Rules for the New NBA Fan



The NBA finals are here! It’s a very exciting time of year, when even non-basketball fans start watching games. In the interest of increasing one’s enjoyment of the game, and helping you look smart in front of your bro-ier friends, here’s a guide to the rule and lingo of basketball.

Free throw: Worth one point. Regardless of whether or not the shooter makes his free throws, everyone on his team must congratulate him by slapping hands, as basketball players need encouragement to shoot an undefended fifteen-footer.

Michael Jordan: Not in the NBA finals
  • Michael Jordan: Not in the NBA finals
Three-pointer: Any shot from behind the three-point line is worth three points. You do not get extra points if you shoot from half-court or farther back. Contrary to appearances, you still get the points even if you don’t hold your follow-through, hold up three fingers, or point to the opposing bench.

25-pointer: This only exists in Rock-n-Jock basketball, much to the dismay of Dan Cortese.

Traveling: Unlike high school and college basketball, NBA players are allowed to take two steps without dribbling the ball. Three if you subsequently dunk. Three-and-a-half if you are LeBron James or Kevin Durant. If you want to sound like a real basketball expert (or like my dad) say, “They never call traveling anymore!” every ten minutes — even though there hasn’t been a traveling call in the NBA finals since 2002 (Game 3, 2nd quarter, Todd MacCulloch).

Double dribble: A player cannot dribble the basketball with both hands, nor car can he stop dribbling, hold the ball, and then start dribbling again. If you have picked up your dribble and want to keep moving, you might as well just travel.

Foul: If you hit a guy with the ball, it’s a foul. If you hit a guy without the ball really hard, it’s a foul. If you breathe on James Harden or Dwyane Wade, it’s a foul. If the dude you fouled is shooting, he gets two free throws. If the dude is not shooting, his team gets a throw-in. The great thing about fouls is that if your team loses, you can blame the loss on too many foul calls OR too few foul calls. NBA action is FAN-tastic.

Technical Foul: This is a foul assessed for swearing or fighting. It is NOT a foul delivered by a player who went to DeVry. A technical gives the other team one free throw. Two technicals on one player means he’s kicked out of the game, which is the opposite of getting away on a technicality.

And-one: When a player gets fouled but still makes the shot, he gets an additional free throw. AND1 is a shoe company that sponsors a streetball tour, ironically a style of basketball that features very few foul calls and even fewer and-ones.

Charging Foul: Running into a dude who is standing still, as long as the dude falls on his back and pretends to be hurt.

Blocking Foul: The flipside of a charge. Blocking is when you get in a guy’s way if you aren’t standing still, or if you don’t look sufficiently traumatized by the contact to draw a charge.

Cock-blocking: Technically, this is only a party foul.

The Paint: The “paint” is the rectangular area closest to the basket. It’s also known as the “key.” The “lane” is the path to the basket that goes through the key. The area beyond the three-point line is called “downtown,” and perhaps that’s why the basket area is described with terms you’d use for suburban home design. The restricted area under the basket will be known as the “cul-de-sac” in a few years, mark my words.

Three Seconds: This does not refer to how long a concession stand hot dog can rest on the arena floor and still be edible (although it should). On offense, you can’t stay in the paint for longer than three seconds without leaving and re-entering. The same holds true for defense.

Goaltending: On defense, you can only block a shot when it is on the way up. You can’t block a shot if it has already hit the backboard, and you can’t hit the basket or pull on the net. On offense, you can’t touch the ball if it is above the rim, unless it leads to a super awesome dunk. However, you CAN watch the Tupac Shakur-Marlon Wayans classic Above The Rim on Netflix Streaming. Goaltending should not be confusing with goalkeeping, which is perfectly legal in the Euro 2012 tournament. Serge Ibaka of the Thunder is really good at both.

Blocked Shots: A blocked shot is also called a stuff, a pack, and a rejection. Mild-mannered players, much like their basketball blogger counterparts, often exhibit a profound fear of rejection.

Shot Clock: On offense, a team has 24 seconds to shoot the basketball or they have to give it back to their opponents. They don’t have to score in those 24 seconds, but they have to at least hit the rim. “At least hit the rim” is also a good credo for men peeing in a public restroom. Much like closing time at a bar, the clock winding down can lead to ill-advised shots.

Backcourt: There is a line spanning the basketball court at the halfway point, called the half-court line. It’s as if the opposing teams are feuding siblings, dividing their shared room down the middle. A team has eight seconds to bring the ball across the half-court line. Once they do, they cannot return to the backcourt, or the other team gets the ball, and they are grounded for a week with no phone privileges.

Esteemed Express sports correspondent Sean Keane makes funny jokes in real life, too. Catch him at The Business every Wednesday, the Sacramento Punch Line this weekend, or on the internet whenever you damn well please.