I don’t drop quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird, mostly because I’ve never read it.

But if you watch an amateur basketball game, you’ll hear all kinds of people misquoting from a book they don’t likely own:  The NFHS Basketball Rules Book.

Here’s a look at some of the wording of the actual rules, in regards to some of the favorites people yell from the bleachers.


When I pulled into the Middle School parking lot at 8am on a Saturday, I was already pretty sure it wasn’t an NBA game that I’d been assigned to work.  But thanks for confirming.

First of all, the NBA rules are quite different, as are the players’ speed, length, distance covered, etc.

Interestingly, the NBA Rules Book refers not to a player’s steps, but to counts and rhythms:

A player who receives the ball while moving is allowed a two count rhythm but must release the ball prior to the third step touching the floor. When ending his dribble a player may use a two count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting.

Here are some misunderstood traveling rules, as some would like the officials to blow their whistle every time someone other than their son does something athletic looking:

 NFHS Rule 4-44

Art 2.  A player who catches the ball while moving, and lands on one foot, may jump off of that foot and simultaneously land on both.  In this case, neither foot can then be a pivot foot.

Art 3.  After establishing a pivot foot, that pivot foot may be lifted, but not returned to the floor, before the ball is released on a pass or a try for goal (shot).

Rule 4-33: A pivot is defined not as lifting one’s foot, but the placing of it back down on the floor.

Most don’t fully understand the differences in legal stops relative to where a foot was or wasn’t upon the catch.  Same for whether both feet have to hit at the same time or not–it depends on the preceding catch.  The lifting of a pivot foot will always garner yells of “travel” from the bleachers.



No, he doesn’t.

In fact, I’m of the opinion that officials far too often bail out wild, offensive players who are the deliverers of the contact.

 NFHS Rule 4-7-2

Charging is illegal personal contact caused by pushing or moving into an opponent’s torso.

1. A player who is moving is required to stop or change direction to avoid contact if a defensive player has obtained a legal guarding position in his path.

2. If legal guarding position has been obtained, the player with the ball must get his head and shoulders past the torso of the defensive player. If the contact occurs on the torso of the defensive player, the dribbler is responsible for the contact.

I see so many examples of offensive players, often with their head down, initiating contact with a defender who is rightfully between them and the basket.

NFHS Rule 4-23-2

To obtain legal guarding position:

1. The guard must have both feet touching the court

2. The front of the guard’s torso must be facing the opponent

That’s it.  Oh, and you have to be perfectly still, like a mannequin.

You can go over defense, or around defense.  The rules do not allow you to go through defense.



Did he kick it? Or did it hit his leg?

NFHS Rule 9-4

Kicking the ball is a violation only when it is an intentional act; accidentally striking the ball with the foot or leg is not a kick.

If an accidental kick was a violation, then any time an offensive player found himself in a trap, he could just simply bounce the ball off of one of the four defensive legs to save himself.





I assume this rule was invented around the time Wilt or someone similar was going for 80 a night.  I don’t think the spirit of the rule is to penalize that 5th grader who has half of a heel touching the elbow.

But did you know that often the count is to be suspended before you get to 3?

NFHS Rule 9-7-3

An allowance shall be made for a player who, having been in the restricted area for less than three seconds, dribbles in or moves immediately to try for goal.

That’s right, if he catches it at 2.5, the count is suspended if he immediately dribbles in or shoots.  Also, a count starts at zero, not one.  When you get a fan who wants to show off his counting skills, listen for how quickly he gets to one.  Did he turn one on the day he was born?



This one’s complicated, but that doesn’t stop people from yelling about it.

Many know the ‘three points’ aspect—both feet and the ball have to cross half before you’ve achieved frontcourt status.  But that’s for a live dribbler, on his way into the frontcourt.

If you don’t have the ball, where your feet are prior to touching the ball are key.  Leaping from the backcourt…catching the ball….then landing in the frontcourt, is a backcourt violation.

So would be the opposite—jumping from the frontcourt (to help your guards break a press, for instance)…catching the ball…then landing in the backcourt.

But the place comes unglued if you call this–and they assume you’ve forgotten which direction each team is going.  Nope, you can only assume that I still have unpaid student loans.

If you were to kill your dribble while straddling the halfcourt line, it would depend upon which foot you lifted, or which was your pivot foot.  If you lifted the foot that was in the backcourt, your front foot becomes your pivot, and you’ve achieved frontcourt status, but you may not place that back foot down in the backcourt again, without violating.  If you lifted your front foot, you can do what you want with it, but the 10-second backcourt count is still active.


NFHS Rule 9-9-1

A player shall not be the first to touch the ball after it has been in team control in the frontcourt, if he/she or a teammate last touched or was touched by the ball in the front court before it went to the backcourt.

So if Team A is in the frontcourt, and the wing attempts to pass it back to his point guard but the ball is deflected by the defense…and the ball then deflects off of the offensive point guard before he then goes to the backcourt to retrieve the ball…it is a backcourt violation.  The point guard could only go retrieve the ball without violating if the last to touch (before the ball touched the backcourt) was the defense.

The defensive deflection doesn’t end the offense’s frontcourt status or possession, just like a deflection by a full-court pressing defense doesn’t end the offense’s 10-second in the backcourt count.



Boxing ‘out’, is essentially pushing.  You can’t displace anyone from a spot they’ve legally obtained.  You can resist an offensive rebounder’s attempt to advance from his spot, but you can push him off of that spot.  Most officials would allow for a minor displacement on a shot attempt, especially near the rim…but when little Johnny roots his opponent, who just shot a three, into the 2nd row of the bleachers, he’s not boxing out.  He is fouling.

The things you’re not allowed to do with your hands and arms, are not magically allowable because you instead used your rear end.



He sure can.  There can be no traveling violation by an inbounder.

NFHS Rule 4-43-6

The designated throw-in spot is 3 feet wide with no depth limitation…the thrower must keep one foot on or over the spot until the ball is released.



The JUMP BALL is allowed to be tapped twice by the jumpers….if the direct result of the jump ball is a tie-up between two opposing players, it is those two players who will jump center the second time.

Six-feet CLOSELY GUARDED is measured not by hands or arms, but the defender’s front foot and the offensive player’s front foot.

TECHNICAL FREE THROWS can be shot by any member of the non-offending team, including bench personnel.

A player who EXCESSIVELY SWINGS ELBOWS without making contact with an opponent can’t be called for a foul, but it is a violation resulting in loss of possession.

Basketball players can FUMBLE the ball.  Rule 4-21 defines fumble as the accidental loss of player control when the ball unintentionally drops or slips from a player’s grasp.  That player can corral the loose ball without traveling, despite perhaps advancing on the court.  Similarly, a player can’t be called for a travel if he has yet to possess the ball.  If fast breaking player muffed an original attempt to catch a pass, it is not illegal for him to unintentionally bat the ball in the air, even if he took more steps prior to catching it.

Take it easy on your kids’ game officials.  For one, your sons and daughters are watching you.  And for two, well, this isn’t the NBA.


  1. Had a team in our tournament lose a game in overtime because the coach argued a traveling call instead of calling a time out with 10 seconds left.

    The kid got the rebound established his left foot as his pivot foot, took a step back with his right foot, leaned back in a shooting motion and lifted his left foot as he shot the ball.

    Coach argued and by the time he called a time out there was only 3 seconds left.

  2. Atticus Finch: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

    So I just quoted Atticus Finch from TKAM. I would advise some people to walk around in a refs shoes for a day and see what it is like.

    1. Great quote. I’ve learned more from the experience than maybe any other. Though I haven’t liked all that I’ve learned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>