What is an Alley Oop in Basketball?

Basketball is one of the most exciting sports on planet Earth. It’s incredibly fast paced, constantly back-and-forth, and typically goes down to the wire. In addition, it also has some of the best athletes on Earth pulling off a range of impressive moves.

Of those, is the alley oop. The high-flying maneuver is one of the coolest moves in any sport. This guide will look at what it is, how it works, and its history, in order to better explain why.

An Alley to an Oop

An alley oop is one of the most exciting and flashy moves in all of basketball. At its core, it’s simply a pass into a dunk. However, in practice it’s a much cooler (and harder to pull off) play.

When an alley oop occurs a player tosses the ball up either to or just above the rim. Then, another player (typically a big man or high-flying wing) jumps up, grabs the ball in midair, and either lays it in the basket or (more commonly) slams it through the rim.

In either case, the play counts as an assist for the player that threw the ball, and it’s two points for the team just like a normal dunk would be. It’s extremely hard to pull off, and requires a good amount of basketball IQ, but it’s extremely efficient and fun to execute correctly.

The move is most common on fast breaks when the defense doesn’t have time to get set, but it can also be employed in a half court set when a guard drives into the middle of the defense and gets the big men to collapse, or on a special in-bounds play. Either way, it ends the same.

Jumping Through History

Alley oop may sound like a bit of an odd term, and that’s because it has an interesting origin. The phrase comes from a French term alley hop!, which refers to the cry a circus acrobat makes right when they’re about to leap from one trapeze or platform to another.

That phrase has long been known, but it slowly transitioned into alley oop during the 1950’s when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle threw high passers to R.C. Owens. 

During such plays, Owens would jump over smaller cornerbacks to snatch the ball out of the air in a similar manner to how basketball players finish alley oops today. Also during that time, taller NBA players like K.C. Jones and Bill Russell began catching dunking passes of their own.

Both of those moments led to the creation of the alley oop pass, which eventually solely became known at the alley oop. The move died out a bit in football, but it only grew more and more popular in basketball as time went on. 

In fact, the Phillips 66ers had it as a set play in their playbook during the 1960’s. Nobody knows which player popularized the move or where it began to gain ground, but it truly became a modern staple in the late 1970’s due to how much Magic Johnson and Greg Kesler used it.

The duo connected for plenty of alley oops, and employed it a lot during their run to the 1979 National Championship. That immortalized it in basketball history and many other teams began to use it in a range of different plays. That got it to where it is today.

Going Up and Over

Alley oops are incredibly cool, but they are incredibly effective too. The move isn’t just flash, it’s also a guaranteed two points that generate a lot of hype and can help build momentum in the game.

However, they take a good amount of work between the passer and the person catching the pass. Both players need to know it’s coming, and they have to make sure they’re in sync while moving toward the hoop.

For that reason, alley oops tend to be set plays in the half court set and improvised during a fast break. Either way, they greatly depend on basketball IQ. Not only do both athletes need to recognize the play at the same time, they need to go for it as well.

In a set play, that’s not an issue. During a fast break, it can lead to disaster if both players don’t know what’s happening. It takes a lot of practice and chemistry for an alley oop to happen during a game. That’s why they typically come from top guards and athletic bigs. 

Final Words

Few moves in any sport are more iconic than the alley oop. It’s not just fun to watch or execute, it’s also inherently tied to basketball. It has been the symbol of the game for a long time, and perfectly represents what makes it so exciting. That won’t change anytime soon.

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