It started with a commercial. In 2012, a young NBA point guard, disguised in a gray sweat suit to match his white beard and hair atop his wrinkled face, descended on a public basketball court in New Jersey. This “old man,” known worldwide as Uncle Drew (Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving’s Pepsi-branded alter-ego), entered a pick-up game and proceeded to annihilate each and every ankle on the court with his handles.
Thus, the legend of Kyrie Irving’s crossover was born. The further his career advanced, the more his magical handles were placed in the spotlight. Later in 2012, while he was participating in Team USA’s summer training camp, a video surfaced of Irving crossing over Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and then Bryant again—in a single play.
Then came the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend in February of 2013, when a devastating Irving crossover took then-Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight to the ground like a rug had been pulled out from under him.
Then there was this against Victor Oladipo:
Then this against Pablo Prigioni, who is left chasing Irving’s ghost as he loses him behind a pick.
Irving has had plenty of “how in the world did he get to the rim” moments this year, but this one, part of his 57-point performance against the San Antonio Spurs, is among his best, yo-yoing Marco Belinelli around a Tristan Thompson pick before splitting a double team like a lizard wriggling through a crack in the pavement.
Irving’s dribbling looks improvised, as if he has no idea where he’s going until he gets there. But if you watch these plays closely, you can see he has an end game in mind, and he seems to have visualized the route he wants to take and how to take it. It’s plotting under the guise of uncertainty, and it’s beautiful.
For most of Stephen Curry’s NBA career, the focus has been on his shooting. It isn’t a stretch to knight him as one of the best shooters of all time, and his quick release is as gorgeous as an Italian sunset over the Mediterranean.
But at some point, people began to notice how obscene another part of his game had become. Curry’s dribbling has now become almost as legendary as his shot, and the victims of his habanero handles are forever a part of Vine lore, captured in seven seconds of embarrassment.
There’s Patrick Beverly running and jumping left while Curry is already headed back right.
There’s Chris Paul suspended in the air as Curry drives by him on a pump fake—and this isn’t even the worst thing Curry has done to Paul.
Here’s Omer Asik living out his worst nightmare for all to see, like an NBA Fear Factor, attempting to guard Curry one on one after switching on a pick and roll. It did not end well.
Curry has been at his improvisational best in 2015, and the Los Angeles Clippers have taken the brunt of his wizardry. He essentially crossed over their entire team before launching a 3-pointer earlier this year, a play that led Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to rip out almost all of his hair before throwing his hands up and muttering something like, “that boy good.”
Then there was poor Chris Paul, sent down to the court by Curry’s outrageous handles, then placed on Twister mats, surfboards and more on the Internet. No matter what Paul does during the rest of his career, this will always be a part of his legacy.
Curry differs from Irving in that sometimes he really doesn’t have a plan. He may not even know what his arms and hands are doing, but he knows eventually they’ll find him a patch of open space in which he can quickly knock down a J. It can appear as if he’s showing off, but he isn’t. He’s an improv comic searching quickly for the next line that will have the crowd doubled over in laughter.
So who’s handles are better? That’s like picking between bacon and bacon. I’ll have the bacon, please.