This is my favourite play in sports.
In basketball, the alley-oop is often seen as a clever, unexpected curveball play that gets you a few quick points before the other team has time to set themselves.
The way it usually runs down:
One team has the ball and is coming quickly down the court on the offensive rush. The other team is focused (overly so) on the ball-carrier, who quickly feels the pressure. From what seems like an unrealistic distance away, quite unexpectedly, the ball carrier takes a shot.
The odds of getting a 3-pointer from nearly half court are slim (unless you’re Mr. Curry, then they are marginally better), so the other team is surprised by this effort, particularly when there are other options.
What the defensive team doesn’t realize is that while they were so focused on the ball carrier, a teammate was making a hard break for the basket. The shot was never meant to go in on its own — but rather get close.
Close enough for a teammate to catch on their way to the basket. Close enough, they can catch it mid-air headed directly for the basket, long past the point where a defensive interception could occur. Close enough that the shot, on a better day, may have made its way straight in.
Close enough that the teammate’s job is simple: catch, dunk, celebrate.
The alley-oop is beautiful and potent for a few reasons:
- It almost always works (when done at the right time). When you have that critical combination of a ball-watching defense and a quick offensive rush, a shot from deep outside is very unexpected, and the jump for the basket is uncontested.
- It is simple for both players. The shooter needs to lob the ball close to the net on the teammate’s jumping side, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Their hope is that their teammate is good enough to make an awkward catch if need be. The dunker’s job is even easier: head to the basket, watch for a pass, catch, dunk, celebrate. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice, and you need the pre-requisite skills for such a feat (such as a crazy vertical), but at an elite level, this is fairly routine.
- It’s a team play. The shooter didn’t hit a crazy outside shot for 3. The dunker didn’t blitz his way through the other team with finesse and drive to make a hard-fought push to the rim. A simple pass, unexpected and well-timed, removes a huge amount of difficulty for both players and makes it look easy.
In life, we too often look for the pull-up 3 from outside, the hail-mary game-winner from our own end, or the hard-fought one-man-show through the entire team. We practice for years, learning all the skills to make tough shots, beat people one on one, and dribble past slower defenders. Eventually, our ego reminds us that if we get lucky, we might be able to take on 2 at a time, or maybe even 3. Sooner or later, we fall victim to trying to do it all ourselves.
Sometimes, the simplest plays work the most effectively.
When you’re double-teamed, or pressed high up the court, all it takes is some simple communication, a smooth pass disguised as a shot, and a teammate on the same page.
Pass. Catch. Dunk.
It won’t work in every situation, but if you have the presence of mind to look out for it, getting two points has never been easier.
Find yourself a great teammate. Communicate effectively. Keep your eyes open for the opportunity. Make a simple pass. Don’t do it all yourself when you don’t have to.
And when you nail it, celebrate a little.
Make it look easy.