PHOENIX (AP) — Looking up to someone for one of the few times in her basketball life, Brittney Griner leaned into the 7-foot man in front of her, watching and listening as he flipped in one hook shot after another.
Once he was done, Griner took a turn, spinning and flipping up a few hooks of her own over outstretched arms that reached farther than her own lengthy ones.
After getting a crash course in professional basketball from some of the WNBA’s best players over the past week, Griner was given the lesson of a lifetime on Wednesday with a one-on-one session on the skyhook with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
One of the NBA’s greatest players teaching the nuances of perhaps the most unstoppable move in any sport? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
“I went to legend school today and it was awesome,” Griner said at the Phoenix Mercury’s practice court inside the US Airways Center.
Griner had gone through a rapid learning curve during her first week of training camp, getting a firsthand look at how physical the WNBA really is while being taught things like the pick-and-roll and how to avoid being called for illegal defense.
The intensity ratcheted up when Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree, some of the best players in the WNBA, joined the team after playing overseas.
Wednesday’s session was something different entirely.
Griner has earned her own level of fame as the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft and one of the most heralded players in college basketball history.
But Abdul-Jabbar is on a different level: A Hall of Famer, six-time NBA champion, six-time MVP, one of the greatest athletes of a century and one of the most recognizable people in the world.
Even though she was too young to have seen him play in person — she was born a year after Abdul-Jabbar retired — Griner had seen footage of him and certainly knows who he is and his stature.
“I was star struck right there,” Griner said. “You know it when I don’t talk; I like to talk and you know I’m star struck when I’m just listening. I hit you with the yes sir, yes ma’am, I’m definitely star struck.”
The tutorial was put together by Mercury vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale, who asked the NBA office to see if Abdul-Jabbar would be available to address the team and work with Griner.
He accepted and spent Wednesday’s practice watching from a perch above the court with his oversized feet — though a size smaller than Griner’s men’s 17 — poking through the rail.
Once practice ended, Abdul-Jabbar walked down to the floor and addressed the team before taking questions from the players and coaches.
After a group photo, he peeled off his sweat jacket, took off his blue UCLA hat and met Griner under one of the baskets.
Following a short discussion, Abdul-Jabbar had Griner play behind him in the post on the right block and gave her a few pointers about using leverage against the defender. He then started flicking up skyhooks, right-handed and left, then gave her a turn, providing running commentary the entire time. They switched to the left block for a few more skyhooks and chatted some more.
Griner didn’t look particularly comfortable with the shot at first, but seemed to be getting it down by the end of the 20-minute session, particularly after Abdul-Jabbar adjusted the way she was holding the ball.
“She did start to get it, how I used it,” he said. “Not everybody uses the same tool in the same way, so you’ve got to make adjustments to that. But I think with her potential and willingness to learn, she’ll do well.”
Griner seems intent on turning the lesson into something more.
Already tough to stop inside because of her size and athletic ability, the 6-foot-8 center would like to add the skyhook to her arsenal — eventually.
“You’ll see some hooks, but to do a true skyhook, that’s going to take a while to get it down perfect,” she said. “But you’ll definitely see once I get a feel. I definitely want to get that in there.”
If she does, Griner could become one of the most unstoppable players in the WNBA.
Abdul-Jabbar certainly did well with the skyhook, ending his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a shot that has not been close to being matched for productivity and indefensibility.
Perfect what she learned from Abdul-Jabbar and Griner has the potential to be a game-changer the way he was.
“She’s a very talented athlete,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “She’s not just tall, she has some skills. She runs the court very well, she’s active. I think she’s going to have a great career.”
She certainly had a good teacher, at least for one afternoon.