There is rarely a more enjoyable sport in baseball.
The player is pounding the ball up and down with darting eyes left and right, deciding an attack. The player feints with one hand, and leans thus, thus defending. The ball flicks the other way, and the bad defender loses, or in the most embarrassing event, falls. Group oohs and aahs.
Some athletic skills require more similar techniques than ball handling. Opportunity for flashy dunks and showy passes come and go. But holding a new ball is a constant necessity, especially in the NBA, where defensive players have been shut down to shut down every attack.
This year the NBA postseason featured some of the best dribblers in baseball history, including Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. Curry creates deep 3-pointers when defenders swarm it. Harden baits prevented him from fouling across the court. Irving is the wizard of misdirections and turns to move to the edge. Paul makes the ball look like he’s on a string. All four can be obtained from simple defenders.
The New York Times asked three generations of dribblers to talk about the ball: God Shammgod, Tim Hardaway and Oscar Robertson.
Shammgod, an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, has been a short-time NBA player, but his dribbling style has become something of a New York City outdoor court. His signature move – the Shammgod crossover, in which he pushes the ball forward in one hand and pulls it across with the other – affects generations of players.
Hardaway, who played in the NBA from 1989 to 2003, was one of the league’s best defenders. His major move was a two-track event called the UTEP Two Steps, nodding to the college he played for, the University of Texas at El Paso.
Robertson, Hall of Famer and the first player to triple-double the entire NBA season, was the leader of the tournament through the 1960s.
This discussion has been edited and condensed thoroughly.
What makes a ballhandler good?
SHAMMGOD Most of all thoughts. Just learn how to control the ball and control the angles. To be an elite dribbler, I think you need to know how to use your body, use your feet. Because dribbling is all the footwork.
HARDAWAY Do not turn the knob. Follow the rules. Know when to bring your man and how to set up your man.
ROBERTSON Knowledge and time. I started playing when I was young. I am a guard. I started hammering the ball, dribbling and making a lot of mistakes. And then, in fact, you got involved and you learned different players, and what they were trying to do for you. And you have confidence to go inside of anyone.
Shooting is a skill that has evolved over time. The site now features 3-pointers. How has the approach to ball handling changed?
SHAMMGOD It has changed a lot by hiring different trainers to help. I like that there is a difference between teaching some people to move and teaching some people how to dribble. Most people, when they come and work with others, they want to learn to move. They want to learn Tim Hardaway UTEP Two Steps. They want to learn Shammgod crossover or [Allen] Iverson crossover. But for me, that is really not dribbling. That is learning how to move.
HARDAWAY You know, back when we were playing, there weren’t many cameras. No social media. So now they capture every bit of every angle so that it can do five different angles where you see a man holding his man and entering a hole or crossing one people cross into the hole. Five different angles where you see a man lose or fall.
ROBERTSON Men who can hold and dribble the ball are the best athletes. If you can not dribble the ball around anyone, you will not perform well in baseball.
How have you improved your competitiveness?
SHAMMGOD Growing up, I just watched every move I needed. And then I’m going to practice it in slow motion. I will have two pounds of heavy ankle straps on my wrists.
I will dribble in slow motion. I will watch the video slowly so I can see the agent point or how they move. And then the biggest thing for me is when I use the weight of my wrist, it’s like when you punch with the wrist out. You take them out of your hands, they fly everywhere.
HARDAWAY I live in Chicago. My parents’ foundation was not finished yet, and so I got down to it when it was cold outside. I just used to go to the floor and just dribble and work on my game. Dribbling, for example the man in front of me. In and out of my legs, crossovers behind my back – I only spend time in front of a moment. Just dribble, dribble, dribble.
ROBERTSON Just look at the men I play with in Indianapolis, a place called Dust Bowl, which is just outside. It depends on the rock, but they call it its dust bowl. And there are some very good athletes. He almost did not believe. I’m sure they have these players in all parts of the country who play outdoors but don’t perform well when they go inside.
Who are your favorite ballhandlers?
SHAMMGOD Of course, the easiest ones to think about: Kyrie. Steph. James Harden, Chris Paul.
HARDAWAY I grew up watching a great man named Isiah Thomas, a great baseball player. She moved to myself. And then, he moved to Rod Strickland. Oh, man, Rod Strickland went crazy crazy that no one knew about. And then, you know, you have men who come after us. Shammgod. And he left New York. Derrick Rose has some great bars out of Chicago. Then you look at these guys. Chris Paul, you know, at 37, still doing what he does with the ball is unbelievable. Of course, Kyrie. Steph Curry, [Ja] Morant. James Harden.
ROBERTSON I think Curry is a very good master of basketball. And Ja Morant.
They understand what the defense is trying to do to them. When you leave, you have to control your speed. For some, you can not go 100 miles per hour because you do not want to run to others. So the men go in, they are looking for protection.
What is your favorite crossover in the game?
SHAMMGOD The game against Rutgers University. He challenged Geoff Billet at Madison Square Garden at  Big East race. It is on the right side of the court. That was when I first made the move. I threw him into the basket and he tried to run to steal the ball. And the only thing I could do was pull it back on my left hand.
HARDAWAY It’s a crazy story. I was driving, and my son said: “Dad, I know you do not like talking in the car when you drive to a game. But I want to ask you. Everyone is talking about the crossover. What is a crossover? “
I said, “Little boy, have you not seen me as a crossover?” He said, “No!” I said: “OK, I see, but you can not go anywhere. You must be at your desk. “Because he loves to walk and walk. Go back to the gym, play PlayStation and all this and all that. I said: ‘You have to be in your chair for all the fun. Halfway through, you go to the bathroom.Also, you have to be in your chair all the time because I do not know when it will happen, but I guarantee you that it will happen sim. “
And awesome enough, like the second game of the series against the New York Knicks, Game 7 [of the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals]. I came down and said, “I’ll point to you.” And I made a crossover, laid it down and I pointed it out. I saw him jump up and down, pointing blank, like: “Yes, OK, I saw him. I understand. “So that’s one of those memorable moments when you can talk to your son and tell him in a crossover what you do and how you do it.
ROBERTSON I did not think about it, to be honest.
What is art insurance?
SHAMMGOD I think it was art to the end. It’s crazy, because now, even if you say my name in the dictionary, it will not take me. It will make the movement and it will lead the movement.
HARDAWAY Man, it’s like a sound. It’s like a dance. Isaiah used to do. Nate Archibald used to do it. I did it. Dribbling a ball is like dancing and following the beat of a song. And if you look at Kyrie, that’s how she dribbles. If you look at Rod Strickland, that’s what he dribbles.
You look at Kemba Walker and if you look at Steph Curry, it’s like dribbling for music. When you see the sports industry and they are jumping the ball, it seems to go to music. Therefore. And he only gracefully moves with basketball and always has the confidence that no one can protect you. No one can hold you, and you walk around them and you look at them in their eyes, and you see the fear in their eyes, “Damn, I have a problem.” That is the art of dribbling there.
ROBERTSON I just think you have or you do not have.
Photos by: Focus on Sports / Getty Images; Joe Murphy / NBAE, of Getty Images; Dale Tait / NBAE, of Getty Images; Jeff Chiu / Associated Press; Cary Edmondson / USA Today Sports, via Reuters; Daniel Dunn / USA Today Sports, via Reuters; Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports, via Reuters