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The Best Fictional Basketball Shots Ever

From ‘Space Jam’ to ‘Prometheus,’ we rate the greatest movie and TV buckets

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

I pose to you a simple question: What is the most impressive fictional basketball shot that has ever happened? Think of a movie or a TV show or a music video or anything, really, in which you saw fictional basketball being played. Think of all the shots that happened during those scenes. Which one was the most impressive? We should figure that out. Let’s figure that out. I’ve figured it out.

There are just two rules for this exercise:

  1. The shot — be it a layup or dunk or 3-pointer or full-court heave or whatever — has to have gone in. If it wasn’t a made bucket, then it can’t be considered here, no matter how much you want it to be. That means we don’t get to include things like Tony Montana’s Hero-Ball Jumper, which he shot over 25 guys at the beginning of Scarface (you can see it clank off the rim in the background after he shoots it), and we also don’t get to include any of the first six times Michael Scott tried the “Catch you on the flippity-flip” No-Look Shot as he was leaving the warehouse for the final time in Season 7 of The Office. (The seventh attempt, when he finally made it, technically would be eligible, although I can’t think of a single thing that was impressive on the seventh try.)
  2. All the elements of the shot need to be weighed. All the pieces matter. Consider the size of the shooter, consider the distance from the goal, consider the general skill level, consider sorcery and mysticism, consider all of it. I’ll give you an example: There was a scene in Like Mike when Calvin Cambridge, an undersized 14-year-old orphan, threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and then caught it and dunked it. It happened on a regulation goal and during a game of one-on-one against a pro player. Absent of context, that’d be an especially impressive shot. It’d probably be rated close to 95 or 96 percent impressive (0 percent is the lowest rating and 100 percent is the highest, FYI). HOWEVER, the thing to remember is that Calvin’s body was possessed with magic when that happened because he was wearing magic shoes. So that siphons away a great deal of its impressiveness (it falls from 95 percent impressive down to somewhere around 3 percent impressive). We have to be careful to consider these things. Magic shots are less impressive than authentic ones, humans are more impressive than androids, etc.

So, I ask again: What is the most impressive fictional basketball shot ever?

The Shot: Michael Jordan’s Stretch Dunk

Where Did It Happen? Space Jam, a movie in which Michael Jordan played basketball against cartoons.

Explain It, Please: I feel silly explaining this one because it’s such a big and obvious scene, so I’m not going to do it.

How Impressive Was It? Not very. They were in a cartoon universe. Everything is fuzzy and malleable there. You can basically do whatever you want. I once watched Christopher Lloyd get run over by a steamroller and then puff himself back to life with a helium tank then give himself knives for eyeballs in the cartoon universe. The Stretch Dunk is, at best, 2 percent impressive.

(Note: The most impressive fictional shot Jordan was ever a part of wasn’t even his shot. It was in Michael Jackson’s “Jam” video, when Jackson threw the ball through a warehouse window and swished it from something like 300 feet away. Michael Jackson’s Warehouse Window Prayer was 89 percent impressive. )

(Additional Note: The second most impressive fictional shot Jordan was a part of was actually all of the shots he and Larry Bird took in the second half of that old McDonald’s commercial. They all tied at 54 percent impressive.)

The Shot: David 8’s Hook Shot 3-Pointer While Riding a Bicycle

Where Did It Happen? It happened in the movie Prometheus — I would appreciate it if someone could explain to me what Prometheus is about, because I’ve seen it twice and I still don’t think I understand it.

Explain It, Please: David 8, a very advanced and handsome robot, was trying to keep himself entertained, and so he was riding a bicycle around on a basketball court and he shot a hook shot from several feet behind the 3-point line while pedaling. It was neat.

How Impressive Was It? 20 percent impressive. If a human had done it, it would have rated higher. David 8 has an ultra-advanced operating system. I don’t imagine it was too difficult for him to calculate the proper trajectories and angles and whatnot to make the shot. So this is a 20 percent impressive shot. Incidentally, it’s the exact same amount of impressive as when Ripley hit her No-Look, Over-the-Shoulder 3-Pointer in Alien: Resurrection (she was a clone of the original Ripley, so she had an advanced brain and an advanced body, both of which helped with the shot, I’m sure).

(Note: Two other fictional shots that land in this same general impressiveness area are Lil Wayne’s Corner 3 to win a game in the video for 2007’s “Pop Bottles” and Doug Funnie’s Free Throw Line Jumper to beat Roger in a low-stakes game of pickup basketball in an episode of Doug from Season 1. They’re both basic shots, but Wayne gets all the way up to 22 percent impressive because he was drunk and aroused when he shot his 3 and Doug makes it up to 25 percent impressive because he missed the same exact shot earlier in the episode and it was devastating.)

