For something called ‘fadeaways’, they sure do stick in your memory.
Michael Jordan’s was supremely athletic. Hakeem Olajuwon’s variant, the Dream Shake, was visually aesthetic. Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged was straight-up reliable. Kobe Bryant ticked all those boxes.
There’s a reason why ‘Kobe-ing’ became a phenomenon. Jump up, shoot and yell “Kobe!”; be it a solitary game of hoops or a crunched up paperball hurled towards the waste basket. If it went in, all the better.
The same reason why within 24 hours of his death, the internet was littered by petitions asking for a Kobe Fadeaway to be immortalised as the new NBA logo. The run-up, the jumper shot and the follow-through was a ritual, repeated thousands of times over 20 years. The 6’6 Bryant would whistle past bodies, come to a screeching halt, take off, release the ball and fall back. Limbs stretched forward, the oversized yellow-purple jersey billowing, the hangtime unending. The entire thing was too… feline.
Does it surprise you then that it was an actual cheetah that inspired the shot?
In an interview, Bryant explained how he increased the efficiency of the shot. “When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right?”
Bryant would often be credited for reviving the pull-up jumpers of the 70s and 80s, something the LA Lakers legend himself considered a “lost art”.
“It’s like chess, each move sets up the next move,” Bryant once said.
The fadeaway jumpshot was used when there wasn’t enough room for Bryant to elevate and shoot. When he was smothered by longer defenders or being double teamed. It needed strength to get enough altitude on the body, but it also needed a set-up.
The beauty was in the execution, and the process. Bryant’s bread-and-butter play started with the jab step to protect the ball, followed by the spin and the drive. If needed, he would break out the jump shot fake to make the defenders go up, making it easier to pivot or spin away to create a shooting lane.
Bryant would change trajectories by raising his elbows more. The degrees and directions differed depending on the defenders. If they were too athletic, Bryant would do away with the fadeaway altogether.
The shot’s beauty was also in the fact that while it was a go-to move, he didn’t rely singularly on it like Olajuwon or Nowitzki.
Statistics, analytics and injuries are not kind to Bryant’s legacy. The later years were affected by his mangled fingers, creaking knees and betraying instincts. But the fadeaways remained almost flawless. And on nights when the ‘Mamba Mentality’ took over, you could remove the almost from that.
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