both are awkward, but balancing on the left foot is more so. You'll probably find that when you shoot free throws normally, you point your right foot at the basket and put more weight on it, while splaying you left foot a little to the left and putting a little less weight on it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, look for footage of Jack Sikma. White center, odd jump shot, it came from behind his ear. Also, Lloyd Free kicked out both legs toward the defender.

Kaz said...

Haha, can't let blacks have one thing can we..

Yan Shen said...

Well I've noticed that the best European nations in basketball tend to be Southern and Eastern European nations, as opposed to Northern European ones. Apart from Dirk, the German national team is basically full of scrubs. And the same could be said for other Northern European nations in basketball, like the UK. However, countries like Spain and Russia and the likes field fairly competitive teams.

Of course, the best white players in the league today are actually of Northern European extraction for the most part, guys like Dirk or Nash or Love. But I think that my general observation stands. Southern and Eastern Europeans are the only non-blacks who can really give black basketball players a serious challenge.

Fake Herzog said...

Sailer is a genius. Dirk is my main man (although thank God Terry and Kidd can hit the big shots when necessary) -- go Mavericks!

Anonymous said...

If you are righthanded and shoot the basketball from above your right ear, try shooting a free throw standing on each foot. Both are awkward, but balancing on the left foot is more so.

A shot in basketball is one-handed (of course the older set-shot was done with both hands). Your off-hand holds the ball in place on the side. The actual shooting motion is done by one hand. So if you're righthanded you're shooting with your right hand while your left holds the ball in place. You're releasing the basketball with your right hand. It'd be awkard to shoot and release the ball with your right hand while on your right foot. Just like it's awkward to release a football or baseball with your right hand while on your right foot.

Whiskey said...

Nowicki (sp?) even if he wins is not going to be a big deal. What Nike, the NBA, sponsors want is dramatics, a big guy flying through the air dunking the ball and making his opponent look small and humiliated. That's the whole point of the NBA -- its like Pro Wrestling, "wins" are not important, the story line and performance are.

LeBron James is the biggest star in the NBA and has been for years, and he's never won a title. He could choke again, and still be the biggest star. Because he does windmill dunks, hanging off the rim, and humiliating a defender better than anyone. Dirk Nowickzi (again, sp?) is not going to get big shoe contracts, endorsements, etc. because he's trying to win basketball games not give a performance.

Anonymous said...

I'm old enough to remember Wilt Chamberlain's fallaway jump shot. It was as unblockable as any shot ever has been. This was Wilt's major weapon when he averaged 50 points a game during 1961-62.

The drawback to the fallaway was that it took Wilt away from the offensive board.

He didn't use it much after 1966. For the last 6-7 years of his career Wilt used the finger roll or his trademark dunk. Nobody ever did the slam dunk like Wilt Chamberlain.

Anonymous said...

"Dirk Nowickzi (again, sp?) is not going to get big shoe contracts, endorsements, etc. because he's trying to win basketball games not give a performance."

So basicly, the NBA is a pretty stupid competition. Winning should be the central focus of any sport.

If what you're saying is true it would make sense if basketball fields would be twice as large than they are now. In such a case scoring would be less important and tactics/tricks/skills would become more visible; field play, excitement basicly, would become as important as scoring.

What's weird though is that Americans basicly seem to dislike football, which is less focused on high scores and more oriented towards field play, i.e. skills/tactics.

keypusher said...

"[Karl] Malone was famous for his "kick jumpshot," where he would use a leg kick to power his jumpshot. He was fined for kicking Shawn Bradley on January 6, 2000."


I can't find a good picture, but as far as I can tell Malone usually kicked with his left leg. I remember it was considered an extremely dirty move.

Here he's kicking with his right leg, but also passing the ball.


Truth said...

World B. Free was the first guy I remember sticking his corresponding leg into the defender on a jump shot.

Anonymous said...

It is his number, but definitely not Bosh. Head is not small/ET-ish. Old picture --not from this series since fans aren't monochrome. Must be Dorell Wright.

Wes said...

Here is a question for the sports experts: Does basketball actually require more intelligence on the part of the player than other sports? Listening to Kareem describe his techniques and how it interrelated with the moves of other players reminds me of listening to a fighter pilot talk tactics.