The Shot: Nathan Scott’s Petty Free Throw

Where Did It Happen? It happened during an episode of One Tree Hill, a TV show I will never forgive for not becoming the basketball version of Friday Night Lights.

Explain It, Please: Nathan Scott’s team, the Ravens, is down three against a team Nathan hates desperately because they have a player, Damien West, he hates desperately. After hitting two consecutive 3s to bring the Ravens to within three with only a handful of seconds left, Nathan takes the ball, dribbles upcourt, then lets another 3 go at the buzzer. It drops through the net as the ref calls West, who was guarding him, for the foul. Scott steps to the free throw line, then takes in the moment, then glances at West, who’s standing on the sidelines. West barks, “You got nothing, Scott. Nothing.” Nathan smirks, then shoots the free throw without ever taking his eyes off West.

How Impressive Was It? A free throw alone isn’t all that impressive, but there are variables here. Scott gets extra points for the pettiness, obviously. He also gets extra points for the three shots he made before then to put himself in that spot. He also gets extra points for wearing his half-brother’s jersey during that moment (it’s a complicated, whole other thing). He also gets extra points because that win helped send the Ravens to the playoffs. All those things together equal an impressive shot. 54 percent impressive.

(Note: Lucas Scott’s State Championship–Winning 3 shot is 46 percent impressive and his Fadeaway Jumper Over Nathan to win their one-on-one game is 39 percent impressive.)

(Additional Note: Another great Petty Shot happens in Degrassi when Jimmy knocks down his own teammate, steals the ball, then shoots the game winner. Jimmy’s Petty Jump Shot settles in at 51 percent impressive just off the moxie of the move alone.)

The Shot: Steve Urkel’s Razzmatazz Layup

Where Did It Happen? It happened in the episode of Family Matters where Steve was allowed to play on the Muskrats, his high school’s basketball team.

Explain It, Please: Steve was an equipment manager for the Muskrats. However, after the team fell a player short following an injury, Steve, assumed to be terrible, was subbed in. On his first play, he stole the ball, completed a spin move to shake free of a defender, adjusted his glasses, then went to work. He dribbled through his legs, stepped back, dribbled through a defender’s legs, took on a double-team at the second level of the defense, dribbled four times swiftly between his legs on some MJ in the Garden shit, split the double-team, drove at the basket, jumped, switched hands mid-jump to avoid a shot blocker, then laid it in softly.

How Impressive Was It? It was art. It was Allen Iverson–esque. 59 percent impressive. It was levels better than Saleh’s version of the Jimmy Dolan Shake and Bake in The Air Up There (35 percent impressive, losing massive percentage points because it took so long to unfurl) but just a few steps behind any time that Buddy made a shot in Air Bud (61 percent impressive, because he was a fucking dog playing basketball).

(Note: Derek Vinyard’s Reverse Dunk in American History X is 37 percent impressive. It rates so high despite the dunk’s general simplicity because I don’t know that any other neo-Nazi has ever dunked before. He is otherwise docked points for being a hateful neo-Nazi.)

The Shot: Billy Hoyle’s Hook Shot from Half Court

Where Did It Happen? It happened in White Men Can’t Jump, the most profound basketball movie of all time.

Explain It, Please: Billy, a perpetual loser, was trying to figure out a way to get his estranged girlfriend, Gloria, on Jeopardy!. It ended up being a thing where a guy who worked security at the lot where they taped Jeopardy! offered Billy a deal: one shot from half court. If he made it on the first try, then Gloria got on the show. If he didn’t, then the security guard got Billy’s car. Also, Billy had to shoot it as a hook shot. He fucking swished it.

How Impressive Was It? 63 percent impressive. Have you ever even tried to shoot a hook shot before? It’s practically impossible to aim for everyone who’s not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Shot: Will Smith’s Jump-Ball Jumper

Where Did It Happen? It happened during that episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will joined the Bel-Air Academy basketball team.

Explain It, Please: It was actually the first official play of Smith’s character’s basketball career. He was lined up for the jump ball. The ref tossed the ball into the air. Will jumped. But then, rather than tap it to one of his teammates, he just grabbed it and shot it before his feet ever even touched the ground. He did everything all in one motion, and I’ll remind you that he did all of this from half court, which is truly insane.

