On Tuesday, Houston Rockets guard James Harden unleashed his latest flashy NBA move that clearly looks like a travel but wasn’t called one.
The reigning league MVP used a nifty pick-up-his dribble, move-the-ball-behind-his-back, take-two-steps-then-shoot move in an exhibition game against the Shanghai Sharks.
Is this a travel?
He hit his ninth 3-pointer of the game with the move and unleashed a debate over whether, in fact he did travel.
Do you think this move by Harden is a travel? pic.twitter.com/g1yZ7ooUEk
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 10, 2018
if this isnt a travel he’s winning MVP again pic.twitter.com/hWBfSrHpgh
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) October 10, 2018
NBA says it’s legal
NBA officials addressed the situation Wednesday, citing his “lateral 1-2 step” from his pivot foot as justification for why it was legal.
The offensive player gathers the ball, and flips it from his left hand to right behind his back, with his right foot as his pivot foot. He then is allowed 2 steps, which he takes as a lateral 1-2 step. It’s a legal play. https://t.co/Qp1E558G18
— NBA Referees (@OfficialNBARefs) October 10, 2018
The NBA released a similar message.
This is a legal play. Although James puts the ball behind his back, he only takes two steps after the gather of the ball and therefore it is NOT a travel. https://t.co/i1hU3b4zuQ
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) October 10, 2018
Rule book doesn’t provide much clarity
While the NBA is getting out ahead of this before the season, a look at the rules doesn’t provide a definitive answer.
In fact, traveling rules — if you haven’t looked them up — don’t provide a lot of clarity in general, which explains why the violation is such a consistent source of debate in the sport.
This portion of the “misunderstood rules” section of the league’s site appears to address Harden’s situation.
When ending his dribble a player may use a two count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting.
One could argue that Section II of the rulebook addressing dribbling would prohibit Harden’s move.
A player shall not run with the ball without dribbling it.
Of course a strict interpretation of that rule would warrant traveling on almost every play in basketball.
It’s a judgment call
Which brings us to the rub of why traveling is such a difficult call. As much as somebody wants to argue that they know the hard-and-fast rules on traveling and can identify the violation with absolute certainty every time, it’s not that clear cut.
Traveling is in large part a judgment call. And the NBA has judged that what Harden did on Tuesday was not a travel.
Did they get it right?
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