When he was asked if he remembered his first NBA basket, Danny Green‘s answer was swift.
“Of course I do,” he told ESPN. “I think everybody remembers their first NBA bucket.”
But the Los Angeles Lakers guard — who has since made an additional 1,967 baskets — would be wrong about that. Because when ESPN posed the same question to Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez, the big man drew a blank.
“Uhh … shoot … I don’t know if I remember my first basket,” he said. “I remember my first shot was an airball. But I don’t remember my first basket, no.”
Lopez’s forgetfulness aside, scoring the first basket of your career is a memorable moment. There were more than 500 players in the NBA last year, and nearly all of them have lived through the experience of seeing one of their shots fall through the net for the first time. Those shots include poster dunks, deep 3-pointers and just about everything in between.
As a new crop of NBA players begins to make those memories, we look back at the ones that have been made so far, through the eyes of the players who made them.
Every first basket is unique. Just look at the distribution of the first baskets of the 10 players who topped this year’s NBArank projections.
New teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis made nearly mirror-image baseline jumpers to start their careers nine years apart. Damian Lillard made a 3-pointer, a few feet closer than the one he made to end the Thunder’s season this past April. And after sitting out his first two seasons in the NBA due to injury, Joel Embiid made a free-throw line turnaround jumper to score the first of his 1,290 baskets. Every shot tells a story, more than 500 of them in fact.
Of the 530 players who suited up and saw action in an NBA game in 2018-19, 525 of them scored at least one basket either last season or in a previous season. Some of them, like Michael Beasley (who scored 14 seconds into his NBA debut in 2008), took very little time to get their name in the official NBA scorebook. Others, like Sam Dekker, took a little longer. Back surgery limited Dekker, then with the Houston Rockets, to just three games as a rookie, during which he didn’t attempt a single shot. Dekker got his chance to score on opening night of his second season, dropping in a layup early in the second quarter against the Lakers.
Dekker’s layup wasn’t an uncommon first make for an NBA player. Of the 525 baskets we tracked, 242 of them — nearly half — came from inside 3 feet. Dunks accounted for 52 of those baskets, from players you’d expect, like Gerald Green, Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan, to less likely candidates like Marcus Smart, Jeff Teague and Michael Carter-Williams, whose slam came in the opening minutes against the two-time defending champion Heat.
Carter-Williams is one of 15 players from last year who scored his first basket against the Heat. The Rockets have allowed the most first baskets, with 29, followed by the Spurs and Wizards (25 each), Mavericks (23), Nuggets and Bucks (22 each). On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 10 players scored their first career basket against the Jazz, while the Trail Blazers (11) and Grizzlies (12) have also been stingy in this category.
However, Carter-Williams is part of a much less exclusive club when it comes to the team he scored his first basket for. Not surprisingly, given the number of players they churned through in the “Process” era, the 76ers were the team for which 33 of last year’s players scored their first basket — a group that ranged from Kyle Korver (Nov. 14, 2003) to Zhaire Smith (March 25, 2019).
Korver is one of 119 players whose first basket was a 3-pointer. Stephen Curry, the NBA’s active leader in 3-point baskets, is not among that group (he made a 19-foot jumper less than three minutes into his NBA debut). However, his brother Seth is. The younger Curry made his first basket, a 25-foot 3-pointer on March 22, 2014, as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For both Curry brothers, their first NBA basket did not come on their first NBA shot, which is more common than not. Of the 525 players in this group, 309 missed at least one shot before making one, including Jamal Murray, who missed his first 17 field goal attempts before finally breaking through with a 3-pointer in his fifth career game. Murray turned out all right, as did Clint Capela (11 misses before making his first basket), Draymond Green (nine) and Joakim Noah (nine). Still, it’s always nice to see that first basket go through the net, as multiple players said.
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft showed off his trademark speed immediately after coming off the bench in his debut, blowing past the Rockets’ defense in transition for an easy layup.
“I checked in. It was actually on Trevor [Ariza], who’s with us now. I did my little move, went by him, he did a back-tap, missed it and I had a layup. Yeah, I remember that. It was great. It was cool. For me, playing against the Rockets, growing up in Houston and then playing them for my first regular-season game in the NBA, it was definitely fun. It was a great experience.”
Danny Green shares the memory of his first basket in the NBA and how he felt in the moment.
Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers
Green was a little-used reserve with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a rookie and didn’t score his first basket until the team’s 16th game of the season — just the third game in which he’d seen action that year.
“It was unlike any other Danny Green bucket. It was not a typical Danny Green bucket. It was an offensive rebound left-handed layup [against] Charlotte. I think they were the Bobcats at the time. It was on the road. I don’t remember what quarter it was, but it was before the half. … I was excited, seeing my teammates on the sideline cheering and yelling for me, showing so much love and support and being excited for me, but it was intense. I tried to keep my cool and act like it was a normal bucket and keep playing.”
“It was against the Pacers. I was under the basket, and I thought I was about to dunk it, but then I was like, ‘Man, I just want the two points.’ I just laid it in and it kind of went around a bit and dropped. And then the bench started yelling, and then I was like, ‘Aww, s—, that’s my first basket.’ I didn’t really grasp it.”
“My first basket in the league was a floater over DeAndre Jordan. It was pretty crazy because I always knew him as a kid as a shot blocker, and it was kind of fitting that I just got it over the top of him. Honestly, I didn’t really think about it until after the game, because it was a quick floater, then I ran back on defense, probably got scored on — I don’t know, I don’t remember it. [Editor’s note: Not only did Kuzma not get scored on, he secured the rebound after a Clippers missed 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.] But after the fact, it was cool.”
