How Michael Jordan Actually Shattered That Backboard

Illustration by Adam Waito

How Michael Jordan Actually Shattered That Backboard
Luke Winkie

In honor of Otis’s upcoming ”Shattered Backboard” AJ1 drop, we asked Luke Winkie to dig into the science behind how (and why) this happened at all. 

Nobody questions how Shaq could break a backboard.

The man stands at 7'1, and weighs 324 pounds. There have been taller players in the NBA — Gheorghe Mureșan was 7'7, same with Manute Bol — but nobody bigger. There was a time not too long ago where O'Neal catching the ball at the baseline represented one of the scariest things in all professional sports, and so, you can go on YouTube right now and watch compilations of Shaq obliterating gyms all across the country. In college, he yanked down the rim until it dangled from its hinges like a loose sock on a nightstand. In Phoenix, he brought down the entire rim apparatus, leading to a lengthy delay as the arena staff sought out a hoop that could withstand his strength. Occasionally, Shaq would shatter the safety glass entirely, leading to a slurry of crystal shards pouring down on anyone unlucky enough to be standing in the restricted area. Again, all of this seems mathematically, scientifically, and spiritually solvent. Most basketball players don't destroy stadium equipment with their bare hands, but again, most basketball players aren't built like Shaq.


But here's Michael Jordan, standing at 6'6 and 216 pounds, in a 1985 exhibition game in Trieste, Italy.

He glides through the key, ball over his head, prepared to make himself famous. Jordan puts the ball through the hoop, his fingers tug on the rim, and suddenly, the backboard disintegrates. Jordan, with his usual preternatural grace, sidesteps the debris and continues to jog back on defense while a couple of swaggerless defenders take the brunt of the impact. In some ways, this shouldn't be a surprise. Michael Jordan led one of the most mythic careers in sports history, and frankly, an architecture-sundering superdunk feels like a natural piece of the legendarium. But when you zoom out, and focus on the boring, imagination-neutering laws of nature… how did this happen? Michael Jordan is an outlier athlete with boundless athleticism, but as far as measurables go, he was never that different from the many other shooting guards in his class. Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, and Gary Payton never tore down a hoop. So how did Jordan manage it? How is he the exception?

Thankfully, there is at least one person in the world who has committed his knowledge to answering that question. John J. Fontanella is a professor of physics at the United States Naval Academy, and in 2007, he published a book entitled, "The Physics of Basketball." On the cover, naturally, is journeyman center Robert Traylor wearing his University of Michigan jersey. Above his head is a backboard captured in the middle of its destruction, as chunky fragments pour down to the earth below. (Here's the highlight, if you're curious.)

"Only the surface of a backboard is hard. The interior, as we'll call it, is very soft. So the surface is under tension. Anything that disturbs that interior, will make it shatter," explains Fontanella. He asked me to imagine a glass shower stall, which tend to be constructed in the same way that the NBA outfits their hoops. That pane of reinforced glass is built to resist any bumps or bruises we might be responsible for during our morning routine. But, if you somehow disturbed the interior of those shower walls — which structurally, are a lot more fragile and have the atomic consistency of ordinary cocktail glass — the whole thing could crash down in an instant.

That's the crux of Fontanella's thesis; the actual science of tearing down a rim isn't that extreme. It doesn't require an absurd amount of physical force, and typically, those incidents are more the result of ongoing wear-and-tear around the edges. Fontanella says the screws that fasten the iron to the backboard could become loose over time — breaching through the tough safety glass, and closer to that soft, flimsy core. "As soon as that metal on the bolt touches the inside, oh boy, it's going to be a problem," he explains. So, a player goes up for a dunk, yanks down on the rim, jutting the rivets into the vulnerable part of the window. Boom, you're gonna be on SportsCenter.

Now, this isn't to say that every backboard shatter is created equal.

