Within the opening minute of the second half of the Sacramento Kings’ home-opener against the Houston Rockets on Oct. 18, UNC alum and 2017 NCAA champion Justin Jackson scored the first points of his budding NBA career.
To the average onlooker, his shot didn’t seem so special. Jackson got the ball at the top of the key and drove to the basket, stopping midway to release a floater that grazed the rim, going in and beating the shot clock. To the average eye, it seemed like a basic basketball play.
But really, this play — from the setup to the shot to the aftermath, lasting all of seven seconds — deserves acute dissection, with each individual moment containing valuable information that no Tar Heel should miss.
Sacramento center Willie Cauley-Stein catches the ball at the top of the key at the 11:11 mark of the third quarter, with only six seconds remaining on the shot clock. Remembering who he was and that he had absolutely no damn business handling the ball that far away from the basket, he facilitates a handoff to Jackson.
With five seconds left now, Jackson realizes he must find a way to get a shot off, probably thinking, “Damn, I really need to find a way to get a shot off.” Houston guard Eric Gordon, who Jackson towers over by a good 4 inches, presses up against Jackson, attempting to smother him and throw him off balance. Using his elbows to create separation, Jackson quickly scans the floor and finds a driving lane. Using a not-so-quick first step, he drives left.
Jackson attempts to beat Gordon to the basket, but after two quick dribbles he realizes that the stockier Gordon — despite being shorter — actually weighs more than him, and is therefore definitely (like, 100 percent) stronger than he is, so he abruptly picks up his dribble near the free throw line. Shying away from contact, he rises up for his patented, heavily-contested floater from just a step past the free throw line, which, honestly, is way too far for someone to even consider launching a floater. (But I’m not a professional athlete, so what do I know?)
As the ball glides off his fingertips with only a couple seconds remaining, the other players on the court watch the ball sail through the air, probably recognizing that Jackson’s awkward floater looks exactly like what a gazelle would look like if someone tried to teach it how to play basketball. Give a gazelle a basketball, tell it to shoot, and that’s exactly what Jackson’s floater looks like: awkward yet graceful in a weird way.
The game clock hits 11:06, and the shot hits the back rim and slides in. Jackson has officially scored his first bucket in the NBA.
While Jackson runs back on defense, with his always-stoic demeanor showing zero signs of excitement or elation, Eric Gordon’s reaction to the shot is spectacular. Gordon angrily throws his hands down at the 11:04 mark, clearly displeased, wondering how the hell that shot even went in.
This is a feeling Tar Heels understand on a profound level; every time the seemingly-always-contested, awkward, gazelle-like floater went in, UNC fans had no actual idea as to how a shot like that could go in with any regularity, but Justin Jackson always found a way to make that shot work, so UNC fans rejoiced nonetheless.
Despite the puzzlement it brings, a “JJ” floater is always a welcome sight for fans, making his first NBA basket perfect.