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Tracing the Origin of the off-the-Backboard Alley-Oop

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Tracing the Origin of the off-the-Backboard Alley-Oop
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant's MVP-worthy performance (31 points, five assists, five rebounds) in front of a less-than-welcoming Philadelphia crowd should be the most enduring memory of the 2002 NBA All-Star Game. But more than a decade later, Tracy McGrady's off-the-backboard alley-oop still resonates in the minds of many basketball fans.

The lack of commitment to defense in the NBA All-Star Game typically allows some of the league's best athletes to cut loose in an exhibition setting. In the second quarter of the 2002 contest, McGrady saw an opportunity and decided to put on a show for the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

"One of the most spectacular plays I've ever seen," said Dallas Mavericks' power forward Dirk Nowitzki when asked about the move after the game.

Everyone—the other nine players on the court, the commentators, the nearly 20,000 fans in attendance—was caught completely off-guard when McGrady threw the lob off of the backboard, but all were impressed after the swingman finished off the move with a leaning, one-handed dunk.

"There was only one guy back there, I think it was Dirk, and he bit on the lob," explained McGrady when breaking down the play later. "I guess he thought I was throwing it to one of my teammates, and I just threw it down."

Much like the origin of the standard alley-oop, the genesis of the off-the-backboard alley-oop is a topic for intense debate. We do know for certain that wasn't the first time that McGrady had ever executed the feat.

Not only had he done it a few times before in high school, but he actually pulled it off vs. the Boston Celtics in a preseason game before the 2000-01 campaign. McGrady would go on to do the self alley-oop a few more times in his career, most notably at the 2004 NBA All-Star Game.

Plenty of others have gone the off-the-backboard route recently: Denver Nuggets' forward Danilo Gallinari performed a similar dunk in traffic earlier this season. And his teammate JaVale McGee has pulled off the move a few times, most notably last season (when McGee was with the Washington Wizards) when his team was down by eight points to the Houston Rockets.

Perhaps the most impressive, in-game, off-the-glass dunk ever might be the throwdown by San Diego State shooting guard Jamaal Franklin, who threw the lob from behind the three-point line.

That said, McGrady's flush from 2002 redefined the limits of what players could do on the basketball court, given a little ingenuity.

"It takes a lot of creativity to do something like that," said then-Dallas Mavericks' point guard Steve Nash about McGrady's 2002 slam. "I think he knew he could do it, and he just saw the opening."

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