35 Best NBA Celebrations in Hardwood History
If there’s one thing that NBA fans will never have to worry about, it’s a shortage of personality on the court. In many sports, players only get a small window of opportunity to add some personal flair with a celebration. In soccer, goals bring a rare (though impressive) spectacle; in football, only a touchdowns or critical plays warrant a celebration. But basketball capitalizes on every occasion imaginable.
Pregame rituals, bench antics, clutch shots, nasty defense and everything in between warrant so much more than a fist pump. Let’s pay our respects to the legends who have made their signature NBA celebrations a keystone of basketball culture.
35. DeShawn Stevenson – I Can’t Feel My Face
DeShawn Stevenson enjoyed a solid career over his 13 years in the league. There was never any worry about the battery running out for the energetic swingman. His high-octane style was matched by an in-your-face attitude that backed down to no one.
Leave it to the guy who called LeBron James “overrated” to credit his hand wave gesture to something of truly stupid grandeur. Rather than chalk up inspiration for the wave to John Cena’s classic “you can’t see me” move, Stevenson credited his “I Can’t Feel My Face” to rapper Tony Yayo’s dance move. Yayo has said his move was actually inspired by 50 Cent’s son.
Despite speculation, the “I Can’t Feel My Face” t-shirts Stevenson sold totally weren’t referring to Johnny Depp’s famous line from the movie “Blow.” Even though the idea for the move came from a dude named Yayo. Sure, we’ll roll with the PG version of this NBA celebration.
34. Caron Butler – The Call
Game 3 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals brought us celebratory gold. Oklahoma City’s Caron Butler buried a big bucket in the fourth quarter, forcing San Antonio into a timeout. Butler immediately took the opportunity to pick up his hand phone and make a call.
Teammate Hasheem Thabeet was thrilled to be on the receiving end, excitedly answering a hand phone of his own. Meanwhile, Andre Roberson appeared to be eavesdropping on his own hand phone, looking shocked at what Butler said he just did.
The Call. The Backstreet Boys popularized it, but Caron Butler made it a signature of NBA celebrations.
33. Steph Curry – The Shimmy
What’s so special about Steph Curry’s shimmy? It’s kind of obnoxious and looks stupid.
Curry appears to lose control of his body after nailing deep threes, breaking into unbearably awkward convulsions. It’s Movin’ Like Bernie, but far worse – especially to opposing fans.
Next to chomping on his mouthguard like a chew toy, nothing lights a fire in fans’ eyes quite like Curry’s shimmy. The more opposing fans give Curry flak for the move, the more frequently he shimmies down the court.
Genius. Destroy their team, then “dance” on the collective grave of fans’ broken spirits.
32. Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson – Antennas Up?
What are those head bumps Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson loved to do? Are they horns, perhaps an ode to a Texas alma mater? However, Miles entered the league straight out of prep school and Q-Rich went to DePaul – so that doesn’t add up. The real answer is more… out there.
The rumored origins have us saying, “I want to believe.” The move is reportedly less of a bump or tap and more of a pull. It is supposedly a signal to pull up the alien antennas and pay attention.
Whether or not that is the truth, D-Miles and Q-Rich remain tight-lipped on the meaning of the gesture. The mystery alone makes this move awesome, even if it turns out to be meaningless.
31. Kevin Garnett – Stanchion Headbutt
This special pregame ritual may not quite fit the mold of NBA celebrations, but don’t be fooled by its timing. Consider Kevin Garnett headbutting a stanchion a ceremonious sacrifice to the basketball gods. It’s a bizarre ritual that only someone as animated as KG can gift us.
Before KG offers his brain cells to the b-ball gods, he gets in the zone and looks like he’s changing. He awkwardly pulls his shorts down and tucks his jersey in, as if in a locker room. After everything’s situated, Garnett butts his head into the sacrificial stanchion. Once the ceremony has concluded, the game may commence.
30. Glen Davis – Big Baby Hungry
Some NBA players enter the league with a label that sticks through the entirety of their career. Glen “Big Baby” Davis – a total goofball – has the epitome of the sticky nickname. While some athletes try to shake a certain image by any means possible, acting a fool was in Big Baby’s blood.
One game removed from an inhuman Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 (2010) in which Davis drilled the game winner and shoved a kid aside in an adrenaline-fueled celebration, Big Baby was still hungry for more. After hitting the shot, Davis must’ve been salivating at the idea of back-to-back big games, because he couldn’t stop licking his chops.
We can make fun all we want, but the
man Big Baby wore his heart on his sleeve, and it was spellbinding.
