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Friday (the laws of traveling officially don't apply to the NBA) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: October 16, 2009 - 9:01 AM

Sports has a grand history of unwritten rules. Some of the them are sketchy. Some of them are necessary. Rarely do they become written rules, which brings us to this rare story from ESPN.com (ours bold):

NBA players will be able to take two steps before they have to stop, pass or shoot this season. The NBA has put into writing a rule allowing players on the move to gather the ball, after driving or catching it, and then take two steps.

Throughout NBA history, the rulebook said players could take one step. The new rule reads, in part: "A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball."

It is believed to be the first time any league, at any level anywhere in the world, has explicitly allowed two steps.

Enforcement of the one-step rule has been hit-or-miss at every level of basketball. Archival footage shows NBA greats, from Magic Johnson and Pete Maravich to Bob Cousy and Julius Erving, getting away with two steps. Borgia, whose father was also an NBA official, said he cannot remember a time when NBA referees did not allow two steps. Others insist allowing two steps represents an NBA strategy to aid scorers and make the league more exciting.

For those who watch the NBA even semi-regularly, you know this new "rule" will not change play much other than to possibly keep those who know about it from yelling "TRAVELING!!!" every time a point guard finishes a play or a big man makes a sweeping move across the lane.

The interesting part is the official altering of one of the most fundamental violations in the game. Sure, the NFL tweaks rule interpretations all the time -- roughing the QB, pass interference, etc. Baseball history is filled with astounding changes like the pitching distance moving from 50 feet to its current 60 feet, 6 inches (though you'll note that none, except for the introduction of limited instant replay very recently, occurred after 1975. The NHL had all sorts of discussions on how to increase scoring a few years back, and settled on some modest but important adjustments.

But this traveling thing ... this is different. It's basically an admission that, "yeah, we've been turning a blind eye to the real rule for so long that we're just going to go ahead and change it." It's officially giving license to the top league in the world to play by a different rule than everybody else. It's interesting. It's brazen. And we're not entirely sure we like the written rule better than the unwritten one.


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