The NBA has decided it is going to attempt to clarify its traveling rules very soon but the rules haven’t changed – the league is just going to attempt to further explain a rule that seems to be different than what’s called a travel at all other levels of basketball.
At the heart of the matter is what the league calls “the gather” – the time when a player finishes his dribble and begins a drive to the basket. The NBA allows players to gather the ball before its referees begin to count that player’s steps. The result is a situation like this, which appears to everybody who has ever played the game as a flagrant travel – but isn’t by NBA rule.
The league’s long and lean players are taking advantage of this rule, of course. They move so fast that very often humans can’t really ascertain in real time when the “gather” ends and the dribble should begin. Combine that with the league’s desire to keep its game moving and not clutter it with too many whistles and you get some uncalled travels. And then, of course, there’s the James Harden step-back move, which has become controversial because he certainly appears to be traveling before shooting.
My personal definition has always had to do with keeping track of a player’s pivot foot. As you shoot or pass, you’re allowed to lift that foot and as long as it doesn’t hit the ground before you unload the ball. That’s not traveling, at any level of basketball. It’s why young players are taught to jump stop – land on both feet at the same time – so that they can use either foot as their pivot foot.
Beyond that -- in spite of the NBA’s explanation of its “gather” – it’s still a mystery to me in the NBA. It’s so difficult to find that “gather” that I’ve given up. And I’m sticking to the opinion I’ve had since 2009, when I first heard about this gather thing – it’s just something the NBA made up to justify some of its players taking an extra step.