Happy birthday Antoine Walker! The former Celtic and Heat player was born 37 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois. To commemorate ‘Toine’s big day, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane and bring you the best celebrations in contemporary NBA history. While Walker has encountered some serious obstacles in his post-NBA life, he’ll always have “The Shimmy.”
When you’re going good, or you hit a big-time shot, you want to celebrate. It’s human nature to express our joy when we’ve accomplished something incredible. Nowhere is this more true than the NBA, where big shots are often followed by big celebrations; where players can get so hot everything starts to go in, and where a last second shot can birth new legends. With all that drama, there are bound to be some incredible celebrations.
Here are 10 of our favorite celebrations from over the years.
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10. DWYANE WADE – Cam Newton‘s Superman
This one might be a one-off, but it still makes our list because of the timing and execution. Early during the 2011-12 season, Dwyane Wade and the Heat faced off against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats would go on to finish a season they’d just assume forget: they had the worst winning percentage of any team in NBA history. But even playing against the mighty Heat last season, they were leading by one with under 30 seconds to play. Before going forward, we should note that Carolina Panthers QB, Cam Newton, was in attendance that night. Newton, if you didn’t know, burst onto the NFL scene as a running and passing quarterback in the vein of an early Michael Vick. When Newton scored a touchdown he liked to pretend to pull his suit open, like Clark Kent does before saving the day.
Back to the game. The clock ticks down to zero while Dwyane Wade lofts a bank shot at the rim that swivels around the cylinder for a second before falling thorough. Wade took the opportunity, after hitting the game-winner, to Superman Cam in the front row. It was perfect, but we’ll likely never see it again.
9. LARRY JOHNSON – The L Elbow
Larry Johnson seemed like a sure-fire Hall of Fame inductee when he first burst onto the scene as “Grandmama” with the old Charlotte Hornets back in 1992. After averaging 19 and 11 and 20 and 10 his first two seasons, his play dipped as his weight (don’t forget about his back issues, either) did the opposite. He averaged 20 points a night in his last season for Charlotte, but he wasn’t nearly the same athletic marvel he had been when he came out of UNLV. Regardless, his time with his next team, the New York Knicks, will always been looked on fondly by Madison Square Garden denizens. That’s because his 4-point play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers is the stuff of legends even if Johnson wasn’t (and isn’t) a legend. After hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with the foul (and if we’re honest with ourselves, Knick fans, he wasn’t really fouled on the play), he grabbed his elbow to form an “L” for Larry. While it might not be the most conspicuous or witty celebration, it’ll always have a place in the heart of Knicks fans. For now, we can just say: “Big L rest in peace.”
8. DIKEMBE MUTOMBO – The Finger Wag
It’s hard to differentiate a lot of the intangibles Dikembe Mutombo brought to his game in the NBA, but blocked shots were certainly a large part of what he could do. He was a great rebounder and defender, and occasionally got a nice dunk on offense, but it was his defense that kept him in the league until well past his 40th birthday (his last game in the NBA was at 42 for the 2008-09 Rockets). Part of the allure of Mutombo, besides his rumored pick-up line at Georgetown (he’d walk into a crowded party and yell, in that deep Mutombo baritone, “Who wants to sex Mutombo?!”), was the tenacity with which he went after opposing shots. After swatting a shot, he’d wag his finger in a player’s face. As the years went on, some would use that trademark against him, but most will never forget the first time they saw Mutombo wag his big ol’ index finger in an opposing player’s face. It was a perfectly Mutombo thing to do.
7. STEVE NOVAK – The Championship Belt
Steve Novak is an unassuming member of one of the most well known teams on the planet: the New York Knicks. However, his three-point shooting is anything but covert. There’s a special roar to the MSG faithful whenever “Novokaine” catches fire from long range. To commemorate a big shot, Novak has adopted a particular brand of expressing his satisfaction. He unclasps a metaphorical belt – the championship belt – from around his waist; it’s meant to symbolize that he’s the champion of the long range three. Also, his new teammate in New York, Rasheed Wallace, used to carry around a championship belt during his title-winning years in Detroit. Now, “Sheed” busts out Novak’s move from the Knicks’ sideline.
6. CHRIS ANDERSEN – The Bird Man
Chris Andersen has had a tumultuous tenure in the NBA. He’s spent a couple years in street clothes after violating the NBA’s substance abuse policy, and recently his home was targeted by law enforcement for Internet crimes against children (he was not charged with a crime, though). Despite all the rigamarole, he’s still managed to play on an NBA team for the last decade, and he’s taken that opportunity to perform his own ceremonial dance after an emphatic dunk or out-of-nowhere block. He crosses his arms in front of him and then flaps his hands like a bird. He’s the Bird Man, and even with all the trouble and tattoos, he’s been a genuine fan favorite in Denver for years.