29. Jason Terry – The Jet
It feels like Jason “The Jet” Terry has been playing basketball since its inception 1891. Whenever The Jet buries a three, it’s like Father Time (potentially Terry himself) turned back the clock. Even at 40 years old, Terry looks just like a kid out the court in that moment.
Throwing up the wings and “zooming” around the court is classic. It’s one of the NBA celebrations that any kid who played rec ball can relate to. We’ve all been there: jack the deep three that somehow clears the far more athletic defender; it banks off the glass, guided by some sort of celestial wind through the net.
Put out the wings and ride the moment. More players who spread their wings on the court are coming up.
28. Chris Andersen – Birdman
Jason Terry may be The Jet, but the skies are open for all who wish to fly. Chris “Birdman” Andersen has embraced his inner avian spirit animal, and we applaud him for boldly displaying it. The man could fly – please exclude the ’05 Dunk Contest – as he reminded fans with a celebratory flap of his wings.
After swatting a shot or throwing down a jam, Anderson would stretch out his wings. As he gave a few flaps, the crowd would go into a frenzy. With a bird tattoo on his chest and “Birdman” inked across his neck, it would have been a crime for Anderson not to show off his wingspan.
27. Marc Gasol – McSwagger
Marc Gasol paid homage to a contemporary athlete from a rather different type of competition. That athlete is MMA legend in the making Conor McGregor, so among NBA celebrations, this had a lot to live up to. Surely, the 7-1 Spaniard did the 5-9 Irishman proud.
McGregor was recently coming off an incredible victory after 2016’s fight of the year, his rematch with Nate Diaz. One of the best highlights of the stunning fight came before the fight even began. McGregor entered the octagon with the swaggiest walk imaginable.
After Gasol drove his dagger into the Lakers’ heart with a go-ahead basket, he channeled McGregor’s Irish swag in celebration.
26. Shawn Kemp – Lister Blister
This is a dunk by Shawn “Posterize Anything with A Pulse” Kemp, so expect some NSFW footage, as Kemp dunks the life out of Alton Lister. Kemp’s style of play basically boils down to three words: raw, aggressive athleticism.
Kemp’s entire career is like a highlight reel of him shattering opponents’ dignity with one monster jam after another. So saying that this one was likely his most absurd speaks volumes. As if dunking Lister into oblivion wasn’t satisfying enough, Kemp stood over Lister’s lifeless body and repeatedly pointed at him.
Kemp’s actions spoke louder than words; a reminder that people would watch this brutal moment for years to come… and would see him pointing right at Lister.
25. Sam Cassell – Big Balls
Fans watch in awe as Sam Cassell runs down the court in celebration of a huge bucket. It’s like a classic scene from the Austin Powers films – with one major difference. It looks like he’s holding his… “Basketballs! Two big, round basketballs!” Growing up is no fun. Let the clutch kids celebrate as such.
Cassell’s celebratory caressing of cojones is reserved for only the most special of occasions. Other NBA players continue to honor the esteemed tradition when they knock down an important shot of their own. There’s no time like crunch time, and coming up clutch deserves a special clutching of the balls when they go in the basket.
24. Antoine Walker – The Walker Wiggle
It’s important to emphasize that this celebratory dance by Antoine Walker is, distinctly, a wiggle. Under no circumstance shall we desecrate the sanctity of ‘Toine and mislabel it a shimmy. Steph Curry celebrates with shimmy action, and it’s clear by comparison that Walker’s is a completely different form of convulsion.
Actually, “The Walker Wiggle” has a great ring to it; the alliteration cements this as a signature of NBA celebrations.
‘Toine was one of the most eccentric personalities in the NBA throughout his career from 1996-2008. This funky little dance move perfectly illustrates the character he was known for. Read on for more crazy dance moves on the court.
23. Steph Curry – Point Up to Pops
This particular point towards the sky from Steph Curry after knocking down a trey isn’t just for his pops, though Dell Curry did have an otherworldly touch from beyond the arc. This shout out is for the Big Poppa, the OG Father in the three-point Holy Trinity.
Of course, Curry is by no means the only athlete who points to the man upstairs after hitting a shot. It’s a tradition among NBA celebrations and many other sports. What’s impressive is just how many times Curry has lifted that finger up, as he continues to climb the three-point leaderboard at lightning pace.
22. Vince Carter – It’s Over
In the year 2000, Vinsanity took over the world after Vince “Half-Man/Half-Amazing” Carter defied the limits of gravity. Every time Carter stepped up to dunk, fans had to pick their jaws up off the floor and process what had just happened.
