FanPost

Watching James Harden Tonight Brought an Epiphany: Let's Just Abolish the Traveling Rule


Once upon a time in the NBA, a player was allowed 1 1/2 steps without dribbling before getting called for traveling. The rule was easy to interpret and enforce: once you established, then lifted, your pivot foot, you had to get rid of the ball before re-planting that foot.

Then, in the NBA's infinite wisdom, it elected to stop calling traveling when players took an extra half-step while driving to the hoop. (I first noticed this phenomenon towards the end of Magic Johnson's career.) Fans liked to see spectacular drives and dunks, and loosening the traveling rule encouraged those fan-pleasing plays. Problem was, the effect was similar to Major League baseball's decision to turn a blind eye to steroid use in the interests of increasing the number of fan-pleasing home runs. Namely, the game was cheapened.

Now, it's gotten to the point of absurdity. Enforcement of traveling on drives to the hoop is practically non-existent. Some guys--mainly veterans--still more or less adhere to the old rule. But others pick up the ball around the foul line--or even at the top of the key--and simply run to the hoop with it. Every once in awhile an official will suffer a brain freeze and call traveling--at which the offending player will register shock & disbelief. But those calls are so rare now that opportunistic players aren't fazed: they go right on waltzing to the hoop, knowing that the huge advantage gained is worth the occasional turnover.

James Harden is a case in point. Last night vs the Blazers, he traveled EVERY SINGLE TIME he drove to the hoop. And these weren't borderline offenses: he was taking three and four steps before shooting and/or getting hacked. He also palmed the ball continually. Yet Harden wasn't whistled for these blatant violations a single time. Au contraire, his helpless defenders were called for fouls when he'd run into them! I truly believe that Harden--as smart as he is talented--studied traveling innovator Manu Ginobli and figured, "if he gets away with it, maybe I can too."

Which leads me to the epiphany I experienced watching Harden last night. Why not just abolish the traveling rule altogether on drives to the hoop? Just say that once a player enters the paint--or gets within six feet of the side of the key (a new dotted line could be drawn on the court for the purpose), he's allowed to take as many steps as he pleases before shooting or passing. "Jump steps"? Sure, take a couple of those too.

I'm serious. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The league isn't going to start enforcing the old rule, and the new rule is beyond vague (supposedly, the refs are counting "beats" after the player picks up his dribble). Let's just let guys pick up the ball, tuck it under their arms, and run to the hoop like running backs. That's what's happening anyway.

Make sense to you?

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