How Impressive Was It? Very impressive. 78 percent impressive. It’s a wildly difficult move. Blake Griffin did kind of the same thing in November of 2015, except he caught a pass in the air instead of a jump ball and also when he did his it was from the 3-point line, not from half court. I think a good rule when you’re measuring how impressive something is on a basketball court is if you can say, “Well, the time [PLAYER] did it was more impressive than the time Blake Griffin did it,” then that’s a very impressive thing.

(I’m ignoring the fact Bel-Air Academy’s court was considerably smaller than a proper basketball court.) (Chill.) (Also: Why was its court so small? I don’t get it. The school served a very affluent population.)

The Shot: Snake Plissken’s Full-Court Heave

Where Did It Happen? It happened in Escape From L.A., a movie that is so bad it strolls past that point where bad movies are so bad that they become ironically good and ends up just being a movie that is so bad it ends up making you physically upset.

Explain It, Please: Let me tell you only the most necessary parts here, because this blurb would end up running between 40–50K words if I tried to explain all of the moving parts. Picture this: Snake is standing at center court. He has to make a shot on the goal at the right side of the court. He has 10 seconds to do so. He grabs the ball and runs over there and makes it. Now he has 10 seconds to make it in the goal on the opposite side of the court. He runs and only makes it a portion of the way before the shot clock expires, so rather than get to shoot an easy layup he has to shoot an 8-footer. Now he has 10 seconds to make another shot on the first goal. He only has enough time to make it to the 3-point line before the shot clock goes off, so he shoots it from there. Now he has to make it in the other goal again and he has only 10 seconds to do so. He manages to make it to half court before he has to shoot it again. Up to this point, he’s made all four shots on the first try of each and within the 10-second time frame of each, which is good because if he misses one or if the buzzer goes off before he shoots it then he’s going to get killed by a bunch of men with guns. But that brings us to the shot in question here: Snake Plissken’s Full-Court Heave. With literally his life on the line, Snake is forced to chuck up a 90-footer. He’s on one side of the court, he looks at the clock, and sees that his time is about to run out, so he just throws it as hard and as best as he can. And he drills it. It’s ultra-clutch.

How Impressive Was It? A made full-court shot under regular conditions in an NBA arena is impressive enough. A full-court shot made under penalty of death is massively impressive. A full-court shot made under penalty of death ON AN OUTSIDE GOAL is otherworldly. It’s far more impressive than the time Hancock, Will Smith’s grumpy superhero, hit that behind-the-back full-court shot in the prison yard on Hancock. Hancock’s lands at 32 percent impressive. Snake’s Full-Court Heave is an easy 79 percent impressive.

The Shot: Rocky’s Free Throw Line Dunk

Where Did It Happen? It happened during the playground bully scene in 3 Ninjas, an irresponsible movie about children fighting war criminals.

Explain It, Please: Rocky, one of the three ninja children in 3 Ninjas, wins a pickup basketball game 10–9 against two bullies by dunking it from the free throw line on them in front of everyone. It’s like the Calvin dunk from Like Mike, except this time there’s no sorcery. Rocky was just a normal kid who happened to be very good at ninjutsu, which I guess gave him the incredible core and leg strength required to dunk it from 15 feet away.

How Impressive Was It? Extremely impressive. 91 percent impressive. Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that Rocky really embarrassed the bullies in that scene. They challenged him and Colt to a game, Rocky asked what the game was going to be played to, one of the bullies told him it’d be a game to 10, then Rocky told them he’d spot them nine points and give them the ball first, too. Rocky is the realest one.

The Shot: John Tucker’s Flip Dunk

Where Did It Happen? It happened during John Tucker Must Die, a movie in which four girls work very hard to embarrass a boy who is so popular and so handsome that he is nearly impervious to embarrassment.

Explain It, Please: During basketball practice, John Tucker is razzed by one of his teammates for wearing a lace-and-satin thong (one of the tricks the girls pull on him ended with him wearing a thong). As a way to reassert his status, he takes the basketball, gives a quick talk about how ideal the thong was to play basketball in, then charged at the rim, jumped, DID A FUCKING FLIP, then dunked it.

How Impressive Was It? 100 percent impressive. It’s a thing that’s never happened in real life and will never happen in real life, that’s how impressive it is. Think on it like this: There was a scene in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man where Spider-Man briefly played basketball, during which he dunked it from two feet behind the free throw line (5 percent impressive). Spider-Man, who is a superhero, didn’t even have the gall to try a flip dunk, AND HE IS A GODDAMN SUPERHERO. John Tucker’s Flip Dunk is unfadeable. It’s the most impressive fictional basketball shot ever.