Like any sport, basketball has a long set of rules to be followed. There are rules on fouls and violations, and to legally continue to play, you have to act in accordance with them. One of the most frequent violations that a basketball player commits is “traveling,” or simply “travel.” What is a travel in basketball? How many steps is a travel in basketball? Let’s find out.
What Does Traveling in Basketball Mean?
In basketball, traveling is a violation a player commits when he has taken too many steps without a live dribble. A player can take two steps after picking up his dribble and could not take a third; otherwise, he will be called for a traveling violation. It sounds simple enough, but there are actually a lot of nuances in this rule.
For example, a traveling violation is also called if a player lifts his pivot foot after receiving the ball. To understand the complexities of this rule, you must know what a pivot foot is. In basketball, the pivot foot is the foot that should remain stationary when pivoting or turning. After catching or receiving the ball, a player always establishes a pivot foot. He may only lift that pivot foot when shooting or passing. Otherwise, lifting the pivot foot is called a travel.
Again, these things are not always black and white and may involve further complications. Players may encounter situations in-game that require constant awareness regarding the pivot and the number of steps they take. For instance, if a player catches the ball with two feet firmly on the ground, either of his feet can be established as a pivot foot. When a player receives the ball in the air, the foot that touches the ground first is automatically his pivot foot.
The pivot foot may only be moved when passing or shooting. However, the ball should be released first before the pivot foot lands on the ground to avoid a travel. When a player is about to dribble, he may also move his pivot foot after the ball is released.
What are the Rules of Traveling in Basketball?
The traveling rules in basketball revolve around the number of steps a player takes and the movement of the pivot foot. When a player picks up his dribble, he may only take a maximum of two steps. If he takes a third, that will result in a traveling violation. A travel will also be called if a player lifts his pivot foot without dribbling, shooting, or passing.
Other situations may also result in a traveling violation. For example, if a player slips up while dribbling, it’s a travel. On the other hand, if a player looking to retrieve a lose ball dives and slides to the ground, he may do so without getting called for a travel.
Therefore, a traveling violation may be called if you do one of these things:
- Taking three steps after picking up the dribble
- Lifting the pivot feet before the ball is released (when passing, shooting, or dribbling)
- Switching pivot foot
- Taking a step before dribbling after standing still
- Catching your own airball
- Jumping up and down with the ball not being released
- Taking two steps after a jump stop (a jump stop is already considered one step)
- Sliding and rolling with the ball after initially losing control of it
- Lifting the pivot feet while using a jab step
How the NBA Calls Traveling Violations
The NBA is not very strict in implementing traveling violations, although their rule book has clear rules. It is rare for the referees to whistle for a travel unless it’s blatant. Here are the NBA rules on traveling, loosely defined:
1. When a player receives the ball while standing still, he may use either foot as a pivot foot. However, he cannot take a step without dribbling first.
2. When a player is in the process of dribbling and comes to a stop, he may only take a maximum of two steps before he may shoot or pass. This is the rule that NBA refs ignore the most, possibly because of the quickness of the players that it’s difficult to call it in the middle of game action.
3. If a player receives the ball while advancing, he must put the ball on the floor before taking a second step. Again, NBA players are generally speedsters that it’s hard to pin them down for this.
How Many Steps is Considered a Travel in Basketball?
The rule of thumb is three, but as repeatedly pointed out in the previous sections, the rules on traveling violations are pretty complex. Even if a player has not taken a step but switched pivot feet or lifted it, it could warrant a traveling call from the referees.
The traveling violation is one of the reasons why footwork is paramount in basketball. There are so many ways that players could commit a travel and most of them may not be even aware of it. That’s because, at times, it’s hard to control your body’s movements when you make split-second decisions.
Is the Stepback a Travel?
The stepback jumper is a move popularized by NBA superstar James Harden. It is very effective in creating space so he can launch a jumper. But the move, especially when pulled off by Harden, begs the question, “Is that legal?”
The answer is, yes, the stepback is a legal move and not a travel. The NBA itself replied to a tweet by Bleacher Report asking if Harden did travel. The league explained: “This is a legal play. Although James puts the ball behind his back, he only takes two steps after the gather of the ball and therefore, it is NOT a travel.”
What the NBA is referring two is Rule 10, Section XIII of the rulebook, which says: “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.”
5 Examples of Traveling in Basketball
Here are 5 examples of traveling in basketball, with videos:
1. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook completely lost himself here, taking as much as six steps before even dribbling.
2. LeBron James
You can find so many uncalled traveling violations by LeBron on YouTube, but play #3 on this countdown was actually called by the refs. James did a jab step to the left and then quickly darted to his right. Unfortunately, he took two steps before putting the ball on the floor.
3. Kendrick Perkins
This one was not whistled, but the legendary 9-step travel by Kendrick Perkins is a prime example of lifting the pivot foot. Any way you look at it, it’s a travel.
4. Steph Curry
Curry did the double-stepback here and therefore, took four steps, before releasing the ball for a shot. Needless to say, it’s a travel.
5. Dwight Howard
Sometimes, the refs allow three steps in a breakaway situation like this, but Howard literally took it a step further. It’s unfortunate because it was a pretty play by D12.
Wrapping Things Up: How Many Steps is a Travel in Basketball?
In basketball, traveling is a violation called if a player takes too many steps. A player is allowed up to two legal steps after a gather step in basketball in most situations. If he takes the third step, he is most likely called for a travel.
However, the traveling rules in basketball could get more complicated than that. For example, switching or lifting a pivot foot is a travel. From a triple-threat position, if a player takes a jab step with one foot and then takes a step using the other, that’s usually a travel. Sliding and rolling on the court while holding the basketball is also a traveling violation.
But then again, you can bend the rules in your favor to gain an edge. For example, James Harden’s stepback is often a subject of debate whether it’s a travel or not. It is actually a legal move, taking advantage of the NBA rule book. In essence, the rule says that a player can take two steps after a gather dribble. Harden often stretches this rule in his favor, but his usual stepbacks are legal and not traveling violations based solely on this rule.
So, what do we know about how many steps is a travel in basketball? The rule of thumb is three. After that, you need to remember about your pivot foot. If you change your pivot foot, that’s an obvious travel. You may lift your pivot foot in certain situations, such as passing or shooting, but before you land, you must release the ball. Otherwise, it will result in a travel. Take note of the basics, and you can avoid constant traveling violation calls.
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