Carter’s “It’s over” gesture is one of the most telling NBA celebrations. Carter led up to it with a reverse 360 windmill, followed by a 180 windmill from behind the hoop, then a between the legs throwdown off the bounce. After that third dunk, Carter turned around, looked at the camera and told the world, “It’s over.”
Vinsanity had more, stuffing his arm down the rim with the famous “Honey Dip” dunk before overstepping the line on his attempted slam from the free throw line. It didn’t matter, though. Like he said, it was already over.
21. NBA Celebrations – Calling the Masses
“Join me!” Though fans may not actually hear a bellowing call to accompany this motion, the message is loud and clear. The crowd often feels this call to action after someone torches another player, gets the and-one, or takes a hard foul. Sometimes it’s heading into clutch time, when a player starts waving to the crowd to get loud. No matter when it happens, it’s met with pandemonium.
The “get loud” gesture is a fan favorite, but it’s not to be outdone by the jersey pull. Something wild happens when a top player ends up on the ground or is just so amped up that all he can do is scream and yank on the letters across his chest. Fans know what that means.
“Ahhh, he’s tugging on his shirt showing off the team city. That’s our city! That’s our team! I will die for this man!” When the players get hyped, fans get hyped. And they know they need to rep their ballers proper.
20. J.R. Smith – Praise the Three
A list of over-the-top NBA celebrations wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by J.R. “Henny Gawd” Smith. J.R. Swish is a poster child for outlandish activity, and his ridiculous three-point celebration routine perfectly illustrates why.
This occasion doesn’t come around too often, which makes it all the more special when the moment finally arrives. To recreate this beauty, simply lean down on one knee and give a couple of exaggerated strums on an air guitar. Top it off with a waggle of three fingers to the sky, while looking up towards the Henny Gawd above who granted the three’s entry into the basket.
19. Larry Johnson – The ‘L’
Larry Johnson will likely be remembered for his time with the iconic ’90s Charlotte Hornets team. After his first five years in the league, LJ headed up to New York. There, he gave Knicks fans some memorable NBA celebrations at Madison Square Garden.
With his Grandmama days behind him, LJ brought his namesake into the equation. After burying a three, Johnson would turn around and throw up the “L” gesture for all to see. A similar celebration has made waves through the NFL, with players like Terrell Owens flaunting the “T-O” and T.Y. Hilton the “T-Y.”
To LJ’s credit, he had the wherewithal to stick his right hand up, so the letter wasn’t backwards for everyone. That’s the mark of a man who’s enjoyed a celebration or two.
18. Reggie Miller – The Choke
It’s malicious, raw, and universal. Throwing up the choke sign is one of the more intense NBA celebrations to reach the hardwood. It was instantly immortalized as an NBA classic thanks to Indiana’s Reggie Miller. Rewind to the height of the Pacers-Knicks rivalry in the ’90s.
There was nothing but bad blood between Miller and Knicks superfan Spike Lee during a critical Game 5 of the 1994 playoffs. Miller wouldn’t stop talking; he and Lee both ran their mouths throughout the game. During a pair of Pacer free throws, Miller turned to Lee and delivered the universal choke sign.
Miller also scored 39 points for his team that night and handed the Knicks an L. It’s safe to say Miller can look back on that moment without an ounce of regret.
17. Vince Carter – Crank It Up
This is one of the most frequently misunderstood NBA celebrations. Prepare for this knowledge bomb, basketball superfans. Vince Carter, who has one of the greatest celebratory moves among all those fortunate souls who can dunk, is not “revving the engine” like many think. Let it be known!
As awesome as the engine idea seems, Carter has made it clear that he’s not revving up anything. The high flyer actually calls this his “crank it up” move. For the truly celebration-savvy, incorporating an array of variants is a must. Thus, Carter’s single turn, double turn, high crank, low crank, and even slow crank. Celebrating is an art, people.
16. John Wall – The Self-Titled
John Wall was an enigma before he even stepped onto the court for his first NBA game. The man already had his very own song and dance! At Kentucky, Wall had his own choreography, which then exploded into an eponymous song that swept the nation like The Dougie.
Even those who have zero dancing ability can get it on the craze. Simply give the crowd a good flex while turning the fist in and out. Those who don’t bring shame to their family name when they step onto the dance floor, can do Wall’s real-deal dance. One warning: those who can’t ball like Wall probably shouldn’t bust out the full celly.
