What Is Traveling in Basketball?

Yes, basketball can take you around the world, but when we speak of traveling in basketball we are usually talking about the rule that many seem to have forgotten.

It’s one of the most basic rules of the game. Players learn it from the very beginning along with the game’s fundamentals. So, what is traveling in basketball?

Traveling Defined

Beginners sometimes simplify traveling to running with the ball without dribbling it. While that certainly is a form of traveling, it’s just one of many.

Meanwhile, the NBA definition in Section 13 of the league’s rulebook takes a simple concept and makes it difficult to understand. Eight different points, including a few sub-points, are made to explain a rule that is simply this:

Traveling in basketball occurs when a player in control of the basketball makes an illegal move with their feet.

But what constitutes an ‘illegal move’? To understand any type of illegal move with the basketball, we first must understand the pivot foot. It’s essential you understand this part to understand traveling.

The Pivot Foot

As young players learn the game and its basic fundamentals, they learn about the pivot foot.

The pivot foot is one that must remain in contact with the floor. It can be either the right or left foot, but a player with the basketball that is not dribbling and is stationary must have one foot in contact with the floor at all times. The player can move but only with the pivot foot anchored to the floor.

The establishment of the pivot foot is what helps to determine a traveling call. Understanding the pivot foot and how it works allows us to understand what makes up an illegal movement with the ball.

Common Illegal Moves

There are a number of movements with the basketball that will cause a referee to call traveling.

1. Lifting the pivot foot before ball passing or shooting

The most common is simply lifting the pivot foot once it has been established. A player moves the non-pivot foot and then moves the pivot foot before passing or shooting the basketball. This is traveling.

2. Lifting the pivot foot before releasing the ball to dribble

Sometimes, players will lift the pivot foot before they release the ball to begin dribbling. This is another illegal movement.

This is a fairly common form of traveling and it can be a difficult call for officials to make, as the move happens very quickly.

3. Jumping and coming back down before release

If a player controls the basketball and jumps – leaving the floor with both feet – and comes back down with the ball before shooting or passing, a traveling violation has occurred.

4. Taking more than two steps while moving

Traveling can also occur when a player receives the ball while moving. A player can catch the basketball on the run and take two steps before stopping, passing, or shooting. There are times when a player takes a third step. That is a traveling violation.

Other Illegal Movements and Traveling Situations

Other illegal movements include dragging or sliding of the pivot foot, falling to the floor without maintaining a pivot foot, and rolling off the floor with the basketball in hand. Each of these movements results in a called traveling violation.

In addition to the more common traveling situations we’ve just discussed, there are others that occur less often.

One already mentioned is a player that falls to the floor without maintaining a pivot foot or without dribbling. The same traveling call is made if a player on the floor stands up with possession of the ball without dribbling.

Other situations include the illegal step-back for a three-point shot and the rebound shuffle. A player receives a pass just in front of the three-point arc. The player lifts the non-pivot foot and then also moves the pivot foot to relocate behind the line. That is a travel. The same is true when a player grabs a rebound and then shuffles their feet or even falls down. If the player is not dribbling, a traveling violation has occurred.

Traveling and the NBA

As the game’s premier basketball league, the NBA is about one thing – making money. Games that are frequently interrupted by referee’s whistles for traveling violations are not what drive fans to buy tickets and watch games on television.

Watching an NBA game, fans will see multiple occurrences of what appear to be traveling violations. Most, if not all, will go by without a whistle. The league attempts to explain away these obvious violations of the rule with something called the “gather step.”

For those that watch NBA games, there are a number of shooters that utilize a step-back move to ensure they are shooting from behind the three-point line. If watching carefully, fans can see that indeed these shooters pick up their dribble and then move their non-pivot foot followed by their pivot foot. At all levels of the game, this is a traveling violation.

The NBA does not call it a travel. Instead, referees are to interpret that move as a “gather step” or the time between when a player ends his dribble and either drives to the basket or takes his shot.

Oftentimes, it happens so quickly that it’s hard to determine whether or not a player did travel. Whether they did or not, the NBA’s desire to keep the game moving – to keep its fans coming back for more – supersedes a traveling violation. Therefore, referees just don’t call it.

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