Every athlete knows how great it feels to make a huge play — to drill a game-winning 3-pointer, to nutmeg a defender and score a goal, to catch a touchdown in double coverage — it feels like you’re on top of the world.
Sometimes it feels so great that you can’t help but show it.
These are, in my opinion, the five best on-court celebrations from current NBA players (sorry, no Michael Jordan shrug or D-Wade’s “this is my house” here) ranked in ascending order from least-best to best. My criteria for ranking these celebrations relies heavily on context. So, sorry in advance to all the fans of Jamal Murray’s “Bow and Arrow” and Guerschon Yabusele’s “Dab-usele” celebrations. They’re great, but there’s something to be said about the magnitude and badassery of the celebrations listed below — whether they capped off legendary comebacks, defined moments in time or because they just belong to some of the game’s most elite stars.
Without further ado, the NBA’s best, and most badass, on-court celebrations:
Honorable mention: “The Silencer” — LeBron James
The only reason why this absolutely legendary celly doesn’t crack my top five is because of how long ago it debuted and how infrequently LeBron has busted it out since then. LeBron debuted this celly against Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat back in 2013. After drilling a 3-pointer to tie the game in the fourth quarter and cap off a 37-10 scoring run by the Heat, LeBron took out his mouthpiece, beat his chest and unveiled to the world: “The Silencer.” It was simple, it was dominant and it announced to the rest of the world: “I am KING JAMES.”
Since then, LeBron hasn’t broken it out much nowadays, but other NBA players like Trae Young have adopted it. Maybe it’s better that way, we don’t want it getting worn out.
- “The Gunslinger” — Russell Westbrook
It’s a little bit ironic, isn’t it? Russell Westbrook obviously isn’t the best 3-point shooter, but when he’s hot, he’s hot. And he lets you know it, too.
It’s because Westbrook is such a poor 3-point shooter that this celebration is so profound. When Russ blows on each of his hands, as if they were smoking barrels, before thrusting them back into their holsters, you know he just did something huge.
When Russ starts gunslinging, pray for whoever is on the other end.
- “Too Small” — Pretty much the entire NBA
Picture this: you and the guy guarding you have been going at it all game, talking trash and all. You finally get an opportunity to back him down in the paint and muscle your way to a tough bucket. What do you say?
You say he’s too small.
That’s how a lot of NBA stars are going about it nowadays, at least. In a primal, raw environment, such as the throes of a basketball game, it’s understandable that things get a little heated. Us fans don’t hear it, but players talk a lot. We may not hear what’s being said, but when a guy gets a bucket and backpedals down the court with his hand down by his knees, measuring your height and implying that the other guy is too short to ride this ride, we know exactly what that means.
It means: “you can’t guard me.”
- “Ice in My Veins” — D’Angelo Russell
Back in March of 2016, D-Lo’s rookie year, he nailed a dagger 3-pointer that sealed a win over the Brooklyn Nets with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.
His response? He pointed to his forearm and screamed: “I got ICE in my veins!”
And that was it — an unforgettable celebration beloved by young hoopers across the nation, birthed in that very moment.
This one was all D-Lo, too. In a postgame interview that night, when asked about his celebration, he said:
“I give the credit to God, honestly. And to be honest, I was running out of celebrations and I thought of one — it was the first thing that came to my mind.”
Give it up for D’Angelo Russell, ladies and gentlemen — an NBA all-star and an improv genius.
- “Everything James Harden Does” — James Harden
James Harden is debatably the greatest offensive player ever. He’s also probably the most creative player when it comes to celebrations, too.
The Beard has pioneered several iconic celebrations that have likely appeared in every gym across the country.
Most notably, James Harden is known for the “Stirring the Pot” celly, where he sticks out his right hand and stirs up the pot with his left as he cooks his opponents.
Another popular celebration is Harden’s shoulder shimmy dance as he runs back on defense, usually reserved after big plays or a signature stepback 3-pointer — this is how he lets you know that he’s feeling it.
They’re all iconic, but one of Harden’s most unique celebrations that he’s created is the “Nosebleed.” Harden isn’t the most prolific dunker, but you can catch him holding his hand to his nose like his nose is bleeding after throwing down a dunk.
When asked about it in a press conference after a 2018 playoff game against the Jazz, Harden laughed it off and said: “next question.”
We don’t know what it means officially, but a popular fan theory is that he gets so high up on his dunks that he’s checking his nose for a nosebleed because of altitude change. Bravo, Mr. Harden.
- “Dame Time” — Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is an assassin — one of the most clutch players on the planet. It’s pretty much common knowledge that when the game is on the line and Dame has the ball, you drop everything you’re doing and watch the magic unfold.
After Damian Lillard puts the game out of reach for his opponents, he taps his wrist where a watch would be and that’s all you need to know. Usually, when you see Dame bust this one out, you can rest assured knowing that you just witnessed a moment in history.
He’s not the type that shouts or screams, he tells it how it is with nothing but a killer’s gaze. You don’t hear anything, but the silence is deafening. It’s Dame Time.
In memory of Kobe Bean Bryant