Have Ball, Will Travel: Manu Ginobili

In today’s Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll take a closer look at a pretty controversial play: Manu Ginobili’s game-winning jumper from Wednesday night’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Strange things are afoot at the AT&T Center. Ginobili has always had a certain awkwardness to his game, and his unorthodox style is part of what makes him such a difficult cover. It also has led to more than a few missed calls and false traveling positives; Ginobili’s bizarre rhythm makes him a referee’s worst nightmare.

Understandably, this particular play led to widespread declarations across the Twitterverse that Ginobili had duped the officiating crew, committed what many considered to be an obvious traveling violation, and stolen a win in the process. Among them was Brett Pollakoff of NBA FanHouse:

As Ginobili drove left — which he always does, you know, considering the fact he’s left-handed — he planted both feet, then lifted both feet to step back to take the game-winning jumper, and landed before elevating to do so. There’s no way that isn’t a travel.

At first glance, I agreed with Brett. Ginobili seems to take two steps before going into his  jump stop, which would certainly constitute a travel. However, a closer look at the clip reveals that Manu’s play was actually a completely legal maneuver.

The errors in judgment primarily seem to stem from a plant of Ginobili’s right foot just prior to his step-back and jump stop. While viewing the play from the original broadcast angle at full speed, it indeed appears that Ginobili picks up his dribble before planting that right foot. But if we view the play from another angle, it’s clear that when Manu plants his right foot in what many are counting as his “first” step, the ball isn’t even in his hand. This step isn’t a step at all, at least not for the purposes of any kind of violation. Instead, Ginobili’s step count triggers as soon as he’s gathered and gained control of the ball, which occurs after the right foot has already been planted.

According to the NBA Rulebook, “The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.” Thus, Ginobili’s step-back (with his left foot, prior to the jump stop) is his actual first step. The rulebook also states that “a progressing player who jumps off one foot on the first step may land with both feet simultaneously for the second step.” Ginobili does just that, and gives us a fine example of a perfectly legal jump stop. He jumps immediately afterward to fire up the game-winner, which means for those counting at home, the entire sequence consisted of a rulebook-entitled two steps.

Seth Carstens