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An alley-oop in basketball is an offensive play in which one player throws the ball near the basket to a teammate who jumps, catches the ball in mid air and puts it in the hoop before touching the ground. The alley-oop combines elements of teamwork, pinpoint passing, timing and finishing.
In the 1950s, some players began utilizing jumping abilities by grabbing balls in mid-air and then dunking. Bill Russell at the University of San Francisco, Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas University and 'Jumping' Johnny Green at Michigan State University would frequently grab errant shots by teammates and dunk them (many teammates were not happy with this since they would lose credit for the basket). This resulted in a tightening in the enforcement of offensive goaltending rules in NCAA and NBA basketball in the late 1950s.
Al Tucker and his brother Gerald at Oklahoma Baptist University are sometimes credited with being the first to use the alley-oop in the mid-1960s. In Bill Walton's record-setting 44-point, 21-for-22 shooting performance for UCLA in the 1973 NCAA championship game against Memphis State, six of his baskets came on alley-oop plays.
Some others credit David Thompson as the first player to execute the classic alley-oop play while at North Carolina State University, with his teammates Monte Towe and Tim Stoddard performing the necessary lob passes. NCSU's Thompson popularized the play during the early 1970s, exploiting his 44-inch vertical leap to make the above-the-rim play a recurring staple in the Wolfpack's offensive attack. Because dunking was illegal in college basketball at that time, upon catching the pass, Thompson would simply drop the ball through the hoop – never dunking one until the final play of the final home game of his career.
In 1976, dunking once again was allowed in NCAA games, and the alley-oop became associated in the late 1970s with Michigan State's Earvin 'Magic' Johnson and Greg Kelser. The duo connected for many highlight alley oops and would showcase the play in their 1979 National Championship run, including the most watched game in the history of the sport, the famed Magic vs. Bird championship game.
North Carolina State also won a national championship on what could be considered the most famous alley-oop of all time against the University of Houston. With time running out and the score tied in the 1983 championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dereck Whittenburg shot short of the rim, which effectively functioned as a pass to Lorenzo Charles, who caught the ball and stuffed it through the net to win the title.
During the 1990s, NBA stars turned the alley-oop into the game's ultimate quick-strike weapon. In recent years, teams have often run the alley-oop as a planned play. The 2008 National Champions Kansas Jayhawks had several designs for alley-oops, including some thrown from inbound sets, and could execute them interchangeably with almost all of the players being able to both lob and finish the play.
Normally, an alley-oop involves having a player other than the dunker throw the ball into mid-air. The play can be difficult to execute during a game because it requires unspoken communication between the passer and the recipient of the pass. A player charging toward the basket may point upward, signaling that he is ready to receive an alley-oop. The passer must be able to anticipate the recipient's movement toward the basket and then time the pass appropriately.
On occasion, the passer will throw the alley-oop off the backboard to a trailing recipient for the dunk. This is often a more difficult alley-oop to complete, and it tends to occur outside of officially-sanctioned basketball games, in which the downside of a missed dunk is lower. The move is often used in slam-dunk contests. For example, at the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Steve Nash used the Association football move of a header to place the ball in the air near the rim for teammate Amar'e Stoudemire to catch and jam.
Rarely, the dunker himself will throw the ball, often bouncing it off the floor or backboard. During the flow of a normal game, this is difficult to accomplish without either committing a traveling violation, or simply creating the needless risk of a turnover.
Origin of the term
The term "alley-oop" is derived from the French term allez hop!, the cry of a circus acrobat about to leap. The term "Alley Oop" was first used in the 1950s by the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL to describe a high arcing pass to wide receiver R.C. Owens, who would outleap smaller cornerbacks for touchdown receptions ("The Catch", the famous Dwight Clark touchdown reception from Joe Montana by which the 49ers gained entry into their first Super Bowl, was also an "Alley Oop" pass) and later became more well-known from its use in basketball.
In the 2008 film Semi-Pro, protagonist Jackie Moon, played by Will Ferrell, invents the alley-oop after being knocked unconscious and speaking with his deceased mother in a depiction of Heaven. The crowd and announcers are left nearly speechless, unable to comprehend what happened. The referee is dumbfounded and feels the play should be a foul, and maybe even two fouls. Monix, played by Woody Harrelson, breaks down the mechanics of the play and convinces the referee that it's worth two points. The play allows the fictional Flint Tropics to rally back and eventually defeat the San Antonio Spurs.
- Andrieson, David (October 13, 2007), "Sonics ushered Seattle into the big time 40 years ago Saturday", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Posnanski, Joe (April 6, 2008), "Get ready for alley-oop game between KU and Memphis", The Kansas City Star[dead link]
- Davis, Seth (2009), When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball, Times Books, ISBN 978-0805088106
- alley-oop, adv., int., adj., and n, Oxford English Dictionary entry for term "alley oop"