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(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

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The NBA Guide to Shooting Your Shot

Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it, to do something crazy, to fear no consequences. And sometimes, in the NBA, you completely embarrass yourself.

On December 29, during the third quarter of a Celtics-Cavaliers game, Marcus Smart decided to shoot his shot.

My favorite example of someone shooting their shot in real life happened a couple of years ago. This was when I was teaching middle school, and it was either right before, after, or on Valentine’s Day. I was standing at my door between classes watching the students wander through the hallway and saying hello to each of my kids as they entered my class. While there, I saw a boy I would classify as kind of dorky but mostly very sweet. He had with him — and I’m remembering this story from a long time ago so maybe the details aren’t 100 percent accurate — some chocolates, a stuffed animal, and a rose. He intended to give them to a girl he liked.

When the girl came walking down the hallway, he walked up to her, said something, and handed her the stuff. She said, "Oh, umm, no thanks," and kept it moving. It was a pulverizing moment — or, at least I thought it’d been. I know I’d have been crushed by something like that. But the boy wasn’t. He turned around to leave, saw that I was staring right at him, then must’ve measured the hurt in my face because he took a second — and I will never forget this part for the rest of my life — he shrugged his shoulders, looked me right in my eyes, said, "Shooters shoot," and then walked away. It was phenomenal. I couldn’t believe his resilience. He took a sledgehammer to the jaw and just shook it off. I knew right then that no matter what, he was going to be successful in life.

That story is probably the best definition of "Shoot Your Shot" that I can give you. If you’re more interested in proper definitions, I suppose it’d be something like: SHOOT YOUR SHOT (v): To do a thing, or say a thing, or claim a thing possibly outside of your range of abilities, though not explicitly so. The kid in the story above, he shot his shot. He missed it, sure, but I respected him for trying, as I respect most shooters, because shooting your shot takes courage. Shooting your shot takes bravery. Shooting your shot takes gumption. Shooting your shot takes a willingness to be embarrassed by the response if it doesn’t go your way.

Some fun, easy-to-categorize examples of guys shooting their shot from recent years in the NBA:

  • The Non-Flinch. While inbounding the ball during a Magic-Lakers game in 2010, Matt Barnes attempted to make Kobe Bryant flinch by pretending he was going to hit Kobe in the face with the basketball, flashing it to within millimeters of Kobe’s nose. Kobe, who is either a demon or possibly blind, didn’t move one tiny, teeny centimeter. Barnes wanted to intimidate Kobe. He shot his shot. He missed.
  • The New Nas. To stick with Kobe (but to reverse things), in 2000 he tried to rap. He wanted to be a rapper. He shot his shot. He missed. He ultra missed. Really, I don’t even know if we could call this one a shot, because it was less like he shot it and more like he picked up the ball and fucking punted it into the ocean, that’s how bad he was at rapping. (The range that Kobe was able to traverse between being COOL and being A DORK during his career is truly impressive.)
  • The "You know what? Nah. Never mind." A fun one of a guy deciding to not shoot his shot is when Tyler Hansbrough got tangled up with Metta World Peace while fighting for a rebound in 2013. He angrily turned around to see who it was he was tussling with, saw that it was Metta World Peace (the human form of a lumberjack’s ax), and immediately apologized. He opted against shooting his shot there, which was smart.
  • The East Bay Junk. During the fourth quarter of a 2009 game between the Heat and the Hawks, Josh Smith got the ball on a breakaway. There were four minutes left and his Hawks were up 20, so rather than perform a normal dunk, which would have been fine, he tried to go between his legs for a dunk, which would have been fantastic. He missed it badly. Here’s the best part, though: It was the playoffs. Here’s the even better part: It was Game 5 of a tied series. Mike Fratello, who was calling the game, muttered in a flustered and disappointed voice, "Sometimes you wonder if he understands. You wonder if he understands the magnitude of the position that he’s in right now." Josh Smith wanted to do something spectacular for no good reason other than to do it. He shot his shot. He missed.
  • The Ricky Quote. Ricky Davis, after he’d been traded in 2003, said, "I thought LeBron James was just going to be another addition to help me score." I love this so much. Ricky wanted to be the king. He shot his shot. He missed.

So, anyway, on December 29, during the third quarter of a Celtics-Cavs game, Marcus Smart decided to shoot his shot. LeBron James had the ball at the left corner behind the 3-point line as Smart guarded him. LeBron dribbled in, turned his back to start pounding, then worked his way down under the free throw line. Once there, he spun to make his move. Smart, who is like the NBA version of that Will Smith movie where his character had trained himself not to let his body experience fear, slid over to meet LeBron, putting his chest into him, causing a collision. LeBron flailed his arms maybe 10 percent more than he needed to, and that plus the general momentum of the action caused Smart to go stumbling backward out of bounds. The refs blew the whistle to call a foul on Smart, and Smart, frustrated by LeBron’s steamroller approach to the layup (and possibly frustrated by LeBron’s general existence, as some players tend to be), charged in to let LeBron know that no chicanery would be tolerated on his watch.

In that instance, Marcus Smart was shooting his shot. He was challenging LeBron. The ideal response (from Smart’s vantage point, anyway) would’ve been for LeBron to become fiery, walk toward Smart, and engage in a ruckus of sorts. Had that happened, Smart would have made his shot, as it would’ve, in essence, been a tacit validation by LeBron that he sees Smart as a threat, and if not that then at least an equal. That’s not what happened, though. That’s super not what happened.

