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Layups Are Cooler Than Dunks Now

Layups are having a renaissance. How long will it last?

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Kyrie Irving / Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

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October 29, 2018

A few years ago, a crew of high school basketball players in New York made a big ripple in basketball culture with “the jelly,” a flashy layup that instantly became a social media sensation. As highlights–focused accounts on social media have become dominant media platforms in their own rightthe Jelly Fam’s media savvy made them a well-known enterprise on Basketball Internet. And Jelly Fam is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the layup’s renaissaince.

While a well–executed dunk has long represented the peak of athletic prowess in the NBA, one could easily argue that the game’s most iconic play ever was a layup. As the athletic quality of the NBA has steadily increased over the course of the history of the game, the dunk has become less special. What inflamed the imagination in the '80s doesn’t work the same way in the modern era: The last few years’ All-Star weekend dunk competitions have featured younger players, since the game’s stars have nothing to gain by participating. While many of the dunks in those contests are face-melting, they don’t make the impact they once did.

 

Hence, the rise of the layup. First there was the jelly. Now, the term “layup package” has crept into the public imagination, thanks to a few particularly high-wire performers like Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook (and also thanks to the thriving NBA2K franchise). Finishing at the NBA level is increasingly difficult, and sometimes dunking isn’t an option—there’s not enough time to wind up for a full jump and getting the ball to the rim as fast as possible is the only option.

Like a dunk, a layup is infinitely customizable: Part of the mystique of the jelly is the free-form nature of it—no two jellies are the same. More and more high-flying players are deferring to the finger roll, and crowds are going wild for it. See for yourself:

Like any social phenomenon, the layup's renewed status may be temporary. Personally, I think the window is closing as we count down to the day Zion Williamson is draft eligible—if Williamson were in the NBA right now as an 18-year-old, we wouldn't need to have this conversation at all. It's imperative to enjoy the layup's cultural renaissance while it lasts, as well as celebrating the fluid nature of prowess and athleticism in the NBA.