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If you read the sports section in the Kansas City Star (and I only read the Star when the great and mighty Google tells me what to look for) you probably already know the history of the alley oop.
In his column before the KU-Memphis game last spring, Joe Posnanski recounted this bit of etymology:
“The alley-oop term apparently comes from the French circus; performers would shout ‘allez-hop’ when they were about to jump. The term does not translate into English, so it became ‘alley-oop.’ And it might battle the croissant for America’s favorite French import.”
Posnanski goes on to note that the alley oop was first a comic strip about cavemen that was popular during the Great Depression, and after that, was a football play that called for quarterback Y.A. Tittle to throw a very high pass to R.C. Owens, who would jump over the defender to catch it.
(Posnanski left out the other noteworthy thing about R.C. Owens: that he once blocked a field goal not at the line of scrimmage, but at the cross bar. I’ve never seen video of R.C. Owens, but until I do, I’m picturing Mighty Mouse, minus the cape, but with the telescoping Inspector Gadget legs.)
After that, Posnanski wrote, alley oop became a song, and after that, it became a basketball play.
Two notes before I move on: 1) I could have quoted the Wikipedia article for all of that, but I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to quote real, live people instead of faceless Internet sources; 2) there’s no way I’m building a time machine out of the hope of traveling back to see what the Cirque du Soleil was like 100 years ago or to check out The Hollywood Argyles live in concert.
I briefly considered that it’d be worth the trip to check out that R.C. Owens guy, but it turns out that the cola was invented by a completely different guy.
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In all probability the alley oop was first performed by Al and Gerald Tucker or David Thompson and Tim Stoddard during the late 1960s or early ’70s. Or possibly, as Posnanski notes, by Jackie Moon earlier this year. But there’s no way I’d risk blowing out my time machine to watching just any old alley oop. I’d want to be there for the very first one ever done—be it the first time in practice or the first time in front of a crowd.
I’d take a video camera; I’d skip the play, but take footage of the looks on everybody’s faces. The first person ever to taste garlic would have looked less surprised.
Then I’d travel back to now, and post the reaction shots on YouTube. I’m confident they would be the second-most watched reaction shots on all of YouTube.