This winter I was an assistant coach at a Washington, DC high school. One night our point guard, who participates in the most elite levels of AAU basketball, was called for a travel while attacking the basket on a fast break. As he approached the last defender from the right side of the key, he picked up his dribble while veering hard left to the middle of the paint, planted off his left foot then hopped back to the right, jumped off his right foot and laid the ball in on the right side of the basket.
Although he took as many steps as on a normal layup (pick up dribble/left foot down, jump off right foot) the referee called traveling because the move transforms the classic take off for a layup into a final opportunity for misdirection. In this case our point guard fooled not only his opposition, but the referee. Our head coach was livid, but he agreed when I told him that ref made the wrong call simply because he hadn’t seen the move before.
This move, called the Euro step, allows an attacking offensive player to, at the last second, change his angle of approach and avoid the defense. Ironically it was an Argentinean bat-killer, Manu Ginobili, who brought the move to American basketball during the early 2000s. Manu used his distinctive attacking style to decimate opposing defenses as the slashing scorer for two NBA championship teams in San Antonio.
However when Manu started playing for the Spurs, commentators were split on him. Euroballers were looked upon as soft but skilled, their games and skills seemingly lost in translation in the NBA. But Ginobili quickly earned the articulate praise of legends like Charles Barkley for his daring, aggressive style of play. The Euro Step was a major part of his success, repeatedly befuddling seemingly well-positioned defenders. Now young Americans ballers have caught on and the Euro Step is being taught as a fundamental of effective, athletic finishing all over America.
If we think of basketball moves as a vocabulary, the Euro Step has been translated from another culture and style of play and has entered into the lexicon of American basketball the way all new language does: young people.
And yet the root of this move goes deeper than just Ginobili. As much as I like to think of David Stern as some sort of evil mole-man who, from his dank lair beneath the Manhattan subway, plots ways to destroy the hearts of peace-loving Seattlites, I will applaud him in this respect. His efforts to expand the global footprint of the NBA have lead to better basketball players coming from foreign countries and in the case of the Euro Step, a brand new move. We usually think about the NBA growing its market only to make more money, but in this case Stern’s policies have enriched the fan experience as well as the diversity and quality of the game.
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