15. NBA GOATs – Pregame Powder
Ah, the chalk! This beautiful ceremony belongs to no specific great, so fans can quit arguing over whether LeBron, Garnett, or Jordan made it cool. They all did, and hopefully another future GOAT will make it his own one day, too.
Although this is typically a pregame ritual, it still belongs in the bigger picture of NBA celebrations. Chalking up is a bit of formality for the individual to revel in before the game. Once that powder gets clapped, there may as well be a master of ceremonies declaring, “Let the games begin!”
14. Kobe Bryant – Mamba Snarl
Uh oh. There it is… The Mamba snarl. When Kobe Bryant was in the zone, which seemed like 99 percent of the time, he reached another level of dangerous. No opponent was safe when Kobe transformed into his Animorphs form, the Black Mamba.
When Kobe entered Mamba territory, the look on his face was unmistakable. After nailing a shot, he’d run back with his lower jaw protruding, shooting daggers through those narrowed eyes responsible for multiple murders of morale.
Kobe’s snarl may not be the cheeriest of NBA celebrations. Yet, it’s undoubtedly an iconic look for those who cannot simultaneously compete at a high level and have fun. Even if obnoxious, gotta respect those who treat balling as all business.
13. James Harden – Home Cookin’
Nothing gets Houston basketball fans going like when James Harden starts cooking in the kitchen. When The Beard gets in the zone and starts draining shots, he gives fans a little show on his way back down the court.
Harden grabs his imaginary utensils and starts stirring the pot. No need for Rockets fans to worry about their bearded leader getting carried away with NBA celebrations, though. Everyone knows Harden refuses to play defense no matter the moment.
12. Rasheed Wallace and Carmelo Anthony – Three to the Dome
Now a staple in the arsenal of wannabe sharp shooters at parks everywhere, the three-point head tap is one of the most classic NBA celebrations. We can thank the living legend that is Rasheed Wallace for this bad boy. It always riles people up – it’s a New York thing.
On the court, Wallace would bang three fingers to his temple in celebration. His (unnecessary) explanation, “It’s three points. Take that to the head,” makes the gesture even better. Carmelo Anthony has since carried on this time-honored three-point celebration.
11. Kevin Garnett – Anything is Possible
Those who use reason and logic to carry them through life (lame) would agree that a heartbeat is required to live. Kevin Garnett would disagree. KG knows that all that’s truly necessary to survive is raw emotion. Barrels of it.
When KG finally won a championship with the Celtics after 13 years in the league, his primal scream made fans believe that limits do not exist. Anything is possible!
Shortly after, a fun rumor began to spread. The All-Star power forward, who is sponsored by adidas, supposedly meant to yell the company’s slogan, “Impossible is nothing!”
Although that rumor was shot down, the humor of the situation wasn’t totally lost. With “Anything is possible,” Garnett had unwittingly yelled the slogan of adidas’ Chinese rival, Li-Ning sneaker company. Whoops.
10. NBA – Caution: Low Flying Planes
There two variations of this, depending on the circumstance that gifts the opportunity to flaunt. Both of these NBA celebrations are all about getting down low and going for that photo finish lean forward. Was it a three-pointer? Was it a clutch moment?
Hold out the “okay” threes to let ’em know how many that shot from behind the arc was worth. If it follows a more momentous occasion, like above after Paul Pierce hit a game winner, go ahead and zoom around like a plane.
Teammates, let the man celebrate solo. Don’t be a Nate Robinson.
9. The Bench – Skeet Shooting
Wet those! Someone just splashed a three, and it was a big bucket for the team, so it’s time to shoot ’em up. NBA, college, or high school – it doesn’t matter where the game is, the bench is going to encourage a shooter by firing up some more targets.
Some call it a “shotgun three,” which makes sense if the bench stud chooses to go the pump action route with his celebratory shootout. This is unique among NBA celebrations, and it’s kind of fun to think of it as skeet shooting. The thought of teammates serving as trap machines, firing up little imaginary clay basketballs, is pretty amazing.
8. Russell Westbrook – Holstering Smoking Treys
Intentional or not, Russell Westbrook’s signature celebration is fantastically fitting for his home crowd in Oklahoma City. After nailing a three like a real outlaw, the Brodie embodies the Wild West spirit of his conference.
