Eons ago, when we were living in caves and learning how to build fires with our bare hands, something happened. The fire was built, and the emotion bubbling up inside us from our primal triumph had to be channeled, lest we combust. Hence, the celebration was born, a way for men and women to show their peers, “Look. Look what I did. That was awesome. Hooray.”
Here we are in 2015, when celebration still carries the same meaning. And nowhere is it on display more than in the NBA, where grown men rejoice at the glorious sight of an orange ball sliding through a nylon net. As in all things, however, some are better at celebrations than others. Here are eight of the best signature celebrations in the NBA, ranked according to awesomeness.
1. LeBron James – “The Silencer”
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, it’s no wonder LeBron James’s signature celebration lands in our No. 1 spot. Debuted in Cleveland on March 20, 2013, when James was still a member of the Miami Heat, the King’s victory dance has been copied by guys like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers’ William Gay and LeBron’s own son.
It’s simple yet violent, intense enough to represent the enormity of the moment, but not so over the top that it bothers you. The pushing down of the hands three times, palms facing the floor, as if the air were so thick you could touch it. The double tap of the right hand over the chest. The primal scream that follows. It all comes together to create “The Silencer,” because James did something so awesome, it quieted a hostile crowd. It’s the best signature celebration in the NBA.
2. Nick Young – “3-Point Goggles”
What’s cooler than being cool? Nick Young’s double 3-point goggles, of course. The man they call Swaggy P does not fail to meet expectations with the celebration he brings out after a made 3-pointer. He pinches his index fingers against his thumbs to create a goggle-like silhouette over his eyes, leaving his other three fingers up on each hand to signify the number of points he just scored. Since so much of what Young does involves bombing from deep, it gets no better than this.
3. Jason Terry – “The Jet”
This one gets points both for creativity and execution. Long nicknamed “The Jet,” Terry mimics a plane taking off after he nails a big 3-pointer, twisting and turning down the court with his arms extended on either side of him like a man taking his first flying lesson.
When he busts this thing out, you know Terry’s having a great game—or maybe he’s just getting warmed up from downtown, which makes even more disappointing to his opponents. But for us, it’s one of the most fun celebrations in all the NBA.
4. Russell Westbrook – “Hand Pistols”
Is any celebration more suitable to Russell Westbrook’s unrestrained, unrelenting style of play than the holstering of his hand pistols? We say no. After a made bucket, usually from long range, Westbrook methodically raises each hand to his mouth to blow away the smoke wafting from his gun barrels. He then tucks each hand/pistol neatly into its imaginary holster on his hips, as if to say, “Relax guys. Hold on. Remain calm until next time, because next time is coming very, very soon.”
5. James Harden – “Cooking Dance”
Some say James Harden’s signature celebration was stolen from Lil’ B, the rapper who supposedly invented the “cooking dance,” but it’s important to differentiate between the two. Lil’ B’s is bigger and more pronounced, as if he were cooking up a batch of cookies for a party of 20. Harden’s is more confined, like he’s stirring up a small pot of soup to eat while watching Netflix. It says, “I’m eating right now, and it’s for me and me alone.” And it’s glorious.
6. Caron Butler – “Pick Up The Phone”
A lot of what Caron Butler does on the basketball court doesn’t make much sense. For instance, one of his biggest quirks is chewing on a folded straw throughout the game, with literally zero fear of choking on it. His signature celebration—picking up a phone and holding it to his ear while he runs back downcourt—is odd, but it doesn’t matter. It’s great, and even greater when one of his teammates mimics picking up on the other end to receive the good news.
“Hello, it’s Caron. I just hit a 3. Hope you’re well.”
“That’s so great, Caron! We’re winning now! Talk soon!”
7. Carmelo Anthony – “Three to the Head”
Carmelo Anthony’s time in New York hasn’t gone as he would have liked. The Knicks have bowed out in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs in two of his three seasons in the Big Apple. But his experience hasn’t gone for naught. It brought us his signature “three to the head celebration,” in which Melo signifies a big 3-pointer by hitting himself in the head with three fingers a couple of times. It looks like it might hurt, but it’s a subtle reminder to Anthony that not everything is terrible, and that hitting big 3-pointers is still possible even though you once had to play with Andrea Bargnani.
8. Stephen Curry – “Tap and Point to the Sky”
Steph Curry occupies the last spot on our list, not because his chest tap and point to the sky is bad, but because it’s just so-so. It’s a simple way to commemorate one of the hundreds of 3-pointers the MVP makes throughout the year; and when done in rhythm, it almost becomes part of the 3-point shooting motion itself. Curry has been known to break out in more over-the-top celebrations for bigger shots—like telling himself to giddy up—but the simplicity of the tap and point leaves it here, at the bottom of our list.