#NBArank: Memorable photos in NBA history

Paul Vathis/AP Photo

The best NBA photographs can turn a fraction of a second into an eternal memory. They manage to summarize players, personalities, careers and eras.

There is so much motion in the game and in the way our minds work that it might come as a surprise how many classic NBA moments lacked a great original photograph to go with it. Screen grabs don't count. There's no true still photo of Dr. J rocking the cradle and dunking on Michael Cooper or Willis Reed limping through the tunnel in Madison Square Garden.

And yet there's no shortage of timeless pictures, thanks to the photographers who had the right combination of composition, angle and timing as they hit the shutter button. Here are 12 of the most memorable:

12. Jerry West's pose

Want iconic? How about The Logo. This iconic pose -- taken in 1970 in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers -- mirrors the inspiration for the NBA insignia. We're so accustomed to the silhouette that it's fun to see the detail, such as the wrinkles in the uniform or the stripes on the shorts and socks. (Credit: Wen Roberts/NBAE/Getty Images)

11. Ray Allen and the yellow rope

Ray Allen's 3-pointer in the 2013 NBA Finals of those events that has grown in stature even in the relatively short time since it happened. It didn't deliver the championship (this was only Game 6 in a series that went seven). It didn't even win the game (it sent it to overtime). But it did alter NBA history, if for nothing else allowing LeBron James to enter the conversation of all-time greats thanks to the access granted by multiple championships. There isn't a definitive angle of this shot. I like this one because it has so many key components, including the security team with the now-infamous yellow ropes ringing the court. And you can see Jimmy Goldstein in the corner. (Credit: Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)

10. Bird vs. Magic

Who knows how many times Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who will always be connected for their roles in elevating the NBA, were actually connected on the court? This picture is also symbolic of the way they constantly jockeyed for position for the top spot in the league, whether competing for individual awards from afar or battling for the championship in their three head-to-head Finals meetings. They didn't always need to score to impact the game -- sometimes they didn't even need the ball in their hands. Fighting for rebounding position was just one of the elements of the game they valued so much. (Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

9. Chamberlain's 100

This is how we remember March 2, 1962, the greatest scoring achievement in NBA history. In a way, it also helps us remember Harvey Pollack, the supreme statistician who chronicled so much of the game, including this magical night. It was Pollack who grabbed a sheet of paper from a reporter and wrote down Wilt Chamberlain's unprecedented point total, setting up Associated Press photographer Paul Vathis' immortal shot. Bonus points and current currency for how meme-able it is. Any time a player is on his way to a big scoring night get ready to see his face superimposed on Wilt's. Whenever the dream lives, so does this picture. (Credit: Paul Vathis/AP Photo)

8. Young Kobe reverse dunks

This is the best action shot of Kobe Bryant, when he was young and dedicated to making noise in the league. This shot captures this moment in his career, literally beginning to take off in 1998. Back then he did it with athleticism more than the acumen he honed over the years. He was about flash and flair more than finesse. And it was fascinating. Note how Nick Van Exel takes a peek over his shoulder as he heads back downcourt. Even his teammates were curious to see what this kid could do. (Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

7. The Doctor is in

This shot from 1977 is nothing less than the transformation of the sport. Julius Erving took basketball above the rim in the 1970s, and it never came back down. This is a composition as artistic as its subject. Dr. J made style the equivalent of substance. Fortunately, NBA photographers were up to the challenge of capturing it on film. (Credit: Neil Leifer/NBAE/Getty Images)

6. Heatles heights

No action photo crystallized the height of the Heat's Big Three era like this one, take in a Dec. 6, 2010, game against the Milwaukee Bucks. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all in the shot (you can see Bosh at the far end of the court, in the lower right corner). The Heat were acrobatic in every sense: the way they flew through the air and the dramatic flourishes they added from their first public appearance together. They didn't just play games, they put on performances. Ta-daaah. (Credit: Morry Gash/AP Photo)

5. Kobe and Shaq

Kobe and Shaq, back in the trainer's room in Staples Center, in the aftermath of their first championship in 2000. The excitement of the victory finally gave way to the exhaustion from the task: a first-round series that went the distance, the epic comeback in the seventh game of the Western Conference finals, and one last push to get past the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. You get a sense of what it took to win those trophies. No, this doesn't reflect their contentious relationship. But it reminds us of what they achieved when they collaborated on the court. (Credit: Paul Morse/Los Angeles Times)

4. Tears of a GOAT

When the doubt was erased, when the method was validated. Today the legend of Michael Jordan is so embedded that it's easy to forget there once was a time when there was doubt he'd ever hold the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The conventional wisdom was that guys who won scoring titles couldn't lead their teams to championships. It hadn't been done in the same season for 20 years, since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought a title to Milwaukee in 1971. That ended on June 12, 1991. The tears were for all of the doubters. And the reassuring grip on his right arm from his father makes it even better. There are other angles of this, but I prefer this one because it shows James Jordan's face; NBA dads don't get enough credit. (Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

3. Jordan takes flight

In 1988, the image of Michael Jordan in flight began morphing into the image of the NBA. This dunk from the free throw line in front of the home crowd at Chicago Stadium secured the victory in a memorable dunk contest showdown with Dominique Wilkins. He was wearing the Air Jordan III, the first shoe in his signature line that featured the Jumpman silhouette. He went on to win the first of his five Most Valuable Player awards that year, and in the playoffs he advanced past the opening round for the first time. He's in midair in the pictures of this dunk, but in reality he's ascending. (Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

2. Vinsanity soars over Weis

If the Olympics can include NBA players, then we can include an Olympic photo in our NBA list. Not only is this an amazing picture, capping the pinnacle of Vince Carter's dunk over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Games as Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton look on in awe/disbelief, it's the most necessary NBA photo since Wilt's 100. With television replays in America restricted by NBC's exclusive Olympic rights and with YouTube not yet in existence (less than 10 percent of American households had broadband internet in 2000 anyway), this photo provided early visual proof that the dunk actually happened. (Credit: Darren McNamara/Allsport/Getty Images)

1. End of MJ's remarkable Bull run

The finale. The culmination of Michael Jordan's career in a Chicago Bulls uniform, the conclusion of his 1990s dominance with the last shot he'd take in the decade. His sixth championship. We've seen the shot go in so many times now that it's great to revisit the moment it was still in doubt, to look back at all of the faces in the Utah crowd filled with wonder and fear and hope on the night of June 14, 1998. It's an exceptional moment in NBA history and yet it's so commonplace. It's the playground fantasy, the driveway dream, the moment all basketball players have imagined: hitting a last-second shot to win a championship. Here it is, coming to fruition. (Credit: Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)