After wetting the three, Westbrook blows on his three-point “pistols” before holstering his smoking guns with a BANG. Definitely the most wild-west of all NBA celebrations, it’s perfect for OKC. The city is home to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
For the record, Joakim Noah’s finger pistols also deserve a shout out, Shooter McGavin style. Noah’s dance moves added an artistic touch, and he respectfully retired the move in 2012 in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
7. Kobe Bryant – Clenched Fist
Everyone knows the fist pump. There are plenty of variants. There’s the flying uppercut-the-air like it called you ugly, the understated pump-up-and-down, and the narrowly-misses-a-bystander right hook, to name a few.
Kobe Bryant plays by his own rules, and he chooses to focus solely on the clenched fist when it comes to fist pumps.
Right after draining a big shot – and there were MANY big shots – Bryant would shuffle down the court with an outstretched arm, staring a hole through a clenched fist.
Others may instinctively pump that fist. But the Mamba knows that he’s already struck, so he simply focuses on his marvelous weapon of choice.
6. Nick Young – Handcrafted Specs
Pretty much everything Nick Young does is gold. He’s nonstop entertainment, with his fun-loving personality and ridiculous nicknames (i.e. Swaggy P, Bean Burrito). But nothing beats when Young heats up and starts showboating.
The “three goggles” is a league-wide phenomenon among NBA celebrations, but Swaggy P owns it like a legend.
After hitting nothing but net, Young is usually grinning ear to ear while adjusting his three goggles. He’s laughing and living in the moment; the celebration is infectious.
Though it might not improve their vision, hardwood heroes like Young celebrate in style with three point goggles – or the single-handed version, the three-point monocle.
5. Rasheed Wallace – Ball Don’t Lie
Vindication, arguably the most satisfying cause for NBA celebrations. Take it from Rasheed Wallace, who makes sure to take note when he’s called for a foul that he definitely “didn’t” commit. When a player steps up to the free throw line after one of Sheed’s billion techs, a missed shot offers a golden opportunity: “BALL DON’T LIE!”
Oh yeah, that must feel good. Sheed’s famous phrase has been echoed in driveways, gyms and parks around the globe. If no one is sure who the ball touched last before it bounced out of bounds, or when a player calls a foul in a game of pickup (weak move, bro) – the free throw line decides the truth.
If the shooter bricks, the baller who felt “wronged” by the initial call gets a shot at redemption. And a chance to yell those three words for all to hear.
The biggest little victory. Ball. Don’t. Lie.
4. Allen Iverson – The Stepover
Oh lawd, have mercy!
When someone crosses up an opponent or throws down a monster dunk over an opponent, one of fans’ go-to lines is “The disrespect!” Normally, the player hasn’t done anything to literally disrespect the other guy. The game did all the talking.
However, that generalization excludes one of the most iconic NBA celebrations. It was also a big moment in Allen Iverson’s career: the stepover.
In the 2001 NBA Finals, AI was essentially taking on the Lakers on his own. The Lake Show took the series in five, but Iverson destroyed Lakers PG Tyronn Lue in the process with a ruthless crossover. After breaking Lue’s ankles and knocking down the shot, AI showed what real disrespect looks like. He literally stepped right over Lue, staring down at him right in front of L.A.’s bench.
3. LeBron James – The Silencer
It’s lonely at the top. Take it from LeBron James, who has an unfathomable number of haters around the globe. When the game gets heated, opposing fans turn their chirping up and the crowd gets wild. King James gets the ball, controls the moment and, like clockwork, makes an absurd basket.
Time to celebrate.
The Silencer is a celebration fit for a king. With his signature move, LBJ emphatically pushes down all the haters while high-step stomping all over them.
Silence, haters! The King has royal business to attend to, which shall include crushing the dreams of opposing fans.
2. Michael Jordan – The Shrug
One of many great Michael Jordan NBA celebrations came during Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals.
Jordan is widely considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time. That being said, his shot from three-point land was hot garbage. Smelly, old, hot garbage.
While MJ usually avoided the three ball, he was feeling it and ended up hitting six from deep that game. Not a person in the building could believe what was happening, including His Airness. All Jordan could do was simply shrug and smile in celebration of his suddenly great touch.
1. Dikembe Mutombo – The Finger Wag
Dikembe Mutombo brought the greatest of all NBA celebrations to the game. The Hall of Fame center was an unrivaled defender. A four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Mutombo led the league in blocks for three straight years (1994-96).
The world’s best shot blocker also brought us the nastiest celebration in the game – the finger wag.
Mutombo’s celebration for a swat said so many things with just one gesture. It said “No,” and “Get out of my house,” and “I own this court.”
The finger wag made the gritty defender’s role glamorous. It ushered in a new era of attitude. Mutombo managed to speak volumes with his finger wag. It was the ultimate statement.
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