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NBA Traveling: Rewrite the Rule

Let's recap some of what we have learned from this TrueHoop investigation into traveling in the NBA:

  • NBA referees -- instructed to allow two steps where the rulebook allows for one -- aren't calling traveling by the book.

  • The traveling rule, as written, is extremely confusing, and referenced by almost no one.

  • NBA players aren't certain about what is and is not allowed.

  • Fans and observers of the game are outraged that players seem to be getting away with breaking the rules.

  • Basketball is going global, and traveling is called very differently overseas than it is here -- which has already caused some upset and consternation in the Olympics.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

It is time for some clarity. It is time to put this behind us. It is time to re-write the NBA's traveling rule.

"We're working on it," says the NBA's Vice President of Referee Operations, Joe Borgia. "Our traveling rule we've been discussing for a couple of years," he says. "The game has evolved. I don't think the rule has evolved since the time of Bob Cousy. But we're also going to probably share it with the NCAA and maybe FIBA, because it would be nice if we could all come up with a similar rule. A similar rule would be great for the players, the coaches, and the officials."

Ronald Johnson, Senior Vice President of Referee Operations recognizes that it would be nice if the NCAA, FIBA, and the NBA could have the same traveling rule, but stops well short of making such uniformity an immediate priority. "We've all got different rules for different reasons. Just because it's different doesn't mean it's something wrong. Maybe, one perspective would be we all need to evolve towards the same standards, so that as people play at different levels, they can have it the same. But the other point of view is that, you know, we're the NBA. Maybe people ought to evolve toward the gold standard, not the silver."

Both Borgia and Johnson are clear that one major challenge of writing a new rule is finding the right words. The language quickly gets complicated.

"I don't want to pick on lawyers," says Borgia, "but some rules look like they were written by lawyers, and you're trying to figure out 'what the heck does it mean?'"

Here Borgia pauses, for dramatic effect, then, in character, asks: "Grasshopper, what does it mean?"

The mission is simple. "We're trying to put it in English, for the normal, regular Joe to understand," says Borgia. "We want Joe the plumber to read it and understand it."

Here's a special little TrueHoop experiment. Try writing a rule of your own. If wording is the trouble, maybe we can help with the wording, right?

Thanks to David Stern (great name, huh?) at Mixed Ink for setting up a place where everyone can propose new versions of this rule, and then vote on and steal from other versions of the rule. Click here to see for yourself, or give it a whirl.

After the jump is the full text of the NBA's and NCAA's existing rules, to use as starting points (FIBA's rule is nearly identical to the NCAA's.)

NBA Rule
A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may use a two-count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.

The first count occurs:

(1) As he receives the ball, if either foot is touching the floor at the time he receives it.
(2) As the foot touches the floor, or as both feet touch the floor simultane- ously after he receives the ball, if both feet are off the floor when he receives it.

The second occurs:

(1) After the count of one when either foot touches the floor, or both feet touch the floor simultaneously.

NCAA Rule
A player who catches the ball while moving or dribbling may stop and establish a pivot foot as follows:

a. When both feet are off the playing court and the player lands:

1. Simultaneously on both feet, either may be the pivot foot;
2. On one foot followed by the other, the first foot to touch shall be
the pivot foot;
3. On one foot, the player may jump off that foot and simultane-
ously land on both; neither foot can be the pivot foot.

b. When one foot is on the playing court:

1. That foot shall be the pivot foot when the other foot touches in a step;
2. The player may jump off that foot and simultaneously land on both; neither foot can then be the pivot foot.

After coming to a stop and establishing the pivot foot:

a. The pivot foot may be lifted, but not returned to the playing court, before the ball is released on a pass or try for goal;
b. The pivot foot shall not be lifted before the ball is released to start a dribble.

After coming to a stop when neither foot can be the pivot foot:

a. One or both feet may be lifted, but may not be returned to the playing court, before the ball is released on a pass or try for goal;
b. Neither foot shall be lifted, before the ball is released, to start a dribble.