An ally oop pass is a type of play in basketball that when executed properly results in a score. Legend has it that the ally oop pass initially applied to the Hail Mary pass in football, a long throw down the field by a quarterback with little chance of being caught without “divine intervention.” While the term may once have been used in football, it makes more sense as a basketball term. Alley oop derives from the French allez-oup, the announcement of the circus acrobat that he/she is about to jump. In basketball, the jump is essential to execute the pass.
The basic alley oop occurs near the offensive team’s basket, as close as possible to it. One player jumps and tosses the ball near the basket, and a second player of the same team responds by jumping up to sink the ball into the basket. When the first ally oop pass attempts were tried in the 1960s, it was legal to slam dunk balls in college basketball. The second player would slam the ball, hopefully, straight into the basket. In 1967, dunking was outlawed in college basketball, making the ally oop less exciting. The second player had to merely catch the ball and drop it into the basket.
Al and Gerald Tucker of the Oklahoma Baptist University probably performed the first ally oop pass attempts and successes in college basketball. The move became more popular in the 1970s, especially at North Carolina State University, because of the impressive jumping ability of player David Thompson. Ultimately, dunking became legal in college basketball giving the ally oop new dimensions. The second player would not just drop the ball into the hoop but would slam it in with incredible ferocity. This made the ally oop pass extremely popular, and during the 1990s, the National Basketball Association (NBA) turned this move into both an entertaining and effective offensive weapon.
There are some variants to the ally oop. A single player can throw the ball high up and then come up in a jump to slam the ball into the basket. This is more challenging to do, but certainly impressive to watch. Another version of the pass has the player throw the ball toward the backboard of the hoop, then catch it on the bounce back for a slam dunk. This is considered most difficult because it can be difficult to attempt the throw without causing a penalty, or it can cause the offensive team to turn over the ball to the defense. It’s sometimes considered showing off to perform this second ally oop pass, and too risky in important games.
Some of the players most skilled at performing the ally oop pass include some of the arguably best known players in basketball, including Shaquille O’ Neal, who delighted fans when he pulled off this move. Halftime shows at basketball games may feature elaborate versions of the ally oop pass, with a variety of fancy jumps and acrobatics in between the first pass and the slam dunk.