The Cleveland Cavaliers made many impressive plays during their 120-90 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but one stood out above the rest.
Though it was worth just two points in the box score, LeBron James's alley-oop slam on a lob pass from Kyrie Irving was one of the most astonishingly athletic plays in NBA history. James went from stumbling over and nearly fumbling the basketball to suddenly soaring above the rim and throwing down a thunderous dunk from a seemingly impossible angle:
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 9, 2016
How is such a play even possible? Just look at this photo:
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 9, 2016
No player should be able to dunk from that distance and that angle unless they have the ability to turn their arm into elastic à la Michael Jordan in Space Jam.
Let's break down what made this play possible using knowledge STACK has obtained about LeBron over the years.
First, how was James able to get so high?
Despite slipping and almost falling just outside the three-point arc, he was able to take five strides between the time he passed the ball to Irving and when he went airborne. For a human freight train like LeBron, those five strides make a tremendous difference. They allow him to generate horizontal momentum which can then be transferred into vertical explosion.
Even when LeBron was training for the NBA Combine way back in 2003, it was evident that he was much more explosive when he had a running start. According to Eric Lichter, co-founder of the Cleveland-based Speed Strength Systems facility where James trained, the difference between his standing vertical, one-step vertical and running vertical (also known as max vertical) was staggering. His standing vertical was a pedestrian 28 inches. However, his one-step vertical was an impressive 36 inches. But things got really kooky when LeBron was able to jump after a 15-foot running start. His running vertical measured in the mid 40s. Combine that extreme explosiveness with James's incredible standing reach of 8-foot-10-1/4 inches, and it's clear that even the most errant lob pass can still be inside his range.
OK, so James's running start and tremendous reach allowed him to get up that high. But how was he able to dunk from such a ridiculous angle? At a 2014 Nike event, sports scientist John Brenkus shared an amazing fact about how quickly James is able to accelerate his arm during a dunk. King James swings his arm at about 1,124 degrees per second on his dunks, which is as fast as a moving blade on a Chinook helicopter. That skill allowed him to catapult his right arm forward with tremendous force and slam the ball into the hoop before it was too late.
The final attribute that tied the play together was James's elite conditioning. By the time the alley-oop occurred, he had already had a busy third quarter, having racked up nine points, two blocks, two rebounds and a steal. Such a productive burst would've exhausted most players, but James is essentially a 6-foot-8, 250-pound Energizer bunny. During one of his workouts in 2014, we watched him perform an insane conditioning drill, which required him to sprint back and forth across the court for 2-3 minutes and throw down dunks at both baskets. Such training gives him incredible cardiovascular endurance and the energy he needs to finish out quarters strong.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock