Seems like every basketball discussion these days centers around James Harden. Is he traveling, isn’t he traveling? Is it act of shooting, or, not act of shooting? Did he gather, or didn’t he gather?
Players have gotten real smart in the last few years reading defenders when they are about to foul and then trying to get themselves into an act of shooting situation when the contact comes. Harden isn’t the only one: he’s probably just the best of them – and the most difficult to officiate.
Defining the Gather
We are all familiar by now with the NBA traveling rule – which became also the FIBA traveling rule in 2018 (FIBA Rulebook Art. 25.2.1 for you connoisseurs). So, when we talk about traveling in the NBA or in international basketball, the terminology might be somewhat different, but it’s all the same. What the NBA added during this past summer is a definition of the “gather,” which it did not have previously. Check out this Harden 3-point shot:
This is a typical – and in this case, legal – Harden move. He gathers (completes) his dribble on his left foot (the “0” step) and then steps back with his right (the “1” or pivot foot) and then steps again with his left foot (“2”) and shoots.
The English is Clear – But Try Judging in Real Time
It’s all “clear” in terms of English language, but judging the play in real time is something different. Read this part of the new gather rule and then you try to decide if these are act of shooting situations or not: “For a player who is in control of the ball while dribbling, the gather is defined as the point where a player does any one of the following…(3) Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.” Now, you be the referee…
Or, what about this one?
Both of these – based on the wording of the new NBA gather rule – look like act of shooting fouls to me.
Occasionally, as Monty McCutchen, the NBA V-P for Referee Development and Training points out, Harden gets it wrong. “He gets a third step in every now and then when his rhythm is just off, which shows you the highlight of how difficult it is.” The following is an example of what McCutchen has in mind: Harden gathers on his left (“0”), and then jumps again to his left foot (that’s already illegal – jumping on to the same foot), steps back with his right and then again brings back the left foot and then releases. So, it’s a l-l-r-l move – and patently illegal. But again, try seeing that in real time!
As these athletes just get faster, stronger and more clever – it turns out that they read the rulebook, too! – they become that much more difficult to officiate. It takes a lot of training, a lot of video and a lot of game experience to keep up with them.