The NBA’s Two Step Traveling Rule Debate – Totally Unnecessary Rule “Change”

November 12, 2009

Read the debate intro, Bleacher Fan’s argument, and Babe Ruthless’ argument.




“Oh won’t you gimme three steps, gimme three steps, Mister, gimme three steps toward the door…”
-Lynyrd Skynyrd

This phrase is part of the chorus from the classic rock song “Gimme Three Steps” by the Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song was released in 1973. Maybe the writers of this song had the2009 NBA season in mind when writing the song! Of course, instead of “door” it should say “gimme three steps toward the basket.”

I must give credit to Babe Ruthless who contributed the first of what we hope will be many articles here on The Sports Debates. I came away very impressed, and it is safe to say Babe Ruthless has passed through the initiation period. Like Babe, the video game NBA Jam was a big part of my life growing up. I would play it first at arcades, and then when it came out on Sega Genesis I was one of the first to buy it! By the way, click on the NBA Jam link above and take a look at the old rosters the game used in its time. That will take you back!

Bleacher Fan wrote that there is no tangible benefit for the NBA in making this rule “change.” You know what? I agree. I am awarding the victory to Bleacher Fan!

I admittedly did not watch a lot of basketball last night due to the CMA Awards, but I did watch bits and pieces of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Orlando Magic game and the Atlanta Hawks New York Knicks game. I saw a couple of instances in both games and from all four teams where players took two steps and no traveling violation was called. The same thing could have happened last season and nothing would have been called. As Bleacher Fan points out, where does it end?

What won the case for Bleacher Fan, however, is the analogy to speeding. Speed limits are set to prohibit speeding, thus the word “limit.” But, most people will still drive 5-10 miles per hour faster than the limit, and chances are they will not get pulled over for it. I drive to work on an interstate every day, as many of you may. The speed limit is 70 MPH, but it is fairly common for Loyal Homer to set my cruise at 80. I have been personally told by a Georgia state trooper that most law enforcement officials will not pull anyone over until hey are 12 MPH or above (some of you do not believe this, I know). I know I can get away with going 80, so I do it. And so do many other drivers. NBA players knew they could get away with two steps before the “rule” change. Perhaps players believe they might be able to get away with three steps. You can bet they will try. We will see how much the NBA enforces it.

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The NBA’s Two Step Traveling Rule Debate – Does it Really Matter?

November 11, 2009

Read the arguments by Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.



Before I begin, let me first welcome our newest colleague and fan persona, Babe Ruthless, to the Sports Debates – a welcome addition to our team. Today will actually be the first article from Babe, so I am looking forward to reading the argument. I also have a feeling that our two personas will have some intense battles over the coming months because they are quite opposite of each other. It should be pretty entertaining!!!

Did you know the NBA had a rule called “traveling?” If you are a fan of the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s or a current fan of the Los Angeles Lakers or the Cleveland Cavaliers, then no, you might not be! But, yes, there is a rule against traveling in the NBA! (Obviously, I am being sarcastic!)

And this season, the wording on “traveling” has been changed. The section of the NBA rulebook dealing with traveling used to allow players to “use a two-count rhythm in coming to a stop.” It has been reworded this season to say players “may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.” The NBA has repeatedly stated that the actual rule has not changed. That is another debate in itself.

The NBA season is just two weeks old so it is a little early to tell if this “rewording” of the rule will have a major affect of the game. The Sports Debates is taking it a little further. We are debating: Is the “new” traveling rule good for the NBA?

Bleacher Fan will argue that the new rule adds very little to the game and that it is not good for the league. Meanwhile, Babe Ruthless, will, in a debut article on The Sports Debates, argue that the new two-step rule is good for the league.

I am very curious to hear both sides of this debate. And, I am even more curious to hear what the fans have to say on this topic. Please comment and give us some feedback. I guarantee that at least one of us will respond to your comments! We always do.

The basketball court is yours, and Babe… it is sink or swim time!

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The NBA’s Two Step Traveling Rule Debate – Gimme Three Steps

November 11, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument that the NBA change to the traveling rule is bad for the game.



