A big week for the ‘Big Balls’ dance in Philly sports

Both basketball and football fans got a look at the infamous celebration.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith after a win vs. Denver

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith after a win vs. Denver

Jack Dempsey / AP Photo
Brooks Holton headshot

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It’s been a week of ballsy celebrations in the Philadelphia sports world. The first instance ended in heartbreak for the home team and a $15,000 fine, while the other cemented a star rookie’s status as a fan favorite.

During a much-needed Eagles win over the Denver Broncos, wide receiver DeVonta Smith caught his second touchdown, then hopped down the sideline exaggerating the size of his testes.

Coming on third and goal late in the second quarter, the play wasn’t as jaw-dropping as his acrobatic, 36-yard TD catch in the first quarter, but the receiver from Amite, Louisiana, made up for it by breaking out the “Big Balls” dance.

“That’s kind of our motto,” Smith said when asked about it after the game. “I ain’t gonna say it, but that’s what our motto is. That’s what [the celebration] was.”

Even better: The dance was made famous by Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassell.

On Sunday, Smith put his hands below his groin and cupped an invisible pair of oversized cojones while galloping toward a fellow receiver for a chest bump. And when the CBS broadcast cut to a shot of Philly fans going nuts in the stands, a guy wearing an Eagle mask, a vintage Birds jersey and a kelly green afro wig started doing the “Big Balls” dance, too.

Quick history lesson: The celebration originated from the 1994 movie “Major League II.”

In one scene, a player (Isuro Tanaka) becomes angry with a teammate (Pedro Cerrano) and tells him he has “no marbles,” thrusting his arms below his groin and cupping his hands to indicate he’s talking about testicles.

Tanaka later taunts Cerrano with the gesture again in the dugout during a game. Triggered, Cerrano demands he be put in to pinch hit and same the game — then steps up to the plate and cranks a walk-off home run. As he’s jogging to first base, Cerrano turns to his celebrating teammates and mimics Tanaka’s gesture, moving his hands up and down to insinuate that he does, in fact, have “marbles” — big ones, at that.

That scene apparently served as inspiration for the real world dance made famous by Cassell, who played in the NBA from 1993 to 2008 and joined the Sixers as an assistant coach last year.

Cassell came across the movie as a player while channel surfing in a hotel room during a road trip with the Milwaukee Bucks, he told The Athletic in 2019. He loved the “marbles” scene so much that he broke out the dance after hitting a huge shot in the Bucks’ next game, and it became his go-to celebration after he delivered in clutch moments.

Since then, the “Big Balls” cele has been done by everyone from former Saint Joe’s star Jameer Nelson to the late Kobe Bryant, a Philly native, whom Cassell deemed the best impersonator.

“Kobe’s was real good,” Cassell told The Athletic. “I was like, ‘OK, Kobe. Don’t take my dance now. Don’t take my dance from me. You might take it. You’re the focal point of the league. Don’t take my dance from me.'”

You don’t see it often anymore, because during the 2010-11 NBA season, the league began fining players for doing the dance during games, declaring it an “obscene gesture.” It made an example of Julius Randle, who had to pay $15,000 as punishment in 2016.

“Big Balls” has the support of 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, however, who once coached Cassell. Rivers said the celebration helped energize the Boston Celtics during the team’s 2008 championship run. In 2014, Rivers hired Cassell as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers. More than seven years later, the duo’s run continues in Philadelphia.

“You have to have big balls to do that dance,” Rivers told The Athletic. If Rivers is right, then the title of biggest cojones may go to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.

Last week, VanVleet had the gumption to break out the “Big Balls” dance at the Wells Fargo Center after making a 3-pointer that sealed the Raptors’ victory — with Cassell watching from the Philly bench. The NBA fined VanVleet $15,000, but, for someone with a $19 million salary, that memorable moment was likely worth every penny.

Three days after VanVleet’s “Big Balls” dance signaled defeat for Philly fans, the celebration resurfaced 1,700 miles away as the Eagles came away victorious in Denver.

Asked after the game about Smith’s celebration, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts told reporters to listen to “Gotta Let Your Nuts Hang,” a hard-hitting, profanity-laced 1991 cut by the Geto Boys.

Head coach Nick Sirianni was then asked to elaborate on Smith’s comments about the team’s motto, which he traced back to the 1991 Michigan Wolverines basketball team.
“They had a saying there. I’ll let you guys look it up,” Sirianni said with a smile. “I’m not gonna say it here. Just basically, we’ve given a talk about that… But what it is is just about leaving everything on the field … giving every bit of energy you got … and just giving everything you got to the team.”
Maybe Sirianni’s words or the Geto Boys’ song were running through Smith’s head before taking the field on his 23rd birthday. Maybe he watched the Sixers game and felt compelled to reclaim the “Big Balls” dance for its creator and the city he now calls home. Either way, it just felt right.

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