Let’s set the stage. The Los Angeles Lakers are up two in the Game 7 of the NBA Finals, 15 seconds left in the game. LeBron James jogs back down the court to play the most important defensive possession of the season and before the other team can get past midcourt he wipes the bottom of the shoes with his hands.
Why? Did LeBron step in some gum on the way back down the court? Is he making sure that his sneakers aren’t falling apart a la Zion Williamson with the Duke Blue Devils? Is he just doing so out of pure habit to try and intimidate the other team?
The answer is none of the above. If you are a frequent basketball viewer then you know that this is not an uncommon thing, whether it be the pros or at the pick-up game at your local rec center. But why? Why are these players rubbing the bottom of their shoes? Let’s break it down.
Does Wiping the Bottoms of Your Shoes Help in Basketball?
The quick answer is yes, wiping the bottom of your shoes while playing basketball helps. We would not see so many pro basketball players, or rec center players for that matter, wiping the bottom of their shoes if it did not help in some way.
However, some people that do it might not even know how it helps, and that is why we are here to answer the age-old question: what exactly does wiping your shoes in basketball help?
Most notably, wiping the bottom of your basketball shoes helps gain traction on the court, however, it can also help your hands as well, especially if you are a victim of sweaty palms while playing.
How Does Wiping Your Shoes Increase Traction on the Basketball Court?
There isn’t an overly-scientific answer to this equation. There is no chemical reaction between your palms and the rubber of the shoes that increases the traction of your shoes. Simply put, by wiping the bottom of your basketball shoes you are wiping away any debris that might be impeding your traction in the first place.
If you just purchased a brand new pair of basketball shoes and are wiping the bottoms before you even put the shoe on it is not going to do anything. You are not doing anything to help increase the traction of the rubber — the shoes are already designed in such a way to maximize traction.
What you are doing is removing anything that is keeping the shoes from performing at maximum traction. As clean as a hardwood court may look (or concrete for those outside hoopers reading this), there is naturally dirt and dust that collects on the court that can get in between the grooves of your basketball shoes.
A way to make the wipe even more effective is to first apply a small amount of water to your hands to get the debris off of the bottom of the shoe. In some cases, players spit on their hands to achieve this. But don’t worry, as long as you have some good natural sweat you can achieve the same result.
Can Wiping Your Hands on Your Basketball Shoes Help with Sweaty Palms?
Not only does wiping the bottom of your shoes help with sweaty palms, but it also helps with traction as well. As previously stated, getting your hands slightly wet and wiping the bottom of the shoes will help in removing debris from the rubber and sweaty palms are the perfect source of that wetness.
It goes both ways, though. By using your sweaty palms to wipe the bottom of your shoes, you are also going to leave some of that sweat behind on the shoe and improve your handles. It is a quick and easy way of keeping hands dry.
But get this — that dust that you are trying to remove from the bottom of your shoes has to go somewhere. That same dust that can hurt the traction of the basketball shoes helps a sweaty palm in terms of gripping the basketball. So by doing this, players are turning a double-negative into a double-positive.
Is Wiping the Bottom of Your Shoes a Good or Bad Habit in Basketball?
Whether something is good or bad is completely subjective and depends on how seriously you take the game of basketball as well as your hygiene.
This is an unsanitary practice in its essence as you are wiping the dust that collects on the bottom of your shoes on your hand, and from there, it can transfer to your face or other body parts if you are not careful.
But in that same vein, the ball that is being bounced on the same court is going to be collecting that same debris. We have all seen how black our hands can get after a game of basketball on concrete without wiping the bottom of the shoes.
As long as we pay attention to our hands and do not rub our eyes or mouths while playing then there should not be any sort of issue. Then, in-between games and after, it would be helpful to either wash your hands or apply hand sanitizer, at the very least.
That is the only way that it could be a bad habit. In terms of being a good habit, it is something that could impact your performance and if you are prone to slipping or struggling with grip on the court, then a simple swipe of the sole could be a great habit to fix these wrongs.
Who are Some Popular NBA Players Who Wipe Their Shoes During Games?
It is probably harder to compile a list of popular NBA players that do not touch the bottom of their shoes during an NBA game. If you turn on any NBA game you will likely see at least one player wiping the bottom of their basketball shoes, so a simple answer to this is “pretty much everybody”.
However, some things have been done to try and improve the process. Slipp-Nott is a sports traction pad that was created in the early 2000s to be a more efficient way to wipe the dust and debris off the bottom of basketball shoes.
Slipp-Nott and similar products have become pretty popular as players simply have to step on the pad and wipe the bottom of their shoes on it. However, it has not completely gotten rid of the hand-wiping.
Players cannot call a timeout to go wipe the bottom of their shoes and in intense periods of games, you will see players wiping their shoes either before defensive stands or during free-throw attempts.
Dwyane Wade and Mission Athletics developed a product called Court Grip™ in 2011 that would spray onto the bottom of basketball shoes to help keep debris off and solve this problem.
However, as we have seen in the thousands of NBA games since Wade unveiled this product in 2011, it has not completely stopped the shoe-wiping trend, as it is a simple and quick way to increase traction in the middle of the action.
Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways
There are other alternatives out there if you are overly concerned about getting that dust and debris on your hands during a basketball game. Slipp-Nott and Court Grip™ are two alternatives but do not provide the same quick and easy traction-relief that wiping the bottom of your shoes will provide.
As we have outlined, it is more than just a catchy trend that has taken over NBA games and while rec center players might do it just to mimic their favorite players, it has a purpose and can keep someone from getting crossed over and embarrassed in a game of pick-up.
It is not a game-long solution as the dust and debris will eventually find its way back onto the rubber of your shoes. However, if you are someone that has struggled in finding traction before, make sure you wipe the bottom of your shoes as you head into that crucial final possession with the game on the line.
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