In the land of basketball, monster dunks and high flying acrobatics reign supreme. Fans do not watch to admire Kevin Garnett’s bounce passes, Dwight Howard’s ability to set a screen, or Shaquille O’Neal’s free throw mechanics. People watch the NBA waiting for one of these giants to soar over the boards and impose their will on a defense via a dunk that results in earthquake quality aftershocks, or for a player to drive the lane with the intensity of a freight train, take flight, and toss up a shot that seems to alter the laws of physics before sinking through the hoop for two points. Basketball fans anticipate these moments with an intense primal ferocity that is akin to a hungry lion watching a parade of gazelles. The slam dunk brings the same excitement to basketball that the long ball brings to baseball, a good fight brings to hockey, and a multi-car pileup brings to NASCAR. These special moments produce a Zen like euphoria for fans that keep them coming back for more. The NBA would be crazy not to encourage it, and the new two step traveling rule is a step in the right direction (pun intended).

This season NBA players will be allowed to take two full steps without dribbling – one more than previously allowed. NBA players – and for that matter players at every level of the game – have been taking this extra step for years. Even some of the elite players, from Earvin “Magic” Johnson to “Pistol” Pete Maravich, have been caught taking this extra step when approaching the basket. Has it tarnished their legacies? No. Instead it has made the game more exciting and allowed for more creative and memorable moments. Fans are thrilled by the mind-blowing shots players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James seem to pull off every game. I am sure if we scrutinized the highlight reels of todays superstars we would notice an enormous amount of missed traveling calls, but would that make the awesome feats of these legends any less appealing. Again, I say “no.” This rule has given a larger canvas to the hoops artists of the modern era.

This “new” rule is not even “new.” Rather, it recognizes a long standing and informally accepted practice. Even high ranking NBA officials like Joe Borgia the Vice President of Referee Operations have admitted to instructing referees to turn a blind eye to this type of traveling. Officials have a hard enough time imposing the rules of such a fast paced game without having to be martinets enforcing ticky-tack rules. For example, basketball is one of – if not the only sport – where the official must keep a running clock of how long a player is in a certain area of the playing field (e.g. the three second rule), yet they are expected to count player steps, ensure proper dribbling, and watch for fouls all at the same time. It is just too much. Most fans want to see players simply play the game they love. The other option for the NBA is to dehumanize the sport with instant replays and challenges, allowing machines and computers to decide how a GAME is played.

Every sport makes adjustments to accentuate its best aspects. Just as MLB’s decision to lower the pitchers mounds in 1968 resulted in more prolific offensive displays, the decision to formally allow this extra step will open new scoring exhibitions. Some critics of this rule argue that it will allow players to run across the court without dribbling. But, it merely allows one extra step… a final push needed to elevate for more distance, greater height, and new innovative dunks.

Growing up mostly a baseball fan during the 1980s and 1990s, I was indoctrinated into the world of the NBA through video games. In 1993 Midway produced a game that would change my life forever and ignite my passion for both the NBA and the monster dunk – NBA Jam. This video game taught me more than just the phrase “boom-shaka-laka!” It taught me that the most exciting aspects of basketball are massive dunks and backboard breaking slams (á la Shaquille O’Neal). Today, the NBA still needs the slam dunk, but more importantly the league needs it to stay fresh. When the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest turns to costumed theatrics (i.e. Dwight Howard) to stay relevant, then a change needs to be made, and adding this extra step is that change.

Try to imagine this scenario: An epic match up in a pivotal game seven between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. With seven seconds left in the game and both teams out of time outs, the Lakers are up by one point. The Cavaliers have the ball and LeBron James brings it, and his team’s fate, across half court. He checks the clock, considers his options, and decides to drive into the lane. LeBron is met by defenders. He jukes, spins, jumps, and releases the ball with mere fractions of a second left. Millions around the world watch in awe. The entire population of the cities of Los Angeles and Cleveland hold their collective breath. As the ball ascends toward the net the crowd crescendos to a deafening level as history rides on this shot…but WAIT, the sound of the final buzzer is figuratively drowned out by the shrill whistle of an official. “Traveling!” is the call.

