Can You Catch Your Own Airball?

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Anyone who’s ever shot an airball knows there’s a real urge to go catch it again just to help ease the embarrassment or at least to get back on your coach’s good side. However, this instinctive move brings us to an interesting question – can you catch your own airball?

It’s a question that’s led to plenty of arguments on the hardcourt, with some players arguing that it’s a legal play while others claim it’s a traveling violation. So, who’s right in this particular debate?

The answer can be surprisingly complicated. So, in this article, we’ll talk about what constitutes an airball, why it happens, and how different leagues treat it differently. We’ll also specifically detail the NBA rules about airball.

What is an Airball?What is an Airball?

In the simplest terms, an airball is a field goal attempt that fails to make contact with the rim or the backboard. This means the shot was either too weak that it didn’t reach the rim or too strong that it went past the rim completely, especially if you shot from the baseline. You can also airball by shooting too far to either side of the basket.

Whatever airball type you shoot, it can be quite humiliating for any player, especially if it’s a wide-open shot or a layup. In some cases, shooting an airball can be so confidence-deflating that coaches feel it necessary to pull players out of the game to recover their composure.

Why Airballs Happen?Why Airballs Happen?

Airballs are uncommon at the professional and collegiate levels, but they still occur from time to time. However, this can be a common occurrence on amateur and pick-up basketball courts, especially if players are new to the sport or just coming back to it after a long hiatus.

Mechanically, airballs happen when shots are either too weak or too strong. This can be influenced by factors such as:

Bad Shooting Form – For some players, airballs are the consequence of bad shooting form. Remember Joakim Noah? He’s a high-energy center known for having an awkward jump shot. And because of his problematic shot mechanics, he’s also thrown some of the worst airballs in the NBA.

Tight Defense – When a defender aggressively closes out on a shooter, it forces him to make a quick decision. This type of defense prevents him from setting his feet and squaring his shoulders with the basket, leading to a horrifically miscalibrated shot, which can increase the likelihood of bad misses and airballs.

Long Range – Especially when either the shot clock or the game clock is about to expire, players may be tempted to shoot beyond their normal range. This may lead to an airball because it’s not part of what certain shooters normally practice.

Clutch Pressure – Aside from defensive pressure, another kind of pressure can make a player shoot airballs. Crucial moments of the game, for example, can also put pressure on a player, leading him to overthink and ruin his shot consistency and rhythm. In this case, even Kevin Durant isn’t safe from the dreaded airball.

Lack of Focus – Sometimes, there are no external factors to airballs, just a simple lack of focus. As is the case in many airballed layups in the NBA. Player fatigue and nerves could also distract players from executing their ideal shooting mechanics, resulting in an airball.

Is Catching Your Own Airball Allowed in BasketballIs Catching Your Own Airball Allowed in Basketball?

Most of the time, airballs get rebounded either by the shooter’s teammate or the defense. However, there are times when the shooter himself is in the best position to recover the shot. So, what happens when a player shoots, follows his shot, and plucks it out of the air before it hits anything?

FIBA, NCAA, and NFHS Rules

The short answer is it depends on the league. In FIBA- and NCAA-sanctioned leagues, for example, the guiding principle is that the shooter has technically lost control of the ball once he shoots it; therefore, catching it again would not constitute a violation.

However, there’s a caveat in that officials must first recognize the shot to be a legitimate field goal attempt and not a trick play designed to circumvent the rules around the traveling violation. So, a player airballing a layup may have to do more to convince referees that it was a legitimate shot attempt versus a shooter trying to make a long jumper.

Rec Leagues

Most Recreational Leagues typically follow the FIBA ruleset. This means catching your airball does not constitute a violation. However, some leagues may decide to adhere to NBA rules, so it can be on a league-to-league basis. If you are unsure of the rules of your particular league, it is best to ask the league organizer or referee before the game begins.


It isn’t the same case in the big leagues as the NBA Rule No. 10 Section XIII states, “A player who attempts a field goal may not be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the backboard, basket ring or another player.”

This means that if a player gets to his airball before anyone else, it’s an automatic traveling violation. This is because the NBA recognizes that a ball in the air after a shot attempt is technically still in the shooter’s possession. Therefore, if he catches it again, it should constitute a traveling violation.

Pickup Games

In pickup games, on the other hand, the rules are not as clear-cut. Since these games are typically played without officials and depend entirely on the players’ understanding of the rules, there is bound to be some disagreement on whether it’s a violation or not. Some players may be more familiar with the NBA rules, while others may be more in tune with FIBA or NCAA rules.

Is Catching an Airball Considered a Rebound in the NBAIs Catching an Airball Considered a Rebound in the NBA?

In the NCAA, FIBA, and NFHS that allow players to catch their own airballs, catching one’s own airball is considered a rebound. This is still based upon the principle that once players release the shot, the shooter is no longer in possession of the basketball.

The NBA, on the other hand, does not allow its players to catch their own airballs. Therefore, players who get to their airballs first do not get to record it as a rebound. Instead, they’ll be recorded as turnovers as it’s considered a traveling violation.

Wrapping Things Up: Can You Catch Your Own Airball?

Whether it’s in the NBA or in the high school ranks, tracking your own missed shot and getting the rebound can be a great way to make up for the error. It’ll help get team morale up and keep coaches appeased by your hustle.

However, going after the rebound after an airball can be pretty tricky. While it’s perfectly legal to do so in Rec Leagues, NFHS, NCAA, or FIBA, you still have to convince officials that you’re genuinely going for a field goal attempt, not a disguised attempt to circumvent the traveling violation.

NBA rules about airballs, however, is very different as it’s specifically mentioned that shooters can’t be the first to the ball after an airball. This means that if you’re going to chase your shot after an airball, it’s best to let other players touch the ball first before grabbing the rebound.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

> What is a No-Look Pass in Basketball? Who Popularized It?

> Why Do Basketball Players Dribble Between Their Legs?

> Can Basketball Games End in a Tie?

> Who Made the Finger Roll Layup Famous?

> How to Play Perimeter Defense in Basketball?

> What are Offensive Fouls in Basketball?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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