Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Not Basketball if You Can Travel

What used to be called "basketball" is now going to have to be called something else. Jackball, Prettyball, Danceball, Runball, or even Travelball would be more accurate than calling what they're going to be doing in the NBA "basketball."

I know that I will sound like a no-fun purist, but there's something to be said for playing the game the way that it was intended to be played. If you slide on the rules, you slide on competition and integrity. When a professional league, which should be all about high standards and skill, allows for basic standards to slide, it means it is operating as a sham, not a sport.

NBA players will be able to take two steps before they have to stop, pass or shoot this season.

The NBA has put into writing a rule allowing players on the move to gather the ball, after driving or catching it, and then take two steps. Throughout NBA history, the rulebook said players could take one step.

The new rule reads, in part: "A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball."

It is believed to be the first time any league, at any level anywhere in the world, has explicitly allowed two steps.

In March, NBA vice president of referee operations Joe Borgia told TrueHoop's Henry Abbott that referees had long been instructed to ignore the rulebook on this point and allow two steps.

On a conference call with reporters earlier this week, NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson told Abbott: "Based on Joe's comments, when you had a conversation with Joe, we did in fact tweak the language on traveling in this year's book."

Enforcement of the one-step rule has been hit-or-miss at every level of basketball. Archival footage shows NBA greats, from Magic Johnson and Pete Maravich to Bob Cousy and Julius Erving, getting away with two steps. Borgia, whose father was also an NBA official, said he cannot remember a time when NBA referees did not allow two steps.

Others insist allowing two steps represents an NBA strategy to aid scorers and make the league more exciting. Legendary point guard and current Knick broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier says the league relaxed traveling standards some time ago to increase scoring.

"They go 20 feet to the hoop without dribbling one time," Frazier said. "This is what they are getting away with nowadays. Some of them are so obvious. You'll hear me on the broadcast saying 'That's a travel! Watch the feet!' Wilt [Chamberlain] would have averaged 100 points a game if they had let him do that.

I don't care if they take two steps; what this signifies is that the league is now going to begin accepting three steps, and soon. Once the standards relax, the game will begin to transform itself. The first time a player takes two and a little more on his way to a nifty, crowd-pleasing clank off the rim, and then gets away with it, the days of NBA players taking three steps are right around the corner.

I disagree with the idea that the greats got away with two steps--they took two steps and didn't get called. Or, one and a half steps and should have gotten called, but didn't. Hey, it all comes down to the refs, and in the NBA, the refs have always been the weakest link.

Fundamentally, you train players not to take that extra step; you train them to play the game so that they won't get called for blatant or foolish violations. And, really, a foul is when you whack someone; a violation of the rules of the game occurs when you travel, double-dribble, or step out of bounds. The NBA doesn't track those kinds of statistics, they just track flagrant fouls or technical fouls.

What incentive does any player have now to play the game by the rules? None. So, I guess we'll see the double-dribble rule fall next?

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