Writer: Caleb Akpan
The crossover is a staple of the NBA game, much like the buzzer beater or posterizing slam dunk. When done correctly, it can create a highlight that will be shown for decades to come and talked about amongst fans forever. Last Wednesday night, James Harden crossed Wesley Johnson over into NBA history with one of the nastiest crossovers the basketball world had ever seen, in a display of just about everything that a great NBA crossover should be.
First, there was the cross itself, the most important part of the highlight. Harden didn’t just shake Johnson for a second, like Allen Iverson did on his famous crossover of Michael Jordan. He didn’t flash past him either, like Jason Williams did to Gary Payton early in his career, such a nasty cross that the legendary defender Payton could do nothing but smile in admiration. Harden took things to another level, dropping Johnson to the ground, transitioning the cross into a vicious stepback. Pulling himself away from Johnson as far as he could, Harden let fans soak in just how badly he had shook his defender…..and those fans didn’t miss the opportunity to show their appreciation.
Fan reaction is probably about half of what makes a great play in the NBA. The “ooohs” and “aaaahs” a great dunk or big three get help create the atmosphere that people will remember for years to come, but reactions are probably the most important when it comes to crossovers, as fans seem to join together in mocking a player who’s just been left in the dust. The Clippers crowd isn’t typically the most lively in the NBA, but with his move, Harden gets the Clippers version of Staples Center to sound like the Lakers were playing….in the playoffs. Every fan knew what had just happened and was fine with enjoying in their home team player’s misery.
Misery may be a strong word for what happened to Johnson though, as he smiled after (finally) getting back up from the ground, making the play even better. That smile is even more surprising when you realize that Harden stared at the lying Johnson down for what seemed like an eternity, before finally jacking up a three and nailing it like it was just any other play. Oh, and Harden made sure the crowd knew about it even more after completing the play, yelling like he’d just hit the game-winning shot in the Finals. For Johnson to realize how impressive Harden’s play on him was, even after all that, makes the crossover even more impressive.
With an equally entertaining bench reaction and a viral firestorm following it through the weekend, Harden might have a case for the greatest crossover of all-time. He didn’t crossover an NBA legend like Iverson, he didn’t crossover his defender and then step over him in the Finals like Iverson…..OK, Allen Iverson probably has the greatest crossover of all-time between those two, but Harden’s is still pretty amazing. It’s everything that you want a crossover in the NBA to be, a career highlight for one player, and a career lowlight for another, but one that the two will be remembered for nonetheless.