An In-Depth Look Into In-Game Celebrations

After the whirlwind of free agency, the NBA offseason tends to grind to a halt. I've decided to compile a list of current NBA players to critique and adulate some of their most notable in-game celebrations. There are some omissions due to their murky future (Steve Novak, Caron Butler, Jason Terry) and one that I couldn't make a quality GIF of (Mike Conley), but for the most part, I'm pretty happy to highlight these players as the cream of the crop NBA celebrators.

Vince Carter (Crank It Up)

Long time aerial expert Vince Carter has been adamant in interviews that his "crank it up" celebration has nothing to do with motorcycles or handlebars, and it should be taken quite literally for what it is: "cranking it up" after the crowd loses their collective shit over a monstrous dunk. This move comes from a man that exercised his demons in the Olympics over Frederic Weis, so I think my gripe of it being a little tame has some legitimacy to it. But he can do whatever the hell he wants to considering that he still throws down vicious dunks at 39 years old. What's more impressive to me however, is his broadcasting skills. He would be a low-key great addition to the TNT family.


Stephen Curry (Glory To God)

Without invoking anything from the Crusades, there has been a lot of basketball violence carried out directly from the practiced hands of Curry. It's true, basketball is not a Bloodsport and Curry is no Frank Dux, but from my personal observations (minutes of rewinding and reviewing records of retinal scans) a number of players defending Steph Curry went through brief flashes of self-immolation while attempting to stay in front of him. This celebration has a straightforward explanation: a nod to the man above after splashing a trey, from a God-fearing servant. And while playoffs-and-beyond Ayesha Curry isn't helping the stock of the Curry family, there is nothing to hate about such a simple gesture, even if it is the basketball equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.

James Harden (Cookin' // 🍲)

His defense will never win him a Michelin Star, but watching Harden throw up silly numbers in the Houston offense is a real common occurrence nowadays, like a Rattata or a CS:GO cheating scandal. Throw D'Antoni into the mix, and things will get downright silly. The Lil B inspired celebration takes on its own form with Harden.

He's either secretly been communicating "Fuck Kevin Durant" this entire time, or doing his best impersonation of the creative process of a Jackson Pollock painting. Who knows? What I do know is that you can't whip your ladle around a pot of boiling vegetable stock or soup at the force and speed that Harden does without sustaining third degree burns in the process. But egg yolks? Harden is your man for the most balanced meal of the day.

LeBron James (Cocked // Kill 'Em All)

Introducing the first of a number of gun celebrations on this list. But as far as I know, this one is a one-off, sort of like the Wow! signal or Chickenpox. Leave it to LeBron to make it the most detailed and elaborate of all of the weapon related celebrations. I was scared that he would start spraying it side-armed with reckless abandon, but the recourse of that action would leave his pockets a bit lighter and cause imaginary collateral damage. Plus, quite frankly, the last thing we need right now is getting LeBron mucked up in gun control drama. Scoop Jackson wrote an entire article on the potential repercussion of said celebration and the climate that we now live in, where the action symbolizes so much more than just an action. Regardless of my personal opinion on the silliness of our gun laws, it's an effective celebration and it looks cool. Luckily for LBJ, Ohio is an open-carry state.

Chris Andersen (Birdman // Bird Flying High)

I'd wager that a decent chunk of (casual) NBA fans don't even know what Birdman's real name is and only identify him as "Birdman". That's pretty cool, actually. I wish I had an entirely different persona that everybody knew me for rather than my given birth name. Andersen has come a long way from being banned from the NBA for continued hard drug use, as well as physically, using the offseason to spill more ink on his canvas to complete his persona. For those reasons alone, his celebrations hold more weight than most of the list. Never stop flapping, Birdman.

Kawhi Leonard (The Claw)

If Kawhi displaying his oven mitts to the crowd doesn't deter you from testing your weak ass crossover and first step combo on him, be my guest. I'm sure the Spurs absolutely love running fast breaks. If I could parallel an entity to Kawhi Leonard, it would be Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson in Mr. Robot. Introspective, weird, quiet, daring, dangerous. His reputation as a staunch defender with frighteningly high impact means his impending ascension (higher than Finals MVP Kawhi) could signal a heel turn among fickle NBA fans. Kevin Garnett went through it, LeBron went through it, Durant is going through it and even Curry is wading dangerously close to villain waters. Of course, it's hard to hate a Spur and people like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have managed to dodge that bullet, so maybe I'm talking out of my ass. My secret motive is actually wanting the whole Dr. Claw angle to come to form. It's ripe for the taking, especially now with Brandon "Inspector Gadget" Ingram entering the fray. 

