Have Ball, Will Travel: Dirk Nowitzki

In this installment, we’ll take a look at a wide-open transition opportunity for Dirk Nowitzki during the Dallas Mavericks’ game against the Utah Jazz.

In full disclosure: I originally pulled this clip as an example of a blatant travel that the officiating crew missed. Dirk’s break to the bucket looks like a four-step move, a laughably missed violation. However, slow down the film and things get a bit murkier. How you read this play likely depends on how you interpret the collect/gather rule in the NBA, but if we’re going by the book, Nowitzki actually skirts free of a travel.

I think the rulebook is actually rather explicit on this point: “The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.” (Ed. note: Emphasis mine.) Gaining control of the ball is the textual equivalent of a gather, which means that steps taken during the gather are not a part of the traveling count. Every player is entitled two steps after gaining control of the ball, and in this clip you can see that Dirk really only takes two steps after his gather.

The first of what I originally perceived as four steps isn’t a step at all; the ball isn’t even in Nowitzki’s hands. The second would be the common interpretation of a gather step, seeing as he doesn’t seem to have control of the ball in his hands before planting that particular foot. Then, the final two paces are those allotted by NBA rules for any player on the move with the ball.

It’s awkward as hell, and at full speed, I’m not sure how anyone could have made that determination; I’m more inclined to think that the refs just let this one go as an uncontested fast break than believe that they made this kind of read on the play. Still, if we entitle players to a collect step (hint: we do) by way of video precedent and the rulebook, this is — somehow — a perfectly legal sequence.

Seth Carstens