Top 10 Most Iconic Moments In NBA History

Morgan Wolf

Updated on:

Magic Johnson's Return

The NBA has witnessed numerous unforgettable moments throughout its history, where players have etched their names in basketball lore. 

From game-winning shots to historic performances, these iconic moments have captivated fans and shaped the league’s narrative. 

In this blog post, we will explore the top 10 most iconic moments in NBA history, showcasing the brilliance, resilience, and sheer excitement that these moments brought to the game. So, let’s get started with the main discussion now. 

Top 10 Most Iconic Moments In NBA

The top 10 most iconic moments in the history of the NBA are mentioned in the following section. 

1. The Shot

The Shot


Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” is one of the most iconic moments in NBA history. In Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs, the Chicago Bulls were tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final seconds. 

Jordan received an inbounds pass, made a quick move to the baseline, and launched a jumper over Craig Ehlo. The shot swished through the net as the buzzer sounded, propelling the Bulls to victory and advancing them to the next round. 

This iconic moment showcased Jordan’s clutch ability, competitiveness, and ability to rise to the occasion in crucial moments, solidifying his status as a basketball legend.

2. The Flu Game

The Flu Game


Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals is etched in basketball history. Despite battling flu-like symptoms, Jordan displayed remarkable resilience and led the Chicago Bulls to a pivotal victory against the Utah Jazz. 

He scored 38 points, including a crucial three-pointer in the final minute, showcasing his determination, mental toughness, and ability to perform under adverse conditions.

This iconic performance exemplified Jordan’s indomitable spirit and his ability to elevate his game when it mattered most, further solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest players in NBA history.

3. The Dream Shake

The Dream Shake


Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake” is a move that has become synonymous with his dominant career. This iconic post-move involved a series of fakes, pivots, and spins, leaving defenders off-balance and helpless. 

Olajuwon utilized the “Dream Shake” to perfection, showcasing his footwork, agility, and basketball IQ. 

This move became a symbol of Olajuwon’s skill and versatility, cementing his status as one of the most dominant centers in NBA history.

4. Magic Johnson’s Return

Magic Johnson's Return


Magic Johnson’s return to the NBA in the 1992 All-Star Game after his retirement due to contracting HIV was a remarkable and emotional moment. 

The basketball world was stunned when Johnson announced his retirement in 1991, and his return to the court a year later created a sense of hope and inspiration. 

Magic’s participation in the All-Star Game showcased his courage, resilience, and the progress made in understanding and managing HIV/AIDS. It was a powerful reminder of the impact athletes can have beyond the game and the strength of the human spirit.

5. Kobe’s 81-Point Game

Kobe's 81-Point Game


Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, stands as one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history. In a mesmerizing display of scoring prowess, Bryant showcased his offensive arsenal, scoring from all areas of the court. 

His 81-point outburst was the second-highest individual scoring performance in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. 

This historic achievement solidified Bryant’s status as one of the most prolific scorers and competitors the game has ever seen.

6. The Malice at the Palace

The Malice at the Palace


“The Malice at the Palace” is a regrettable and infamous incident that occurred during a game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in November 2004. 

A heated on-court altercation between players spilled into the stands when a fan threw a cup of beverage at Pacers player Ron Artest. Chaos ensued as players and fans engaged in physical altercations, leading to suspensions, legal repercussions, and a significant impact on the league’s image. 

This incident highlighted the importance of sportsmanship, fan behavior, and the need for better security measures at NBA games.

7. The Block

The Block


LeBron James’ block on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals is a legendary moment in basketball history. With less than two minutes remaining and the game tied, Iguodala attempted a fastbreak layup that seemed destined for a crucial score. 

However, James chased him down and executed a breathtaking block from behind, denying the basket and preserving the tie. The play shifted momentum in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went on to win their first-ever NBA Championship. 

James’ block showcased his combination of athleticism, determination, and defensive prowess, solidifying his legacy as one of the game’s greatest all-around players.

8. The Decision

The Decision


LeBron James’ “The Decision” was a groundbreaking moment that had a significant impact on the NBA landscape. In a highly publicized event, James announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat. 

The televised spectacle ignited intense debates about loyalty, player empowerment, and the changing dynamics of free agency in professional sports. 

“The Decision” marked a pivotal moment in NBA history, setting a new precedent for superstar players’ ability to shape their careers and make impactful choices.

9. The Shot – Kawhi Leonard

The Shot - Kawhi Leonard


Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beating shot in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals will forever be remembered as one of the most dramatic moments in NBA playoff history. 