Russell Westbrook (The Walk // Post Apocalyptic)

The best thing about this is that it's not even Russell's best celebration. The second best thing about this is that his dunks are propelled by the amount of rage built up in that compact, sculpted Michelangelo body of his -- exploding around the court like he swallowed a liter of Diet Coke and topped it off with Mentos tabs. With that post dunk strut of his, he definitely could clear a fallen Tyronn Lue and then some.

Danilo Gallinari (The Kiss of Death // Bellissimo!)

The oft injured Gallinari is a sight to behold when he's firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, his career has been plagued with sprains and tears and creaks and cracks.. As a fellow Italian, I absolutely love this celebration. The bench makes it even better with the exaggerated Italian "What the hell are you doing?" hand movements. 

I need Gallinari to play 82 games next season. His absence makes me feel like what A.J. from The Sopranos once famously uttered: "So what? No fuckin' ziti now?"

Dirk Nowitzki (The German Gun // Hand Thing)

I don't know what the fuck this is supposed to be, but it looks menacing. I think it's a mixture of a three celebration with some gun mechanics thrown in. To me, it's almost as if he's dragging the remnants of your soul after watching his high arching three drop crisply through the net.

Rudy Gobert (The Salute // O Captain)

A simple celebration from a giant of a man. The Stifle Tower is either sending your stuff back or cramming it on your skull. None of that frilly in-between stuff. After that, he's saluting the crowd as a send-off. It's not that hard to comprehend. Unless you're a Russian urban climber or DeMar DeRozan, nobody is getting the best of the Stifle Tower.

Paul Pierce (Take A Bow // Goodnight)

The bow is not quite a staple in the Paul Pierce celebration repertoire, but I have to put it on here for how balls deep brazen and cold-blooded it is. To step inside of the Mecca and desecrate the Knicks with clutch basket after clutch basket is one thing, but bowing down to the opposing fans as if they should leave satisfied and in awe of such a performance is straight up fearless.

Carmelo Anthony (3 To The Dome // Click Clack)

Carmelo Anthony has developed himself into one of my favorite players since 2003. Partly because of on the court heroics, but mostly off of it, as he tackles social issues that other stars don't want to get involved with, while staying active in the community and expanding his brand. He's one of the main practitioners keeping the art of bully-ball alive, but Carmelo has no qualms about hitting you with the quick pull-up three and giving you that dome tap. It's iconic and one of the most popular celebrations in both the NBA and blacktops across the nation. It just doesn't look as cool when your friend Kenny tries to re-enact it after banking in an ugly three.

To quote the great Bill Walker: "Melo's wet all the time!"

Elfrid Payton (X)

Those who have stumbled upon a '16 Aaron Gordon dunk mix might find a moppy-haired point guard plastered all over it, supplying some nifty alley-oop passes from difficult angles all over the court. The reticent floor general from Louisiana loves throwing up the X every time he and his running mates connect on a nasty dunk. The meaning of the celebration is currently unknown, but it's not like we don't know where Elfrid hides that key.

Wesley Matthews (Bow & Arrow // Bullseye)

Do you ever sit back and wonder to yourself why it took so long for an NBA player to fire an arrow after hitting a three pointer? The former Trailblazing Hawkeye used to hit the bullseye all over Portland until his unfortunate Achilles injury. It would be nice to see Wesley get back on course with a stronger result than his 2016 season.

I'm sure Mark Cuban has been itching to say this line

D'Angelo Russell (Ice In My Veins)

D'Angelo Russell is one of the few vocal tenderfoots that doesn't mind putting himself in the spotlight for all the right and wrong reasons, which is both worrying and encouraging as a Lakers fan. He doesn't shy away from taking the final shot, and doesn't shy away from letting you know it if it just so happened to go in. The whole "There's ice in my veins!" celebration feels a bit contrived, but in this day and age if it looks good and is easy to digest, it will sell. D'Angelo certainly has people watching more closely now that the Mamba is gone.

Iman Shumpert (Hold My Phone)

The reality of Iman Shumpert has yet to catch up to the idea of Iman Shumpert. The former Yellow Jacket still feels incomplete, as if the download keeps pausing or the video keeps buffering. He is a champion, though -- you can never take that away from him no matter how his career ends up. Now, the celebration? After Marshawn Lynch's "Hold My Dick", it's my second favorite holding celebration. I hope that the Cavaliers sign Caron Butler to answer that phone to form the greatest combination of in-game celebrations the world has ever seen. 

Lance Stephenson (The Shimmy)

There is a strong argument here for Stephen Curry, but I don't regret giving Lance the nod for best shimmier in the biz. It has to be painful for the opponent to watch Lance dance adjacent to you as you walk past him with your head down, knowing that your damp, pungent locker room awaits you. The next step to peak shimmy celebration is getting him, Curry, and Antoine Walker all on the same team. Who wouldn't want to host a BBQ for them?

