The best moves don't have to take place in midair or at warp speed. That's why, even though today's players are generally more athletic than those of previous generations, the former stars produced just as many brilliant maneuvers as Jordan & Co. do. Even if you eliminate such memorable trademarks as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook and George Gervin's finger roll, because they were shots not moves, NBA history is full of remarkable fakes and feints. Some players, such as Elgin Baylor, Pete Maravich and Dominique Wilkins, had so many moves that they didn't rely heavily on any one of them, which is why they did not make this list. If we were opening a museum of great moves of the past, these would be our top five exhibits in ascending order.
Kevin McHale's post-up package McHale's back-to-the-basket footwork is the standard by which big men's low-post moves are measured. He had moves and countermoves, depending on how the defender reacted to each fake. If by some chance the opponent wasn't thoroughly lost by the pivot, the pump fake and the step through, McHale could throw a new series of moves at him, all while keeping his pivot foot locked in place. Hakeem Olajuwon's low-post moves get higher marks for artistry, McHale's for technical merit.
Earl Monroe's spin move Almost everyone has a spin move, but no one has the knock-kneed maneuver that unfailingly freed Monroe. He would look arthritic as he dribbled down the floor and then split a pair of opponents with a whirl to the basket. Today's players should study a tape of Monroe to see that it's possible to execute a killer spin move without carrying the ball.
Julius Erving's behind-the-basket drives Dr. J was at his most dangerous under the rim or backboard, where most players are hopelessly trapped. With his long arms, remarkable body control and ability to hang in the air, Erving found ways to spin in layups even when he seemed penned in between defenders and the baseline. He seemed to float in the air, waiting for an opening, as if he were a hockey player behind the net.
Bob Cousy's behind-the-back moves Even 7-foot centers go behind their backs these days, but when Cousy started flashing his moves (dribbles, passes, even drives) in the 1950s, they drew gasps. Cousy was the father of flamboyant moves. "Have you ever seen a guy other than Cousy throw a hook pass the length of the court off a made free throw to a guy to score on a fast break?" asks his former Boston Celtics teammate Tom Heinsohn. "I don't think you have."
Magic Johnson's no-look pass One of the NBA's most enduring images is that of Johnson leading a fast break, looking one way as he whipped a pass the opposite way, usually to a teammate streaking in for an easy basket. Magic's misdirection wasn't always necessary, and sometimes he leaped to make a pass when he didn't have to, but sometimes the best moves break all the rules.