What is a Travel Violation in Basketball?

A traveling violation is one of the first rules many people learn when they start playing basketball. This penalty occurs when a player holds the ball and illegally moves their feet. This penalty encourages control of the ball through dribbling and is essential to maintaining effective movement in basketball.


So, how many steps occur that result in a basketball travel violation? Are 3 steps a travel in basketball? What is the difference between a travel and a carry? How do NBA refs decide if a play is a travel or not? What is the penalty for creating a travel in a basketball game? Are there any criticism on travel calls? Is the NBA doing anything about the lack of travel calls in games?


Here is the complete guide to what a travel is in basketball.


How Many Steps is a Travel Violation?

how many steps is a travel violation

Generally speaking, a travel foul occurs when a player takes more than two steps without dribbling the ball. The player can move independently as long as they continue to dribble. If the player comes to a complete stop, either the left or right foot may become the pivot foot. Typically, the first foot that comes off the ground can move while the other stays planted.


However, during a basketball game, players might take three steps on offensive plays without dribbling. For example, a player might take three steps to dunk from a pass from their teammate due to their forward momentum. While this is technically a travel violation, it comes down to the referee’s discretion on what is happening in the game.


A referee wants to keep the flow of the game moving, so they sometimes let this travel violation slide in the example above. However, they do have the right to call this a travel violation if it blatantly takes advantage of the three-step rule.


Is 3 Steps a Travel in Basketball?

Is 3 Steps a Travel in Basketball

In the NBA, WNBA, college basketball, and so on, taking three steps without dribbling will result in a travel violation. However, one thing to remember is that a player can use their pivot foot and move around without resulting in a travel. For example, a basketball player can dribble with the ball, stop, pivot a few times, and then pass or shoot the ball. That pivot movement with their foot won’t result in a travel even though they are taking additional steps.


What is the Difference Between a Travel and a Carry?

What is the Difference Between a Travel and a Carry

A carry can result in a travel call in a basketball game. For example, if a player is dribbling with the ball up the court, they have their hand at the top of the ball. However, if they put their dribbling hand under the ball while moving with it, it will result in a travel violation. If a player puts their hand under the ball, they must either pass or shoot it since dribbling again will result in a travel violation.


How Do NBA Referees Decide What’s a Travel?

how do nba referees decide what is a travel

Almost all basketball leagues have traveling rules from NFHS (high school basketball’s governing body) to the NCAA, NBA, and FIBA. Many of these regulations are similar and set up rules for establishing a pivot foot, allowing players to set position by moving one foot while keeping the other stationary. These rules place an illegal movement of the pivot foot, which might trigger a travel violation.


If a player receives a pass while moving, they may take one gather step before taking the two steps used to evaluate a travel call. A gather’s definition is any time a player takes control of a loose ball (which can be in the process of a pass, a bounce, or rebound, for example.) While gathering the ball, the player can touch the ball with both hands.


After gathering the ball, the player can take a first and second step before attempting a field goal or relinquishing possession of the ball. The NBA rule book also dictates who can touch the ball after a field goal attempt. For example, a player who shoots the ball cannot be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the hoop, backboard, or another player (this is also called an airball.) If they do, they may receive a traveling call.


What is the Penalty for a Traveling Infraction in Basketball

What is the Penalty for a Traveling Infraction in Basketball

The NFHS and NCAA have different penalties for traveling than the NBA. In lower leagues, traveling results in a dead-ball foul. The opposing basketball team then inbounds the ball from out of bounds closest to where the traveling foul occurred.


When an offensive player commits a traveling foul in the NBA, the opposing team gets the ball. However, there are limits to where the team can receive the ball. NBA rules specify that a team can receive the ball no closer to the baseline than the free-throw line.


Critics of Traveling in the NBA

Critics of Traveling in the NBA

Fans routinely look at James Harden as a critical example of how lenient NBA referees are regarding traveling calls. Harden consistently comes to a jump stop just inside the three-point line. Basketball rules dictate that at this time, Harden should pass or take a shot.


Instead, he takes two steps back to post a three-point shot. Harden has become so well known for this routine that it’s become known as the “Harden step back.”


Outside of James Harden, many critics of the NBA believe that traveling violations are under-called by officials across the board. Under-calling this rule is generally made to help maintain the flow of the game. However, the lack of travel calls in the NBA often puts professional players at a disadvantage when they play overseas or in international competitions.


What is the NBA Doing About the Travel Criticism?

what is the nba doing about the travel criticism

Because of this criticism, the NBA has made several rule changes to its traveling rules to increase how often it’s called. These changes are an attempt to make the regulations more apparent and improve the accuracy of calls. The league made an update to the rule before the 2019-2020 season. However, that clarification maintained that deciding a travel call is still up to referee discretion, which can be frustrating to some fans who think the foul is under-called.


Conclusion: What is a Travel Violation in Basketball?

In summary, a travel call in basketball occurs when a player holds the ball and illegally moves their feet. However, there is some debate as to how often this call actually occurs during an NBA game. Regardless, fans and players should still understand the concept of a travel call during a game to understand when it happens, and more importantly, when it is and is not issued against a player.


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