LeBron James (The Silencer)


Marc Gasol (The Spank)

From former Laker throw in for Pau Gasol to Memphian of the Year, Marc has had a hell of an NBA career. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a giddy-up or a pat on the back or in his case, an ass slap because clearly he's into kinkier things in the bedroom.

A man powered by paella and salchichón is a man I'm never going to question

Joakim Noah (Crazy Gun Robot)

Joakim Noah is not a megalomaniac. Okay, maybe the whole "lack of understanding for other people's feelings" thing applies to him, but that's it. My favorite thing about his gun celebration is that he looks more like he should be on Thomas & Friends as Thomas the Tank Engine blazing down the track at breakneck speed. Joakim Noah without any injuries to inhibit him is one of the most entertaining personalities this side of Rodman, watching him hobble around clearly limited by his bumps and bruises is downright painful to witness. I hope the Knicks get the former Noah.

Dwyane Wade (My House)

I'm not a Miami Heat fan, but this stings. My stomach is turning. It feels like the first time I got dumped without any closure. I'm being dramatic, but if this doesn't make you feel any sort of way, I'm going to check for a pulse because you're obviously not of this world. The entire Wade and Riley soap opera should be made into a future ESPN: 30 for 30. You could tell that Wade never wanted to leave, but like many beautiful relationship gone sour, one problem turned into another and what once began as a small cut turned into full blown infection. Miami will always be Wade County, and even as a Chicago Bulls player, AmericanAirlines Arena will always be his house. 

J.R. Smith (The Air Guitar // The Pipe)

Reborn. Nobody has become as renewed as J.R. Smith has in the last year. As often is the case with former Knicks like Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford and Stephon Marbury, J.R. Smith found success outside of the Big Apple and stumbled upon a delicious caramel surprise in the form of a title with LeBron and company in Cleveland.

Russell Westbrook (Threes In The Holsters)

The beauty of this celebration is in the execution. We all know that Westbrook does everything with earthquake sized tremors, so his celebrations can be adjusted and judged using the Richter scale. A crowd hushing three? A delicate drop into the holsters. Capping off a huge run or exploding for a momentum-changing dunk? Jam that shit in there so hard that it potentially gets stuck next time you want to pull it out. It's all in the details, baby. 

J.J. Redick (Don't Do This In Brazil)

J.J. Redick has established one of my favorite career arcs. A college savant turned bench-warmer under the SVG ran Orlando Magic. He slowly proved himself to the coaching staff, carving out small chunks of minutes while gaining trust. Every year his role would become more and more important until it was apparent that he could handle whatever an NBA level player could throw at him. J.J. is super appreciative of the handling of his career, even if at the time he didn't understand why he wasn't playing much. After a lost half-season in Milwaukee, he found a great spot for him in Los Angeles and hosts one of the best basketball podcasts around. It must feel pretty good to be J.J. Redick. The arm sleeve still looks a bit awkward, but as long as he doesn't go full Birdman with it, I don't think he's strayed too far from his wheelhouse in his 10+ years as an NBA player. 

Aaron Gordon (Severed Head // Pop Off)

The spiritual dunk contest winner and young Pogo stick Aaron Gordon slyly does a throat slit but with the X motion; his thumbs acting as the scythe. The head wag is an entirely different celebration in the arsenal of Aaron Gordon, and this GIF captures both of them in a rare "Dub-Celeb". Magic fans love to affectionately make fun of his big ass head and face, so when he starts shaking it after a couple of threes, it gets the crowd can't help but get pumped up with him.

Nick Young (3 Goggles // The Monocle)

From D'Angelo Russell cosplaying as a member of the NSA to Iggy Azalea, his ex-girlfriend, throwing him to the curb after getting another girl pregnant, to having Gilbert Arenas hop the fence to his house and show up like like Roger from Sister Sister, Nick Young has had a truly forgettable year. And that's without mentioning his numbers from last season or his future in the NBA.

The "3 Goggles" are classic and while quite a number of players do this, I'll just credit it to Nick Young because I feel for him. Part of me wishes I used the double goggles because it very much resembles The Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Stank Face)

It feels as if it's been a long time since Giannis of Sepolia entered his name in the NBA draft -- the intriguing prospect from Greece whose scouting videos looked like a half taped over VCR recording from the '90s . What we know now is that the only thing two years away from Giannis was his impending stardom. The wide-eyed international player landed in Milwaukee full of wonder, ignorant of any shortcomings it had compared to more "lively" U.S. cities, and immediately made it his home. The first order of business for Giannis was exploring and enjoying the hell out oft he little things in life, like the smoothie. 

Since his arrival, he's bulked up, starred in several NBA related commercials and transformed into a 6'11 point guard while gulping down triple doubles like it was his first smoothie. The Stank Face is now fully embraced by Giannis, and it has a sprig of fuming anger mixed in. Almost as if he's smelling the blood in the water.