Smith, who's righthanded, usually starts the move by going left, because defenders are more likely to go for the fake back to his stronger hand. He dribbles with his body between the ball and the player guarding him. Then comes the fake reverse of direction, when Smith looks back over his left shoulder and turns his body slightly. Even if the defender expects the move, his instinct is to slide back to block the spin, and if he takes so much as a half step in that direction, Smith is gone. "It's not so much the move that makes it tough to stop, it's the way Smith does it," says Chicago Bulls guard Ron Harper. "He knows how to set you up for it, and he knows he can't use it all the time. He picks his spots." It's probably the easiest of the top moves in the league to miss because the fake spin is subtle and done in the blink of an eye and because Smith generally doesn't use it more than once or twice in a game.
"When I was at Pershing High in Detroit, the first few times I tried the move in practice it didn't work too well," Smith says. "My coach said, 'I'm tired of that move, try something else.' " Smith obviously prevailed, and his coach, Johnny Goston, now teaches Smith's hesitation move every year to the Pershing guards.
TIM HARDAWAY VS. ALLEN IVERSON
There are several players with warp-speed crossover dribbles—Bryant, Damon Stoudamire of the Portland Trail Blazers and Rod Strickland of the Wizards among them—but Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers' point guard, and Hardaway, his counter-part with Miami, are the crossover kings. You've seen the move: They walk toward the defender, casually switching their dribble from right hand to left and back again, over and over. Finally the opponent runs out of patience and commits to one side. In a flash, Iverson and Hardaway cross the ball over to the other hand and they're gone. It's hard to choose which one does it better, but because there isn't room for two players with the same move on our list, we, like that unfortunate defender, have to commit to one side.
"It's Hardaway," says Boston associate coach Jim O'Brien. "His crossover is absolutely paralyzing because it's really two moves. He can go through his legs and go by you, or he can go back the other way. If you lean one way, it's impossible to get back." Hardaway's backers also point to the fact that Iverson's move is close to being illegal. "He carries the ball every time he does it," says Smith. Iverson was the subject of a memorandum on palming sent to the league's referees last season, and during a game against the Phoenix Suns in November 1996, referee Nolan Fine called him for the violation while Iverson was dribbling the ball up the court, without a defender near him.
But Iverson's success with the move is all the more impressive because he's the subject of such scrutiny. In just his second season Iverson has established his crossover as one of the most identifiable moves in the league. When he used it to fake Jordan almost to his knees last season, Iverson created one of the most talked-about sequences of the year. "Hardaway's is still pretty good, but Iverson's is more dramatic," says Trail Blazers assistant general manager Jim Paxson. "Timmy's is more functional and gets the same result. Iverson's has more flair." Says Sixers assistant Gar Heard, "If it's oohs and aahs, it's more about Allen."
Call us shallow, but we like oohs and aahs. Give credit to Hardaway, a nine-year veteran who was toasting NBA defenders when Iverson was still in junior high, for crossing over so effectively for so long, but give the nod to Iverson. We agree with Hawk Tyrone Corbin's opinion of Iverson's move. "He may carry the ball, but I don't care," Corbin says. "It's like art."
When Jordan has the ball at the end of a game, says Allan Bristow, the Denver Nuggets' vice president of basketball operations, "whatever he decides to do is always the best move of any player in the league." Since he returned from his brief retirement, Jordan has decided on the fadeaway jumper more often than any of his other moves.
The work before the shot makes the move. Jordan starts with his back to the basket, then often gives a shoulder fake so quick it looks almost like a muscle spasm. That freezes the defender for the split second Jordan needs to turn and fire. Like a pitcher who varies his pickoff move, Jordan has a variety of deliveries to keep his defender off balance. He'll fake left and turn to the right for the shot. The next time down he may reverse it. Or he may sense the defender is expecting the fake and simply turn and fire.