The history of ‘Pinoy step,’ Mikal Bridges’ new favorite move

The history of ‘Pinoy step,’ Mikal Bridges’ new favorite move

Mikal Bridges, well on his way to a historic 26-point first quarter against the Orlando Magic, ran the floor to catch a pass in the left corner. Franz Wagner closed out aggressively, and why wouldn’t he? The ascendant Brooklyn Nets wing had already hit a trio of 3-pointers from that spot. Bridges responded accordingly, driving baseline to meet the other Wagner brother at the rim. But Mo didn’t stand a chance.

In one motion, Bridges gathered the ball and threw a mesmerizing up-fake. Wagner froze, then watched Bridges take another step to the other side of the rim and lay the ball in.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson rose from the Nets’ bench to imitate what they’ve grown accustomed to seeing; Bridges pointed back to his teammates, reciprocating the gesture:

The move is called the “Pinoy step,” and it’s the shiniest toy in Bridges’ burgeoning bag of tricks.

As the name implies, the move comes by way of the Philippines, where it’s enjoyed immense popularity over the past decade-plus. Kiefer Ravena, a Filipino hooper currently playing for the Shiga Lakes of Japan’s B2 League, is credited as one of the pioneers of the move, and it’s been in his bag since high school:

“Sometimes, I would get called traveling, because I would catch refs off guard. And sometimes I would really travel, because I hadn’t perfected the timing of it,” explains Ravena over text.

There is, of course, much hand-wringing over what constitutes a travel, but the Pinoy step does not. Whether at the NBA and FIBA levels (where the “gather step” is recognized) or at the NCAA and high schools (where it is not) the Pinoy merely adds a ball-fake in there. The rulebooks doesn’t say anything about the speed of your steps, nor the direction — hence our beloved Euro step — so it follows that what you do with the ball is also fair game.

Brooklyn’s leading scorer is a case study for the move’s effectiveness. Bridges’ ball-handling duties have increased dramatically over the last year or so, at the age of 27, at the height of 6’7”. Thus, his handle is workable, but not elite. Bridges often gets by his man, but he’s rarely making a change-of-direction dribble in the paint, instead picking the ball up before he gets to his final destination.

Bridges needs to not only beat the last line of defense after he gathers the ball, but cover some serious ground as well. Enter: the Pinoy step.

Says Ravena, “I feel like it can be really effective against athletic and good rim protectors. With elite rim protectors, they know how to time lay-ups, floaters, and jump-shots, so you have to do a bit of mix-up, and that’s where the move becomes very effective.”

Bridges can certainly attest to that. On this pair of Pinoys, he clears would-be rim protectors with a fake before skipping to the other side of the basket for an unimpeded two:

The move accentuates Bridges’ length and expanding scoring craft, two main reasons he’s shooting 71.8% at the rim this season, per Basketball Reference. In his words, the move is about “just being creative around there, trying to make it a little bit easier. It’s goofy because [as a defender] you don’t know, it’s unorthodox.”

When asked how he added it to his bag, Bridges noted its growing popularity around the league, but started with the NBA player most closely associated with the Pinoy step.

Man, just watching tape, watching film on guys. I think Zach LaVine does it really well… Even [Joel] Embiid does it. [Jayson] Tatum, I was kind of talking about it in an interview, just about how when he gets to the rim, it’s crafty. Even [Jakob] Poeltl from Toronto, he did it to [Day’Ron Sharpe] our last game.

Zach LaVine wasn’t the first NBA player to adopt the move, but he’s the now the face of it. Last season, Stephen Breslic chronicled the guard’s fondness for the Pinoy; Tyrese Haliburton also credited LaVine — “he does it all the time” — as an inspiration on JJ Redick’s The Old Man and the Three:

But while the official Chicago Bulls’ Twitter/X account may recognize the move as such, “Pinoy step” hasn’t fully entered the basketball lexicon yet. Neither Haliburton nor Bridges identified it as such, hardly an intentional oversight.

Artistic inventions are not always neatly traced. Wikipedia endorses the Argentinian Manu Ginóbili as “widely credited for changing the game of basketball by popularizing the Euro step move in the NBA,” but where does that leave ex-NBA’er Šarūnas Marčiulionis of Lithuania? Where does it leave the 1960’s Yugoslavian hoopers that Jordan Brenner wrote about in this 2018 feature on the Euro step?

The development of the Pinoy step, down to its name, is far more centralized than the Euro. That took 40 years (and many passport stamps) to take root in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Pinoy is unmistakably the product of amateur and professional ballers in the Philippines over the past decade. As a result, Ravena doesn’t expect individual glory for the invention. But he does feel a sense of patriotism in its proliferation: “I mean, to have a move named after our people is a great feat. Seeing it on social media platforms, highlights, etc, it’s just nice to have that feeling of contributing to the basketball world.”

Cam Johnson, like Bridges, was in the Philippines this past August for the FIBA World Cup. And while that might not be the reason he’s since picked up the country’s signature…

…Johnson won’t soon forget the country’s love for ball: “Oh, man. They absolutely love basketball. I’m talking the hotel, every entrance, exit you could think of was swarming with people, so you had to kind of be careful in that regard. But they’re a passionate fan base over there, they’re pretty knowledgeable, and they showed a lot of love.”

That’s the image we associate with the fully globalized NBA in the 21st century, crowds in Southeast Asia mobbing players that haven’t made an All-Star team.

The Pinoy step, then, exists to prove that the NBA is still a two-way street. Consumption is only the half of it, no matter how often we hear about TV ratings for the In-Season Tournament. The NBA is a canvas for the best basketball players in the world, and they’ve fully imported the Pinoy step from Ravena and his compatriots.

So, the next time you see Mikal Bridges bust it out, recognize it as Filipino flair. Recognize how improbably quick its journey from Quezon City to the Barclays Center has been, even if the broadcast booth or the players don’t. But remember to watch Bridges cap off the play with two points: None of this would matter if the Pinoy step didn’t work.

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