No fan wants to see a game end with a traveling call. Lakers fans want to see Ron Artest or Kobe Bryant have the opportunity to swat away the ball and the hopes and dreams of Cleveland. Cavaliers’ fans want to revel in that magic moment when King James’ coronation becomes official and they see him rule not with the scepter but with the ring. No one wants a futile, outdated rule to cheapen such a pivotal moment in the sport.

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The NBA’s Two Step Traveling Rule Debate – It is Not Broken, What Is Being Fixed?

November 11, 2009

Read the debate intro and Babe Ruthless’ argument that the NBA’s rule of allowing a second step to the travelling rule was a value-adding decision.

I do not consider myself a traditionalist or a purist when it comes to sports. I have no problem with rule changes, innovations, or any other variations that may affect the games that I love. To the contrary, I would actually consider myself an advocate for those changes. The only thing I care about is that the administrators and league officials do everything in their power to make the games as entertaining and competitive as possible. If that means allowing base runners in baseball to carry their bats around the bases with the permission to use them in an effort to disrupt potential double-plays, so be it. Just make sure that the change ADDS VALUE to the game being played.

An example of a rule change that I am completely in favor of was the NFL’s recent decision to remove the “push-out” rule. The change, which now requires that a receiver must catch the ball with both feet in-bounds, REGARDLESS of the post-catch contact from a defender, has improved the game. As a result of this rule change, there are fewer questions about subjectivity in the game, with less opportunity for a referee’s opinion to influence the game. That rule change added value.

On the other hand, changing the wording of the rules in the NBA to officially allow players the freedom to take a second step without dribbling adds NO VALUE to basketball.

What is the PROPOSED value of this update to the rules?

It should be noted that this is not actually a change at all. NBA officials have admittedly allowed players to take two steps without dribbling for many years. Common sense dictates that a rule change is called for when an issue has arisen. For example, rule changes that improve player safety or clarify a discrepancy in the current policies. In this case, however, players were ALREADY taking two steps and officials were ALREADY very public in their allowance of that practice.

This situation is like writing an official rule stating that players should wear athletic shoes, rather than sandals, when playing basketball. The practice is already taking place, which leads me to question what the NBA officials and owners hope to gain by formalizing it. There is not any tangible benefit gained by making this change, so why bother in the first place? The only positive outcome is if nothing changes in how the game is played, thereby making the whole update unnecessary. What is more likely is that players will abuse and push the limits of this “new” rule, just as they did the old one.

Give them an inch, and they will take a mile (or at least three steps)!

On the road, many drivers choose to speed, rather than obey the speed limit. In fact, I would be willing to bet that almost EVERY driver has gotten upset at least once because they were stuck behind someone following the law. The proper way to address the problem of speeding on the roads, though, is NOT to raise the speed limit. It is foolish to assume that an increase in the speed limit results in less speeding. Instead, it will encourage drivers to only push the limit further. It does not matter WHAT the speed limit is, because most people will drive 5-10 miles per hour faster REGARDLESS of where it is set.

Likewise, how long will it be before referees begin allowing ANOTHER step, on top of the additional one that is now permitted by this new rule? Players were by rule permitted only one step, but referees allowed for a second if it was part of a continuous motion to the basket. Now that a full second step is permissible by rule, what is to stop a player from taking those two full steps on top of a third step that is “really just part of the continuous motion to the basket?” The reason this rule is in place is because officials did not enforce the old rule, and players took advantage of it. Why should this new rule be any different? Players will test the limits, and we will soon see the players sprinting to the hoop from the three-point line without ever putting the ball on the ground.

This so-called rule update was a mistake by the NBA. It does not resolve any problems that would have previously existed in the league, and it does not improve the presentation of the game in any way. Instead, it only changes the problem, allowing players to continue to push the limits of the travelling rules. It is foolish to expect that the officials will suddenly enforce this new rule when they had never enforced the previous version. At best, this was a waste of time and energy that will affect no change whatsoever. At worst, this will open the door to increased abuse and further violation of rules that will not be properly enforced.

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