Traveling in the NBA has become one of the most confusing violations in all of sports, but it should be the most simple.
The Basketball Rule book defines the travel as a violation that occurs once the player holding the ball moves one or both of their feet illegally. It goes on to say that most traveling infringements occur when a player takes more than two steps once the ball is no longer live on the floor.
It may seem easy for refs to call, but the evolution of the game has made it nearly impossible to determine in real time — especially in the likes of Houston Rockets’ star guard, James Harden.
Since entering the league in 2009, players, coaches, and fans have all criticized Harden’s signature step-back, complaining that the move violates the basketball terms of traveling. In an attempt to clean up the confusion surrounding Harden and other players, the NBA Board of Governors gave a new clarification to improve the meaning of traveling.
The updated rule now has a section that formally defines the “gather,” which plays a tremendous role in completing the step-back. In a video narrated by Head of Referee Monty McCutchen, the gather is defined as:
“A player who receives a pass or gains possession of a loose ball, the gather is defined as the point where the player gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.”
According to McCutchen, a dribbling player can gather the ball at any time as long as he commits to taking two legal steps once the ball is no longer alive. McCutchen states that once the player establishes their gather, it does not matter which direction they move — as long as they take the two legal steps.
“A player who gathers the ball while dribbling may take TWO steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball. NOTE: The first legal step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor AFTER the player gathered the ball.”
Unlike Stephen Curry, Harden’s signature move falls within the rules. Similar to CJ McCollum in the video example above, Harden takes two steps in either direction once he firmly establishes his gather.
Yet, what makes Harden’s step-back hard to manage is his creativity and speed. While most players stick to the original side-step, Harden has a variety of techniques which he can execute his step-back jumper against his opponents.
After several years of dealing with complaining, do not expect the updated rule to have any effect on Harden in the near future. Ahead of the new season, the Points of Education video proves James Harden’s signature step-back is legal.
Similar to the Dream Shake and the Euro-Step, it is time to embrace Harden’s evolution of the step-back, as the signature play is well on its way to becoming the NBA’s next iconic move.