Currently, he’s without a team; although, the Knicks thought about offering him the league’s minimum this summer. So we might have seen the last of the Bird Man. It was fun while it lasted though, and the next time you see an enormous man with alabaster skin and extravagant tattoos prominently displayed over most of his body, give him a quick flap of the wings; he’ll always be the Bird Man.
5. RUSSELL WESTBROOK – The Holstered Handguns
Russell Westbrook’s holstered guns have become his trademark after big threes. He’ll nail a long shot, then holster those hands like they’ve just shot down some evil varmin at the O.K. Coral. It’s pretty fun to watch simply because Russ seems to have so much fun performing the routine, and his enthusiasm is contagious; the Oklahoma City crowd eats it up every time. But he’s not the only one to use the gunslinger routine to celebrate a made basket.
I’ve actually debated the differences between Russell Westbrook’s holstered guns and Joakim Noah‘s Yosemite Sam rendition once before. Noah actually fires off his finger pistols first before holstering them, and he doesn’t mind performing this routine when he’s not even in the game. While it’s a commendable celebration for Noah – especially if he’s scoring 30 and grabbing 23 boards – it’s not quite as much fun as Russ. Russ lives to shoot the basketball, and so any time he’s holstering those guns, you know OKC is on a run. Not so with Joakim.
4. SAM CASSELL – The Big Balls Dance
Sam Cassell was a wily off guard that won two championships with Houston in his first two years, then had a solid career as a score-first guard that was the master of the midrange jumper; he was also the master of talking smack and maybe that’s why his celebration was so great. While hitting huge baskets for the Rockets in his first two NBA seasons, he developed a notable dance after nailing a big shot, which he often repeated throughout his career in Milwakee, Los Angeles and elsewhere. He’d cup his hands in front of him, and pretend like he had testicles the size of bowling balls. The dance became so popular even Kobe copied it (when he wasn’t too busy mimicking MJ). Sam Cassell’s testicle dance is the stuff NBA dreams are made of. You can be sure Matt Stone and Trey Parker were at least tangentially aware of it before penning this episode of South Park.
3. ANTOINE WALKER – The Shimmy
Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” single is a revelatory hip-hop track, but Antoine Walker’s shimmy after a big play made it’s debut a little after the grimy Wu emcee went solo. Ask any Boston, Dallas, Miami or Atlanta fan (he actually ended his career with Minnesota, but we don’t count those 46 games), about the Walker shimmy shake, and they’ll invariably point out how hysterical it actually was in person, but also what a disappointment Walker was much of the rest of the time he was in those cities. Walker was an inveterate gunner not altogether dissimilar from Russell Westbrook. The only problem is Walker didn’t bring much else to the table aside from a preference for 23-footers early in the shot clock, and Russ bleeds basketball. Walker was a shooter, and when he wasn’t that, he was a complainer, and when he wasn’t that, he was probably gambling away most of this $100 million plus earnings over his career; Walker filed for bankruptcy not long after he retired. But, damn, the man could move both going to the basket and during the ensuing dance where he’d shake his body in rapturous delight. Walker’s shimmy and his title with Miami in 2006 are two things his fans can look back on and actually smile about. While the rest of his career was filled with a lot of disappointment, no one was upset when Walker performed his shimmy shake.
2. DARIUS MILES and QUENTIN RICHARDSON – Head Bump
Darius Miles only lasted eight years in the NBA after a series of injuries derailed what many thought could have been a superstar career. After jumping from prep school to the NBA, he had the athleticism to be a star but he never figured out a jumper, and his ballhandling was always iffy. Maybe you remember LeBron joining Miles in Cleveland for James’ rookie year and an actual debate followed about who would get more touches!? Or, more likely, and more to the matter at hand, maybe you remember his first two years in Los Angeles with teammate and friend, Quentin Richardson. The two of them not only yuked it up on the sidelines, but they adopted a strange practice of bumping their heads with both fists after a good play. It caught on, and everyone seemed to be doing it for a while (James even did it for a while in Cleveland). But like most celebratory trends, the practice faded when there wasn’t much left to celebrate. Miles was traded to Cleveland after his sophomore season in L.A., and after Cleveland he bounced to the Blazers and Timberwolves before retiring early because of injuries.
