Of course, hang
time is impossible. You go up, you come down. You don't stay there. Galileo
proved it when he threw a couple of bricks from a tower and they dropped at
exactly the same rate of speed.
standing plant and going straight up in the air, the illusion of hang time—and
we've all seen it—is just that, an illusion," says Joseph McClure,
associate professor of physics at Georgetown University. "The only way a
person can stay in the air longer is by jumping higher or farther."
Fine. From a
scientific standpoint and a standing plant there can be no such thing as hang
time. But from a basketball standpoint and a strong first step, is there any
doubt there is? Haven't we seen the three men we admire most, the Father, the
Son and the Holy Ghost of Hang—Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving and Michael
Jordan—ride their personal elevators up, step out on a high floor for a
look-see and come down when the mood strikes them? Is it real, or is it
A little of both,
probably. On the one hand: "Sometimes on a straight rise," Erving says,
"you sort of put your air brake on and wait for the defense to go
down—that's pure hang time."
And on the other
hand: "Say I pick up the ball off the dribble and palm it," Erving
continues, about to break the code of omerta of the magician's union. "At
that instant you might think, 'He's gliding,' when in fact I'm actually taking
the step without a dribble I'm legally allowed before going up. So I'm
projecting the illusion that I'm sailing while I'm still on the ground. Then
when I go up, complete my leap and shoot on the way down, it looks like I was
up there forever."
evolve from different facts. "What you're calling hang time is a very
complicated business," says McClure. "It has to do with a body being
able to convert horizontal momentum into vertical force. How effectively you do
that will increase your time in the air." And thereby hangs this tale.
Let's use an
analogy from music to distinguish between hanging and leaping: Clarence
(Frogman) Henry was a leaper, but Tom Dooley was a hanger. Basketball is thick
with leapers who can, as Dick Vitale, the always understated ESPN analyst puts
it, "say hello to God." High on the honor roll are such golden oldies
as Jumpin' Johnny Green, Pogo Joe Caldwell and Darnell Hillman. The current
float-illa includes Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns, Dominique Wilkins of the
Atlanta Hawks and Darrell Griffith of the Utah Jazz, young men who may someday
become certified hangers. The alltime legendary leaper was a 6'5" kid out
of Brooklyn's Boys High and Virginia Union named Jackie Jackson. He never
played in the NBA, but one time on a New York City playground, Jackson pinned a
Wilt Chamberlain fadeaway jumper against the top of the backboard. People who
were there say that Wilt gazed up at Jackson as if he'd just seen the face of
God. But, again, guys like Jackson are leapers, not hangers. Hanging's too good
different. Leaping is the most obvious talent in basketball, hanging the most
mystic. One is a gift; the other is sorcery.
hangers seem to freeze people," says Jerry West, who, in his 14-year career
with the Los Angeles Lakers had more hang time on his jump shot than anyone
else ever, with the possible exception of the Cleveland Cavs' World B. Free.
"They take a great first stride, and it looks like they're really going to
explode into the air. But then they just sort of float up there. The defensive
player sees that first stride and has a tendency to—bang!—go up way too soon.
His timing is therefore off. The great hangers all deceive you."
As in, two