Basketball seems to have a more dynamic dimension to it that each player has to contend with. Obviously, football and baseball have a lot of strategy, but it sure seems like basketball requires a more quick thinking on the part of the individual player.

Anonymous said...

definitely wrong on this one steve. If you're right handed it is incredibly awkward to jump off your right foot to do anything. In a fade away jumper all right handed players would kick their right leg out before their left leg because most of the weight is supported by the left leg anytime they jump.

Elbrac said...


What went wrong? Anything to learn from this?

Anonymous said...

Don't you think it's a problem that someone with a good technical education is playing basketball when he could be improving the economy?

Whiskey said...

Steve's VDARE article is great, good insight. I'd add that the NBA has roughly $1 billion in TV combined rights per year, compared to the NFL at roughly $4 billion per year. That's the impact of more White star players.

However, the NBA is all about showmanship and performance, not team play. Anon -- the reason the court is not widened is money $$$ -- instead the rules have been changed so that for example traveling is no longer called. So Black guys who are faster and more explosive and jump higher can perform.

Its not just late blooming, bullying of White players by Blacks, and hostile "possession of what's ours" by Black players, coaches, and a Black-oriented media. It is the superiority of Black players over White ones at dunking the ball, jumping real high, and so on. Kareem famously could get no one to listen to him, when coaching centers, as Magic could get no one to listen to him about passing the ball. Black guys know what gets rewarded is dunking the ball.

Anonymous said...

The Brad Miller Maine comment is misguided. He spent one year at MAine Central Institute, a prep school that doubles as a glorified AAU program. Teammates and opponents were mostly black.

Anonymous said...



This ESPN poll indicates that 47 of 50 US states were pulling for the Mavericks in the finals, presumably having been alienated by the James-Wade-Bosh Big Man flashy showboating style.

And, in fact, the most lopsided margins appear to be in the Canadian Border Adjacent states:

Maine 78-15
New Hampshire 71 - 21
Alaska 61 - 32
Utah 60 - 34

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you're mistaken about the Earl the Pearl spin move. Watch the YouTubes. Its essence was to allow him to move towards the basket in as straight a line as possible--it allowed him to go "through" a defender with as little lateral movement as possible. He explained his thinking a couple of years ago in an interview on TNT. The trick to basketball, he said (I'm paraphrasing) is that the man with the ball is point A and the basket is point B, and you want to find the most efficient way from point A to point B, which is a straight line. The spin move grew out of his effort to avoid leaving that line even when there was a defender between him and the basket.

Anonymous said...

Dirk is a freak. He's 7 feet tall. I mean...not a bad lookin' guy but...7 feet tall. The thought of some fragile little white girl with a 7-footer is painful. Thus Dirk has had to resort to women of the more robust race: black women. His previous GF was a con-woman. Sad. His present girlfriend who is referred to as "Swedish" is more suitable. But I wish he could find some healthy white fraulein to stabilize his sexual needs and keep him in action.

Puff Mommy

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Right foot - left foot. It depends whether one is moving toward or away from the basket, I think. Long jumpers move off the opposite foot because one can generate more power swinging up the dominant foot. That's the way it feels, anyway. This is the same motion driving for a dunk or layup. A right-handed player takes his last leap off his left foot.

But this is not because the left foot is more powerful, but because the right one is both stronger and more accurately controlled. We see this when we step back to make a shot. Stepping back with the left foot to get height feels very strange..

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Reminder that Kevin McHales's mother is a Croat, BTW.

Justthisguy said...

Steve, could we please have less sports-anus talk and more science here?

edmusan said...

Isn't Germany Handball's Land? Have you noticed what foot right-handed handball players use to jump before a shot?

W Baker said...


How can you have a basketball article on creativity and not mention Maravich?

Jeff Hornaceck was just poorly imitating Pete Maravich (Serbian descent- although second or third generation from the boat, if memory serves).

Most basketball creativity, regardless of race, originated with Pistol Pete. There was and will be no better in that regard. Height, weight, and strength have radically increased since his days, but he was the all time seminal player.