Instead, LeBron, once he realized that Smart was confronting him, made a very obvious Get the Fuck Outta Here Face, except it was maybe more of a Who the Fuck Is This Guy? face, as evidenced by the way he pointed at Smart with his thumb, easily the most disrespectful finger to use when pointing at someone. As soon as LeBron utilized his thumb, the results were obvious: Marcus’s Shoot Your Shot moment had missed.

Players shooting their shot is a fun thing, so let’s look at a few more from this season. I’m going to avoid things like Harrison Barnes signing a max deal with the Mavericks or the Warriors pursuing and then signing Kevin Durant, because those were obviously makes. Instead, let’s go with some misses, in reverse order by dates, from the most recent to least recent.

December 29, 2016 — With the Hornets up seven with a minute left in a game against the Heat, Kemba Walker shot a 3, then turned his back and celebrated as it rattled in, only the shot didn’t actually go in, and Kemba celebrated missing a shot, which is probably more entertaining than watching someone celebrating a make, if we’re being all-the-way honest. This is one of those rare instances where still shots of the play are better than the actual video. Look how perfect the sequence was:

Step 1. The shot goes up.

Step 2. He waits an extra second or so to make sure that it’s going to fall in before he celebrates because he doesn’t want to look foolish.

Step 3. Satisfied it’s going in, he begins to celebrate as the ball, unbeknownst to him, squirts out of the rim.

Step 4. He continues to celebrate.

Step 5. He continues to celebrate further still, and is probably by this point imagining how this specific moment is going to be on various sports-highlight shows and websites. "I’m so fucking dope," he probably says to himself, because that’s what I’d be saying to myself every hour of every day if I was Kemba Walker.

Step 6. "So, so fucking dope," he probably continues.

Step 7. Holdonasec.

Kemba wanted to do something cool. He shot his shot. He missed. (I like this one because he shot his shot after shooting a literal shot, which is like a thing that Dr. Seuss would write, really.)

December 12, 2016 — This one is similar to the Josh Smith between-the-legs missed dunk cited earlier. Terrence Ross got the ball out on the break and attempted to supersize his highlight by going for a windmill dunk rather than just his normal jump-to-the-moon dunk; it caught the front of the rim. These types of Shoot Your Shot misses are always so much fun. Ross wanted to do something exceptional. He shot his shot. He missed.

November 30, 2016 — During a game against the Suns, Dwight Howard rebounded a missed shot. Then, rather than passing it to his outlet man, he turned upcourt and initiated a fast break (!). He tried to hit Mike Muscala for a layup, throwing a left-handed (!!), on-the-run (!!!) pass up to him. Rather than hit Muscala in the hands, though, the ball sailed about 15 feet too far ahead of him and several feet too high. It banged off the backboard, ricocheting right to Tyson Chandler, who threw it up to Devin Booker, who drew a foul on a layup attempt of his own. Dwight Howard wanted to be a point guard. He shot his shot. He missed. (Bonus: The Hawks ended up actually losing that game by two points. I know there’s that whole thing about how one play doesn’t win or lose a game, but still. This is pretty perfect.)

October 26, 2016 — In the first quarter of the first game of the season, Russell Westbrook drew an and-1 on a fast-break layup. As he celebrated, an eager fan sitting courtside cursed at him and also flipped him off with both middle fingers, and then again with one middle finger (that’s three middle fingers in the span of a few seconds, which is a very efficient middle-fingers-shot-per-second ratio). Same as the Marcus Smart example from above, the fan, who we later found out is a real, actual doctor, was (likely) hoping to draw to some sort of big, aggressive response from Russy. Instead, Russy, same as LeBron, disregarded him entirely.

There are maybe two ways to process this one. On the one hand, the fan got a response, and so I suppose you could argue that he actually made his shot. On the other hand, the fan also got tossed from the game, so you could also argue that he missed his shot. This one’s on you to decide. I vote miss, though.

(Quick sidebar: The opposite version of this humorless, offensive, fan-based Shoot Your Shot is the kid who reached out to shake Mark Cuban’s hand during a Jazz-Mavs game in December, and then, when Cuban reached back, the kid pulled his hand away and dabbed on him. That’s an easy Shoot Your Shot swish to call. I hope that when Cuban approached the kid afterward the kid said something like, "I was going to give you a real handshake, but then I remembered that you let Steve Nash walk in 2004, and, for that reason, I’m out.")

(Another quick sidebar: Someone shooting their shot and then getting dismissed by the other party is the most devastating kind of miss. LeBron’s dismissal of Smart will likely remain in the A1 spot of this subsection for this season. Last season, the A1 spot went to Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, who both laughed at Salah Mejri after he dunked it and then tried to talk shit to Popovich while his Mavs were down by 21.)

July 21, 2016 — While answering questions about the upcoming season, Derrick Rose, who’d signed with the Knicks the month prior, said that with his addition, Brandon Jennings, and Joakim Noah, they were now "a superteam," comparing them directly to the Golden State Warriors, who’d won 73 games the season prior and then signed Kevin Durant, one of the three best players in the league. This was a Shoot Your Shot situation when he was shooting that shit from, like, 85 feet, backward, and he had just had both of his arms lopped off, and then he’d been blindfolded and spun around a bunch of times, and then someone took the rim and removed it from the backboard, and then took the backboard and removed it from the arena, then took the arena and removed it from the Earth, and then took Earth and hit it with a gigantic Armageddon asteroid. Derrick Rose wanted to trick us into thinking the Knicks were great. He shot his shot. He missed.

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