With the game tied, Leonard received the ball in the corner, launched a high-arcing shot, and watched it bounce on the rim multiple times before dropping through the net. 

The shot eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers and propelled the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals, generating an eruption of joy and disbelief among fans and solidifying Leonard’s reputation as a clutch performer.

10. The Double-Nickel 

The Double-Nickel 


Michael Jordan’s “Double-Nickel” game stands as one of the most remarkable individual performances in NBA history. In just his fifth game back from retirement in 1995, Jordan scored 55 points against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. 

This incredible display of scoring mastery demonstrated Jordan’s unrivaled scoring ability, unmatched competitiveness, and his ability to seamlessly transition back into the league after an absence. 

“The Double-Nickel” became a symbol of Jordan’s greatness and his ability to captivate the basketball world with his extraordinary talents.

Significance of These Most Iconic Moments In NBA History

The most iconic moments in NBA history hold immense significance for the league, its players, and fans worldwide. 

These moments have become part of basketball lore and continue to shape the sport’s legacy. Here are a few reasons why these moments are so significant:

Historical Milestones

Iconic NBA moments often mark significant milestones in the sport’s history. From record-breaking performances to championship-clinching shots, these moments stand as benchmarks for future generations and become part of the league’s narrative.

Emotional Impact

Many iconic NBA moments evoke powerful emotions. Whether it’s witnessing an underdog triumph, witnessing a comeback against all odds, or experiencing the sheer excitement of a buzzer-beater, these moments create lasting memories and ignite passion among fans.

Cultural Impact

NBA moments can transcend the game of basketball and have a broader cultural impact. Whether it’s Michael Jordan’s gravity-defying dunks, Magic Johnson’s iconic passes, or Kobe Bryant’s relentless competitiveness, these moments inspire fans beyond the court, leaving a lasting imprint on popular culture.

Player Legacies

Iconic moments often define the legacies of NBA players. They can solidify a player’s status as a legend, elevate their place in basketball history, and enhance their overall reputation. These moments become integral parts of a player’s narrative and are remembered long after their careers.

Global Reach

The NBA’s global popularity means that iconic moments resonate with fans across the world. Thanks to advancements in technology and social media, these moments are instantly shared and discussed worldwide, fostering a sense of unity and community among basketball enthusiasts.

Growth of the Game

Iconic moments contribute to the growth of basketball as a sport. They attract new fans, inspire young athletes, and generate increased interest in the NBA, leading to expanded viewership, sponsorships, and overall growth of the game on a global scale.


What made Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” so iconic?

Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” during the 1997 NBA Finals is iconic due to his incredible performance while battling flu-like symptoms. 

His determination, resilience, and clutch plays, including a crucial three-pointer, showcased his unmatched competitive spirit and solidified his legacy as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Why is Magic Johnson’s return to the NBA considered iconic?

Magic Johnson’s return to the NBA in the 1992 All-Star Game after his retirement due to HIV was a truly remarkable moment. It shattered stereotypes and misconceptions about the disease, bringing awareness and compassion. 

His presence on the court symbolized hope and resilience, making it an unforgettable moment in NBA history.

What makes LeBron James’ block in the 2016 NBA Finals iconic?

LeBron James’ block on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals is iconic due to its significance in the Cavaliers’ championship run. 

The perfectly timed block, preserving a tied game in the final minutes, shifted momentum and showcased James’ athleticism, defensive prowess, and his desire to bring a title to Cleveland.

Why is Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater shot considered iconic?

Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beating, series-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals is iconic because of its sheer drama and improbable nature. 

The shot, bouncing on the rim multiple times before dropping in, created a moment of collective astonishment and solidified Leonard’s reputation as a clutch performer.

What made “The Decision” significant in NBA history?

“The Decision” was a groundbreaking moment in NBA history as it marked a shift in player empowerment. 

LeBron James’ televised announcement in 2010 revealed a new era of free agency decisions made by superstar players, altering the landscape of the league and sparking debates on player loyalty and team-building strategies.

Bottom Line

The top 10 most iconic moments in NBA history represent the pinnacle of athleticism, drama, and unforgettable performances. 

These moments have become ingrained in the collective memory of basketball fans and continue to shape the narratives and legends of the game. 

From Michael Jordan’s clutch heroics to LeBron James’ iconic blocks and buzzer-beaters, these moments serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of the NBA and the incredible talents that have graced its courts. Best wishes. 

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn