SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When Jack Sikma officially enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night, one of his presenters will be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Which is a terrific example of game recognizing game. Or in this case, move recognizing move.
Just as Abdul-Jabbar ranks as the NBA’s most prolific scorer and arguably its greatest player ever, so does his signature sky hook loom as the league’s most famous individual move. Most unstoppable, too, and for defenders, most deflating.
Well, Sikma had a signature move of his own, one that helped elevate him from an NAIA program at Illinois Wesleyan to seven NBA All-Star appearances, a championship with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 and now to the brink of his craft’s highest honor.
It was the reverse pivot or inside pivot, which were its names when it was an arcane maneuver used by a small number of big men, taught mostly at the sport’s lower levels. Once Sikma learned it in 1974, brought it with him to the NBA in 1977 and helped the Sonics reach The Finals as a rookie and win the championship a year later, though, it swiftly became known as his: The Sikma move.
“It was just an experiment after my freshmen season,” Sikma said Thursday at the Hall, after being introduced at a news conference as one of the Class of 2019’s 12 honorees.
Others being inducted this weekend: coach Bill Fitch; NBA stars Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief and Paul Westphal; as well as WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon. Longtime Warriors player, coach and executive Al Attles was elected as a contributor. NBA center and current Sacramento GM Vlade Divac was chosen by the international committee. Being honored posthumously are: guard Carl Braun, a star in the 1950s; and Chuck Cooper, the first black player drafted by an NBA team (Boston, 1950).
Finally, there are two college team entries: the Wayland Baptist women’s teams from 1948-82 and the Tennessee A&I teams from 1957-59.
Divergent paths, compelling stories all. Including the one about the slender, blond kid from Kankakee, Illinois, whose offensive game needed a makeover.
“My college coach [Dennie Bridges] and I sat down and he said, ‘Jack, you’ve just got to be more effective in the post if you want to take the next step.’ I was a good shooter – I’d learned the game as a wing and grew late, so I was comfortable facing the basket.
“He had a friend who suggested, ‘Hey, down in southern Illinois there are some coaches who do an inside pivot with their guys to face the hoop. It might create a little space for Jack.’ I was really thin – I just wanted to get dislodged from the defender.”
Basically, Sikma choreographically held a mirror to the post-up moves of traditional centers of the time. Holding the ball with his back to the basket, rather than turning on his pivot foot to the outside and attacking over his shoulder, he would spin to the inside. That motion would set up him a few feet back, facing the hoop, allowing for a simple hop and shot.
And then there's this priceless Hubie Brown interview, in which Sikma teaches the move:
“A lot of coaches would pooh-pooh it because you’re catching the ball in one spot and then you’re stepping three feet farther away from the basket,” Sikma said. “That’s not the concept of big-men play, right? But I’ve got to hand it to Coach. He said, ‘Jack, I think this is it.’ And I said, ‘I’m not uncomfortable with the pivot.’”
Sikma went from averaging 15.4 points as a freshman to 20.3 as a sophomore, with his shots increasing from 14.5 per game to 17.9. By his senior season, he averaged 27.0 points. As Sikma honed it in the NBA, at 6-foot-11, he would hold the ball above his head with a high release point that gave him the option of flipping up his shot or faking, then powering inside.
In 14 seasons, by Sikma’s count, he played against 15 Hall of Fame centers, including Abdul-Jabbar. So he wanted every edge he could get.
“You didn’t know which way he was going to go with it,” said fellow inductee Bobby Jones, a Sikma contemporary known for his defensive prowess. “Most of the time he would go back and shoot that shot, but sometimes he would go forward and draw the contact. I was just sitting there thinking, with all the other [inductees], if I ever blocked his shot. And I don’t think I ever did.”
Jones, at 6-foot-9, matched up with him early in Sikma’s career (when Sikma was cast as a power forward for Seattle). Later, Jones had to decide how much help to give the teammate guarding Sikma.
“The only thing I could ever have done was maybe come from behind and get him,” Jones said. “But he was a pretty good passer too. To ever leave your man that much, there’s a danger there.”
Opponents weren’t the only ones made uncomfortable by Sikma’s unusual tactic.
“I know I surprised some of the officials because I got called for traveling a few times,” Sikma said. “And I said, ‘Nope, I’m not traveling. I’ve got my foot up in the air, I plant it and then I pivot on it. By stepping out, that creates the space.’
“So even though it was a long time ago, they had film. They checked it out and they realized it wasn’t a walk. But I got called two or three times doing it.”
Sikma laughed, recalling chatty Sonics teammate Fred Brown pleading his case for him to some of the referees. “I’d get called and Fred was in the ref’s face, ‘That’s his move! That’s his move! It’s not a travel,” Sikma said. “Fred had seen it enough in practice and figured it out.”
Sikma had another facet to his game with which current NBA fans might be more familiar: he was a protypical “stretch 5.”
Said Sidney Moncrief, another 2019 Hall newcomer who played for Milwaukee before and after Sikma was traded there for his final five seasons: “People don’t remember this about Jack Sikma, but Don Nelson was the first coach who started emphasizing 3-point shots for big men. He put Jack on the perimeter to take the big men out of the lane so we could make plays.”
Not unlike current Bucks center Brook Lopez, Sikma underwent a late-career transformation as a deep threat. In his first 11 seasons, Sikma took 68 3-pointers and made seven (10.3 percent). During his final three seasons – from age 33 to 35 – Sikma shot 550 times from behind the arc and made 196 (35.6 percent).
Still, it’s the quick inside step about 10 feet from the hoop that puts Sikma in a select subset of Hall of Famers already enshrined and those who will be. Call it the Alcove of Famous Moves.
Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake,” Kevin McHale’s up-and-under, George Gervin’s finger roll, Dominique Wilkins’ double-pump reverse, Allen Iverson’s crossover, Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fadeaway and Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook will be joined, in time, by James Harden’s step-back 3-pointer, Manu Ginobili’s Euro-step, LeBron James’ chase-down block and Steph Curry’s long range pull-up 3.
Each became or has become a signature move. But that only matters if the idea works.
“They made it look good, so it was effective,” Sikma said. “If I tried to do the sky hook, if I tried to do the up-and-under, you’d probably think, ‘Meh, that’s not such a good move.’ A lot of it has to do with how effective a person is doing it.”
The 2019 Enshrinement Ceremony at Springfield’s Symphony Hall will air on NBA TV Friday beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.
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