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Shaun Powell

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Tim Hardaway cemented his basketball legacy by utilizing a quick crossover dribble to freeze opponents.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The 'UTEP two-step' that changed the game


Posted Jul 12 2011 6:25AM

A sleight of hand, a shift of direction. There was no magical formula cooked up by a college sophomore when he changed the art of the dribble forever. Tim Hardaway just wanted to reach the rim for a layup without traveling in a straight line, and figured the best way was to go left, then right.

Or right, then left.

"My whole purpose was to confuse the defenders," Hardaway says now.

Or cross them up.

The crossover dribble, a revelation in Hardaway's day, is pretty standard stuff now. Like the jump shot and the chest pass. Any point guard today who can't change directions on a dime ain't worth a dime. The crossover is being taught to kids in camp just starting out. It's a symbol of the modern era of basketball, sometimes defiantly so, considering many of Hardaway's imitators are merely palming the ball and getting away with it.

No question, Hardaway is one of a handful of pioneers who changed the game forever, and it tickles him, even now, to be remembered in those terms.

"That's great," he said. "The people who run the NBA draft combine even have a crossover drill for the prospects. It makes me laugh. I was just a college player looking to try something new, and came up with this. And now they're having all these college players prove they can do it."

That dribble has frozen more human beings than a Slurpee. He used the dribble to last 15 ankle-breaking years in the NBA, with great success in Golden State and Miami, and left a legacy that you can see on any court, on any level. Go left. Then right. Or vice versa. There are several variations now; the "killer" crossover between the legs (Hardaway's specialty), a "normal" crossover, a "half" crossover (fake) and so on. It sounds so simple, but it took many hours in the laboratory for Hardaway to develop.

He recalls watching Pearl Washington, one of New York's many asphalt kings, play for Syracuse against Georgetown. One night, Pearl put a spin move, which was typical for him.

"He faked like he was going left," Hardaway said. "It wasn't a crossover. He didn't put it between his legs, but rolled the ball in front of him.

"The very next day, I tried to do it in the gym but couldn't pull it off. Then I developed my own type of dribble, which became the crossover. I went between my legs, keeping the ball in front of me, going left to right, then went to the hole. I thought, 'Maybe I can do this.' There was nobody in the gym but me."

Hardaway estimates he spent about a week tweaking and perfecting the dribble, then debuted it in practice at Texas El-Paso. It received a rousing two-dribbles-up approval from his teammates. Then he made it part of his ensemble, and fairly soon, the dribble was nicknamed "the UTEP two-step."

The crossover didn't get its due or its official label until Hardaway arrived with the Warriors and became part of the circus act known as Run-TMC (Tim, Mitch as in Richmond, Chris as in Mullin). Pretty soon, Hardaway's dribble put slo-mo cameras on alert everywhere as TV commentators tried to describe it and players everywhere tried to steal it.

Here's the problem, though: A good many players have changed the crossover into the carryover. What's worse, with very few exceptions, they're being allowed to blatantly palm the ball by referees on every level, which only encourages more illegal dribbles.

Even the inventor is disturbed by it.

"I never carried the ball," Hardaway said. "My hands stayed on top of the ball. I was never like Allen Iverson or some of the guys today who drag the ball and carry the ball in order to get around the defense."

The NBA made a half-hearted crackdown attempt several years ago, aimed specifically at Iverson. But the whistles stopped blowing a few months later, and it was back to normal. The big problem for the NBA is that the toothpaste is already out of the tube. Players are palming on the lower levels and once they reach the NBA, it's old habit. Plus, the league refuses to be consistent about policing illegal dribbles. When's the last time you saw someone whistled for a carry late in a game, or in the postseason?

It's as if the league just threw up its hands and said the heck with it.

"When And-1 basketball came into play, a lot of people tried to dribble like those streetball players," Hardaway said. "And that's when basketball went south. All of a sudden, guys stopped working on their basic ballhandling skills and started doing things incorrectly. That took away from the game. It took a lot of good, proper basketball out of the game. But if the referees don't call it, what can you do? You know it's a carry. They know it's a carry."

Hardaway sighs.

"I'm not mad or upset, but I'm also not happy with how it's evolved. That's not the way I dribbled the ball. I had a unique style. I got past my man with a nice move, made him look like he didn't know how to play defense."

He is touched by players who approach and thank him for changing the game and adding an exciting wrinkle. Still, when you ask Hardaway which player comes closest to him in pulling off the perfect crossover, he's pretty direct about it.

"Nobody."

He laughs.

"I'm teaching my son," he said. "He doesn't have it down pat yet. Maybe some day. A lot of people copy it but don't always feel comfortable doing it."

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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