Q stayed in L.A. for a couple seasons past Miles’ departure, knocking down threes and briefly becoming engaged to Brandy in 2005. Eventually, he went to Phoenix and then New York, where he was a big part of those awful Larry Brown/Isiah teams during the mid-to-late 2000s. He played for Orlando last season, but hasn’t found a suitor for his services so far this year. Even though both Q and Miles are out of the league this year, their head bumps live on as one of the more memorable celebrations in recent NBA history. If you want to make people laugh a little, do a head bump some day in your local YMCA or JCC league after hitting a bucket.
1. MICHAEL JORDAN – The Shrug (and “The Shot” and “The Final Shot”)
Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T. and so it stands to reason he’d be at the top of our list for best basketball celebrations. Most fans of a certain age only need to be told “The Shot,” “The Shrug,” and “The Last Shot” to know exactly what you’re talking about. While it’s true MJ went on to play two seasons in Washington where he was obviously well past his prime, he’s still the best player in the history of the NBA, and possibly the greatest athlete of all time, regardless of sport. But his celebrations were pretty cool too.
First, there was simply “The Shot.” It all happened in the deciding Game 5 of the 1989 First Round Eastern Conference matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Coliseum of Richfield. Lets set the scene: with six seconds remaining, Jordan hit a jumper to give the Bulls a 99-98 lead. Cleveland took timeout, and Craig Ehlo inbounded the ball to Larry Nance. Nance gave the ball right back, and Ehlo drove it in for a layup to take a 100-99 Cleveland lead with only three seconds remaining. Chicago timeout.
As Brad Sellers took the ball out for Chicago, Jordan was double-teamed by Ehlo and Larry Nance. After bouncing off Ehlo and pushing Nance away, he retrieved the ball near the sideline, took one dribble into the foul line, and rose up with Ehlo right in his mug. He double pumped and shot the ball. The ball didn’t swish through the net, but rattled around a little and fell through. Jordan’s celebration, where he leaped into the air as Ehlo crumpled to the hardwood, has become iconic. So much so, they call it simply “The Shot.” It’s MJ’s leg kick and fist pump while three feet off the ground during his celebration that many fans remember. It’s a lot more athletic than the Van Morrison variety, and it might just be the most famous celebration of all time.
Jordan did perform similar miracles against Utah in 1998. With under 10 seconds left and down by one, he crossed over Byron Russell near the foul line, and nudged him with his left hand a little (Russell and Utah faithful claim now this was an offensive foul). After the crossover and the push with his off-hand, Jordan rose up for a jumper. His shot dropped perfectly through the hoop and he left his extended right hand out. This was Michael’s final shot as a Bull, and most MJ acolytes like to pretend it was his last shot as an NBA player by totally forgetting the Washington years. But the lasting image of MJ’s right hand fully extended even after the ball drops through the net is something most sports fans can picture from memory. It too is one of the more lasting images of the NBA and something that’s repeated ad nauseam before and after every June Finals game.
But, perhaps more famous than either “The Shot” or “The Final Shot” is “The Shrug.” It was 1992, and MJ’s Bulls were facing off against Clyde Drexler‘s Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals. Clyde had been cast as the challenger to MJ’s place atop the NBA thrown. Jordan had finally won his first title the year before against Magic‘s Lakers team. Now it was Portland’s turn to try and knock off MJ’s Bulls. But Jordan issued a proclamation the opening game that seemed to win the series for Chicago before it had even begun. In the opening game, Jordan hit six three-pointers in the first half on his way to 35 first half points, and demoralized the Trail Blazers team.
At one point, after knocking down his last three-pointer of the half, MJ turned to the people on the sidelines and just shrugged. Even he couldn’t believe how hot he was. If you were too young for “The Shot,” or too old for “The Final Shot,” then you have to remember “The Shrug.” It was the shrug seen ’round the world.
So even though these last three celebrations aren’t as goofy or eccentric as some of the others on this list, they feature the GOAT, and anyone that follows basketball knows exactly what you’re talking about when you say “The Shot,” “The Final Shot” or “The Shrug.” They’re the most famous celebrations of all time because they feature the most famous player of all time.
DeShawn Stevenson – I can’t feel my face/My hands are on fire
Allen Iverson – The step-over
Damon Jones – washing the car
Patty Mills – 3 Goggles
Kris Humphries – Shushes the MSG crowd
John Wall – The Dougie
JaVale McGee – Shoveling food into mouth
What are your favorite celebrations of all time?
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