The typical NBA player is thought of as being very tall, but that's obviously not always the case. The league's point guards are typically men of somewhat average height, enough so that they appear quite diminutive next to the frontcourt players who impede their paths to the basket. The shorter sort must be resourceful, coming up with new ways of scoring over and around bigger foes.
One of the ways they do this is with the teardrop, the high-arcing runner that's reached in a new level of popularity in recent seasons. In a feature on the shot for The New York Times, Scott Cacciola spoke with many of its top practitioners. And while no one is quite sure when the teardrop was first performed, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker says he invented it:
It is unclear who first shot a teardrop, or who first called it that. Some credit Bob Cousy, a Boston Celtics star of the 1950s. Others point to Hank Luisetti, a Stanford player from the 1930s known for his running one-handed shot.
The San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker, generally viewed as the league’s current teardrop master, insisted that he came up with the shot as a child. “I got copyrights on that,” he said. “I did that because I was small and it was the only way I could get a shot off on the bigs. I grew a little bit later.”
With all due respect to Parker, this suggestion is patently absurd. There's some question as to whether Cousy and Luisetti's shots can be called teardrops, but longtime NBA point guard and current Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson used the shot throughout the '90s, well before Parker was drafted at the age of 19 in 2001.
UPDATE: Members of the press Matthew Tynan and Dan McCarney, both of whom were present in the locker room when Parker's interview occurred, have claimed on Twitter that these quotes were taken out of context. Both claim that Parker said this in a joking tone of voice, which would be a reasonable context for his comments. I can only hope that the rest of this post, in which I made up a very serious story about a hermit scientist named Pony Tarker, can stand on its own merits as a helpful demonstration of copyright law and the ways in which an unknowing party can tread upon the intellectual property of others.
Nevertheless, it's possible that Parker did develop the shot of his own accord. As a youth in France, he didn't the same level of access to NBA telecasts as an American counterpart. Perhaps he worked out the logic of the shot on a separate track to the rest of basketball history and brought it with him to a dominant culture that had already used it for many years.
Yet that doesn't mean that Parker can claim a copyright on the move. As long as we're using legal terminology, let's consider a hypothetical in which a hermit — let's call him Pony Tarker — gained an interest in science and concocted the formula for a magical potion he called Pony's Wonder Tonic. After some time, Pony decided to give up his lifestyle in the woods (I know it doesn't make sense to have a scientific laboratory in the woods, but suspend your disbelief for a minute) and bring this amazing tonic to the masses. So Mr. Tarker went to the big city and filed a copyright through his attorney. Except no one gave him the copyright, because it turns out that Pony Tarker had just created the exact same thing as Coca-Cola. Everyone was pretty impressed that Pony had made Coca-Cola of his own volition — because, let's face it, that was pretty incredible of him — but no one was willing to give him the company's profits, because that is not how these things work.
So it goes with the teardrop. We can marvel at Tony Parker's abilities, but the claim that he invented it evinces a lack of interest in the history of the sport. Better to give credit to the innovators of the past, marvel at the constancy of certain physical abilities across eras, and keep appreciating the simple beauty of putting a shot where no opponent can reach it.