Old German basketball legends never die, they just fadeaway.
OK, now that we’ve made that bad play on words — and we know Dirk Nowitzki would approve of it — if ever a player was associated with one revolutionary shot in the NBA, Nowitzki’s one-legged, step-back fadeaway is it. No matter when Dirk decides to call it a career, he’ll forever be identified with the one-legged fade, of which there no doubt will be a statue out in front of American Airlines Center someday.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the skyhook. But nobody else could do it with any measure of success, so it never caught on as a weapon for the masses.
The Dream Shake? Hakeem Olajuwon perfected it and never gave the public any secrets about how to make it work. Nobody else ever really mastered the footwork.
The 3-point shot? Heck, even centers shoot it now, so what’s the big deal?
But the one-legged fade? It’s a shot that has been copied by many, many players — including some of the greatest players — with varying degrees of success.
The originator of the shot, Nowitzki, and longtime mentor from Germany Holger Geschwindner said that there is a reason other players have gravitated to the shot. It’s not really that hard, Nowitzki says.
Of course, as far as Geschwindner is concerned, most people do it wrong.
He said that the goal for the shot is simple and that physics is at the root of the successful execution of the unorthodox shot.
“What is the minimum amount of effort you can use for a shot?” Geschwindner said. “It’s one step, just one step. Then turn the foot around and put the knee and elbow in plane.
“And everybody who tries to copy it makes the same mistake. The knee goes out, and the elbow go out. They make it harder for themselves because they try to beat the physics. You can do that, but it’s very hard. And you can’t repeat it. If you cannot repeat it, it doesn’t make sense. How can you practice it? We just tried to simplify it.”
What he means is that the balance and the rhythm of the shot are more important than any kind of athletic ability the shooter of it may possess.
Nowitzki doesn’t remember exactly when he was introduced to the idea of a one-legged fadeaway shot. But he knows one thing: It was his idea. And he also remembers that a certain older mentor wasn’t a fan.
Here is Nowitzki’s description of how the shot was born:
“Holger actually didn’t like the shot at the beginning. It was kind of something I made up myself. Holger’s big thing on shots is balance, and he didn’t like the balance. But I started using it more and more. I was getting older, the driving and driving was getting less and less. It was a way to get a good shot up and get a good look. Less work and a better payoff.
“I started shooting more of them because, obviously, I was making them. It would have ended up different if I was shooting 10 percent on it. Like I always say, it’s not that hard of a shot if you have touch, if you have balance and you have an eye for it. All the good players added it because it’s not that hard of a shot if you have good touch and know where you are on the court.”
You have to create separation on the shot, which often means having another move that the defenders at least have a little respect for. It used to be the up-and-under for Nowitzki. Then he would use the drop step. But the go-to move remains the same. The one-legged fadeaway is Dirk’s shot, and always will be.
As coach Rick Carlisle said: “They worked on a lot of unorthodox shots because Holger knew that with Dirk’s body type, size and athleticism, that somewhere, he was going to have to be able to do some unconventional things extremely well.
“It’s a very unique shot. It’s an original. And Dirk’s an original. You’ve got guys like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant who copied that shot.
“That’s a huge nod of respect to one of the all-time greats.”
And with that, here’s a breakdown of how, and why, the one-legged fadeway works:
Step 1: Get the defender on your hip. For a right-handed shooter, this means angling your body to the basket with your right hip closest to the rim. When you feel contact, quickly start a motion moving away from the basket to start planting the left foot.
tep 2: Turning your body to get square to the basket, continue to push away from the rim. The weight of your body naturally shifts to the left foot.
Step 3: Push off of the planted left foot to get a lift while fading away from the defender after creating space between him and the ball. It’s crucial that the shooting motion begin at this point, with elbow tucked close to the body and not out to the side.
Step 4: With the knee coming up to continue to create more space between defender and ball (or else, ouch), release the shot at the highest point of the jump to ensure there is no chance of getting blocked. Continue fading away and watch the ball splash down into the net.
Step 5: Look knowingly at the defender like, “Yeah, you just got Dirked.”
Note: Portions of this story also appeared on dallasnews.com