Shaq has bulldozed more hoops than anyone alive, and with his size and stature, it's easy to see why. Fontanella does tell me that, like everything else in physics, the larger the force applied, the more likely it will overcome resistance. "If you're pulling on the rim harder, the more likely it's going to come down," he adds. "Suppose you just have a little attrition on the screws, a big guy could still be strong enough to push it over the edge." That explains why Michael Jordan only has one broken backboard in his resume of carnage. Also, considering that he was playing in an exhibition game in a 6,000 seat arena, there's a chance those Italian rims weren't prepared for NBA-level athleticism. Especially back in the '80s.

Still, it's nice to know that the backboard shattering dunk can be egalitarian if you've got the hops. Head to the gym, attack the hoop, and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe you can finally Be Like Mike. Just make sure to clean up after yourselves. 

OTIS WEALTH, INC. (“OTIS”) OPERATES THE WITHOTIS.COM WEBSITE (THE “SITE”) AND A MOBILE APP-BASED PLATFORM (THE “APP”), AND IS NOT A BROKER-DEALER OR INVESTMENT ADVISER. ALL SECURITIES-RELATED ACTIVITY IS CONDUCTED BY DALMORE GROUP, LLC (“DALMORE”), A REGISTERED BROKER-DEALER AND MEMBER OF FINRA (WWW.FINRA.ORG) AND SIPC (WWW.SIPC.ORG), LOCATED AT 525 GREEN PLACE, WOODMERE, NY 11598. YOU CAN REVIEW THE BROKERCHECK FOR DALMORE HERE. AN UP-TO-DATE DALMORE FORM CRS IS AVAILABLE HERE.

YOU SHOULD SPEAK WITH YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISOR, ACCOUNTANT AND/OR ATTORNEY WHEN EVALUATING ANY OFFERING. NEITHER OTIS, ITS AFFILIATED ISSUERS NOR DALMORE MAKES ANY RECOMMENDATIONS OR PROVIDES ADVICE ABOUT INVESTMENTS. THE SITE AND THE APP MAY MAKE FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS. YOU SHOULD NOT RELY ON THESE STATEMENTS BUT SHOULD CAREFULLY EVALUATE THE OFFERING MATERIALS IN ASSESSING ANY INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY, INCLUDING THE COMPLETE SET OF RISK FACTORS THAT ARE PROVIDED FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.

OTIS GALLERY LLC (“GALLERY”) AND OTIS COLLECTION LLC (“COLLECTION”) ARE CONDUCTING PUBLIC OFFERINGS PURSUANT TO REGULATION A AND PRIVATE OFFERINGS PURSUANT TO REGULATION D UNDER THE SECURITIES ACT OF 1933, AS AMENDED, THROUGH THE APP. THE OFFERING CIRCULAR FOR GALLERY CAN BE FOUND HERE, AND THE OFFERING CIRCULAR FOR COLLECTION CAN BE FOUND HERE. THE PRIVATE PLACEMENT MEMORANDUM FOR ANY OFFERING CONDUCTED PURSUANT TO REGULATION D HAS BEEN OR WILL BE, AS APPLICABLE, DISTRIBUTED DIRECTLY TO INVESTORS. PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE OF FUTURE RESULTS. INVESTMENTS SUCH AS THOSE ON THE OTIS PLATFORM ARE SPECULATIVE AND INVOLVE SUBSTANTIAL RISKS TO CONSIDER BEFORE INVESTING, OUTLINED IN THE RESPECTIVE OFFERING MATERIALS AND INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ILLIQUIDITY, LACK OF DIVERSIFICATION AND COMPLETE LOSS OF CAPITAL. KEY RISKS INCLUDE, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO, LIMITED OPERATING HISTORY, LIMITED DIVERSIFICATION, RISK OF ASSET DAMAGE OR THEFT AND LACK OF VOTING RIGHTS. ALSO, THE ADVERSE ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ARE UNKNOWN AND COULD MATERIALLY IMPACT THIS INVESTMENT. AN INVESTMENT IN AN OFFERING CONSTITUTES ONLY AN INVESTMENT IN A PARTICULAR SERIES AND NOT IN OTIS, GALLERY, COLLECTION OR THE UNDERLYING ASSET(S). INVESTORS SHOULD CAREFULLY REVIEW THE RISKS LOCATED IN THE RESPECTIVE OFFERING MATERIALS FOR A MORE COMPREHENSIVE DISCUSSION OF RISK.

