A player’s legacy is not always defined by championships, longevity, or even individual accolades. Every so often, someone comes along who revolutionizes a certain aspect of the game and influences an entire generation of players. During the late ’90s and early 2000s, Vince Carter embarked on a crusade that set the gold standard for dunking. In the mid-’90s, it was a little-known player from New York City who was responsible for transforming the art of modern ball handling.
His Christian name (pun partially intended) is God Shammgod. As a McDonald’s All-American, he played alongside Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) at La Salle Academy in Manhattan and then at Providence College for two seasons before being drafted by the Washington Wizards with the 46th overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. After a brief and unremarkable tenure in the NBA, Shammgod went on to play professionally, both at home and abroad, but has since vanished into relative obscurity.
So why is it that his name still resonates in many NBA circles among both current and former players? The answer is twofold: (1) whenever the argument comes up about the best ball handlers in the history of the game, as it did during an episode of NBATV’s Open Court last season, Shammgod’s name is inevitably mentioned among the ranks, and (2) the signature move that bears his name, i.e. “the Shammgod,” is routinely on display in today’s NBA by players like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and countless others.
Any point guard worth his salt has “the Shammgod” in his repertoire. It’s something of a rite of passage, particularly among streeball players from New York City. It’s also an homage to Shammgod himself, a knowing wink among players who have achieved a certain level of mastery of their craft. It’s the type of streetball move that, when executed correctly, can be effective during the ordinary ebb and flow of an NBA game and at the same time elicit the types of crowd reactions that all players secretly covet.
It should be noted that the precise origins of this move are the subject of some controversy. For instance, there are those who trace its lineage to a pair of obscure European players who frequently trotted out a remarkably similar move during the ’80s and ’90s (see video), but without question, it was Shammgod who popularized the move in America and added his own bit of panache to it. When a player like Manu Ginobili or Danilo Gallinari uses it, there’s something unmistakably European about its utility. It appears stripped down and subtle to the point of being virtually imperceptible, which by no means detracts from its effectiveness (quite the opposite in fact), but when Shammgod, Tyreke Evans, or Brandon Jennings break it out, it’s usually accompanied by a little shimmy designed to distract the defender and add an extra layer to its overall aesthetic appeal.
Shammgod is also credited with teaching a young Kobe Bryant how to do the Crossover version 2.0 that Allen Iverson used to such devastating effect during the late ’90s. Today, he is an assistant coach at Providence College and works one-on-one with NBA players on the side to help them improve their ball handling, and whether he’s influencing players directly or by virtue of reputation, Shammgod’s presence can be felt all around us.