In this installment of Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll take a LeBron James’ go-ahead drive with 48 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 4 between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. (Side note: Coincidentally, the play that spawned this very series occurred a little over a year ago, and involved both LeBron and the Celtics.)
There are essentially two ways to interpret LeBron James’ drive to the rim, and both of them should result in a violation; LeBron either took a gather step and then three subsequent steps on his drive, or he took a horrible jump stop (that would have been an automatic travel in itself) before pivoting out of that jump stop to create another potential violation. I’ll give LeBron the benefit of the doubt and assume that he only traveled once in this case.
It’s hard to say why the officials swallowed their whistles on this play, other than the fact that it was a late-game possession. These situations generally seem to come with traveling immunity, even when the violation is as blatant as it is on this particular play. Otherwise, I’m honestly not sure what possible interpretation of the rule would make this sequence legal; James is entitled a “free” step as he gathers his dribble, but he takes three full steps (the last of which is crystallized when he turns it into his pivot foot to maneuver for a better shot) afterward when he’s only entitled two.
For reference, here is the exact wording of the relevant (and most well-known) portion of the traveling rule:
“A player who receives the ballâ€¦upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.”
Considering the attention paid to every score and non-score at the tail end of a close game, a call like this won’t reflect too well on the officiating staff. It’s one missed call, sure, but also a fairly obvious one that couldn’t have come at a worse possible time; the public attention to detail is at its peak in such moments, and accurate officiating is never in higher demand.