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Hield came off the bench in his NBA debut, after having been the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, and missed his first three shots before making a layup early in the second quarter.
“It was at New Orleans. We played against the Denver Nuggets. It was an isolation play and I got a left-handed layup going down the lane. It was wide open, and it was one of the hardest layups I’ve ever made. I don’t know how I made it, but I made it, because it was wide open. It was one of those things. Your first NBA basket [comes with] all the anxiety, all the pressure, but it was fun, it was cool.”
JJ Redick, New Orleans Pelicans
Redick had to wait until the 14th game of his rookie season before making his NBA debut after being drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2006, and he made his first shot in garbage time of a 19-point win over the Hawks off an assist by former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic.
“I do remember my first regular-season bucket of my career. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play a lot in my rookie year, so my first bucket was probably two or three weeks into the season. I came off a screen on the right side and hit a jumper from the top of the key at a long 2 and remember just honestly feeling a sense of relief that I had finally made an NBA basket.”
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Smart, the No. 6 overall pick in 2014, made three shots on seven attempts in his NBA debut. Not surprisingly, the defensive standout’s first basket came off — what else? — a steal.
“I think my first one was against the Brooklyn Nets, Deron Williams. I got a steal and I got a fast-break dunk. I think that was my first one. But, I mean, it was a good feeling. Kind of got the nerves and the jitters out, so it was a good feeling. [I reacted] like I’d done it before, but inside I was ecstatic. On the outside I kept my composure and went down and continued to play defense.”
Jayson Tatum shares how he felt scoring his first points in the NBA.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Tatum’s first basket came in his first game, under the intense national-TV spotlight focused on the first meeting between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving after Irving had been traded from Cleveland to Boston.
“My first field goal was a third-quarter alley-oop. Two-on-one fastbreak from Kyrie to start the third quarter. It kind of took the pressure off. Now I could settle down. I was nervous at first. I mean, we were playing LeBron. Felt good after that.”
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Plumlee was a first-round pick of the Nets in 2013 but played sparingly early in the season after the team’s summer acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
“It was a road game down in Orlando. Garbage time, fourth quarter, simple screen-and-roll. Maybe Jason Terry threw it to me, I forget, but got a little dunk, and it felt good. I just remember I was ready to go. I had been sitting a long time. I don’t think I got any run the first two games of the season, so it was just good to get in there.”
Troy Daniels, Los Angeles Lakers
After getting called up from the G League, Daniels attempted 31 shots in five games with the Rockets as a rookie, with 25 of those attempts coming from beyond the arc. So it’s no surprise his first NBA basket was a 3-pointer.
“I was with the Houston Rockets. I think it was a fast-break 3 or something like that. Probably a shot [then-Rockets coach] Kevin McHale didn’t like, but as a shooter you’ve gotta take it. And I hit it. … It was an unbelievable feeling. You always dream about that moment, and for me to do that and my family to see that, it was awesome.”
“It was the second game of the year, first time I got playing time. I came in right away … got a tip dunk. My first NBA bucket was a tip slam. Very memorable. I think Monta [Ellis] went up for a left-handed layup, he missed, I just came up out of transition and cleaned it up. My parents were at the game. I remember looking over at them, looking over at my dad and pointing. It was pretty cool for me. … Couldn’t have drawn it up any better myself.”
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
White failed to make a basket in his first four career games, finally breaking through in his fifth appearance for the Spurs, in what was San Antonio’s 23rd game of the year.
“It was against Oklahoma City at Oklahoma City. I drove from the top, shot a little floater. It’s just special to have that first one, that first basket that not a lot of people could get, so I was happy about it. Growing up, floater would’ve been my best guess. Actually, if I was younger, I’d probably think 3 or something, but floater fit my game more than anything. I think I was guarding Russ [Westbrook], so I didn’t have time to celebrate.”
Jared Dudley doesn’t remember his first bucket, but shares how he felt during his first NBA game.
Jared Dudley, Los Angeles Lakers
Dudley drew a blank when asked to recall the details of his first basket, but he remembered plenty of other details from his Nov. 2, 2007, NBA debut — during which he went scoreless. (He made his first NBA basket two nights later in Miami.)
“I remember playing the Milwaukee Bucks, going against Michael Redd, the lefty, getting two quick fouls in about 30 seconds, got subbed out, going like, ‘Man, he was an All-Star, USA team.’ I don’t even know if I scored. I might’ve got zero points. But most likely [my first basket] was a jump shot, because I was getting no layups my rookie year. I remember it being a right-wing jump shot and thinking, ‘Hey, that was cool.’ My mom was there, because she came for the first two or three games, and [when you make that first basket] you’ve arrived, basically.”
Thaddeus Young, Chicago Bulls
While Dudley might not have remembered all the details of his first basket, Young remembered when he first scored for the 76ers back in 2007 — in part because it came against Dudley.
“My first NBA basket, I think I blew past Jared Dudley. I think it was something like that. We played Charlotte. I’ll tell you one thing, it takes a lot off your shoulders. When you get that first basket, see it go in, the basket gets bigger, your eyes get wider. So I was ecstatic, I was hyped and ready to go. I think I even got hyped after I scored the basket. It’s definitely one of the biggest things. That’s what every kid dreams about, coming into the league and scoring his first NBA basket. So it happened and I was hyped.”
ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Kirk Goldsberry, Andrew Lopez, Dave McMenamin, Raajik Shah and Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this story. Statistical support provided by Jose De Leon, Vincent Johnson, Michael Schwartz and Matt Williams of ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.