INVESTMENT OVERVIEWS CONTAINED HEREIN CONTAIN SUMMARIES OF THE PURPOSE AND THE PRINCIPAL BUSINESS TERMS OF THE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES. SUCH SUMMARIES ARE INTENDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DO NOT PURPORT TO BE COMPLETE, AND EACH IS QUALIFIED IN ITS ENTIRETY BY REFERENCE TO THE MORE-DETAILED DISCUSSIONS CONTAINED IN THE RESPECTIVE OFFERING CIRCULAR FILED WITH THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION (“SEC”) OR OTHER OFFERING MATERIALS RELATING TO SUCH INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY.

FROM TIME TO TIME, AFFILIATES OF OTIS WILL SEEK TO QUALIFY ADDITIONAL SECURITIES UNDER REGULATION A. FOR OFFERINGS THAT HAVE NOT YET BEEN QUALIFIED, NO MONEY OR OTHER CONSIDERATION IS BEING SOLICITED AND, IF SENT IN RESPONSE, WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. NO OFFER TO BUY SECURITIES CAN BE ACCEPTED, AND NO PART OF THE PURCHASE PRICE CAN BE RECEIVED, UNTIL AN OFFERING STATEMENT FILED WITH THE SEC HAS BEEN QUALIFIED BY THE SEC OR UNLESS AS STATED IN THE OFFERING MATERIALS RELATING TO AN INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY, AS APPLICABLE. ANY SUCH OFFER MAY BE WITHDRAWN OR REVOKED, WITHOUT OBLIGATION OR COMMITMENT OF ANY KIND, AT ANY TIME BEFORE NOTICE OF ACCEPTANCE GIVEN AFTER THE DATE OF QUALIFICATION BY THE SEC OR AS STATED IN THE OFFERING MATERIALS RELATING TO AN INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY, AS APPLICABLE. AN INDICATION OF INTEREST INVOLVES NO OBLIGATION OR COMMITMENT OF ANY KIND.

OTIS DOES NOT OFFER REFUNDS AFTER AN INVESTMENT HAS BEEN MADE. PLEASE REVIEW THE RELEVANT OFFERING MATERIALS AND SUBSCRIPTION DOCUMENTATION FOR MORE INFORMATION.

AN ACTIVE TRADING MARKET FOR ANY SERIES OF GALLERY OR COLLECTION INTERESTS MAY NOT DEVELOP OR BE SUSTAINED. IF AN ACTIVE PUBLIC TRADING MARKET FOR GALLERY OR COLLECTION INTERESTS DOES NOT DEVELOP OR IS NOT SUSTAINED, IT MAY BE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO RESELL YOUR INTERESTS AT ANY PRICE. EVEN IF AN ACTIVE MARKET DOES DEVELOP, THE MARKET PRICE COULD DECLINE BELOW THE AMOUNT YOU PAID FOR YOUR INTERESTS. THERE IS NO ASSURANCE THAT THE OTIS PLATFORM WILL PROVIDE AN ACTIVE MARKET FOR RESALES OF GALLERY OR COLLECTION INTERESTS. FURTHER, WITHOUT THE OTIS PLATFORM, IT MAY BE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO DISPOSE OF YOUR INTERESTS. IF THE MARKET DEVELOPS FOR ANY SERIES OF GALLERY AND/OR OTIS COLLECTION INTERESTS, THE MARKET PRICE OF SUCH INTERESTS COULD FLUCTUATE SIGNIFICANTLY FOR MANY REASONS, INCLUDING REASONS UNRELATED TO PERFORMANCE, THE UNDERLYING ASSETS OR ANY SERIES, SUCH AS REPORTS BY INDUSTRY ANALYSTS, INVESTOR PERCEPTIONS OR ANNOUNCEMENTS BY COMPETITORS REGARDING THEIR OWN PERFORMANCE, AS WELL AS GENERAL ECONOMIC AND INDUSTRY CONDITIONS.