How Many Steps is a Travel in NBA and NCAA?

According to some basketball fans, ‘how many steps is a travel?’ is irrelevant since NBA referees tend to play loose with the rules. This is more so in the case of big players like James Harden, who is known for making moves that seem like travels.

Some players get away with traveling, but this is not the case for big league games in the NBA. Moreover, some feet movements may seem like travels but are not like the James Harden step-back. There are several guidelines when it comes to traveling, and the rules are similar for most leagues.

However, you may find a few differences and fewer enforcements, especially with less popular leagues. We will look at what a travel is and dive into the various travel violations that you may not know.

What is a Travel

A travel (also called walking or steps) is a basketball rule violation that happens when a basketball player, who is holding the ball, moves one or two of their feet illegally.

So, how many steps can you take before you are called for a traveling violation? How many steps is a travel? In every basketball league, only two steps are allowed when a player controls the ball. This implies that three or more steps count as a travel. Moreover, the movement is called a travel violation only if the referee chooses to blow the whistle.

Travel violations can be hard to call, and sometimes fans assume referees don’t see the violations. However, this isn’t the case due to exceptions in the traveling rule. The two-step limit isn’t the only way a player can violate the traveling regulation; we will look at those cases in their respective leagues.

Several guidelines show which feet movements are considered travels and which ones aren’t. Before we take a look at these rules, there are a few terms we have to talk about:

  • Pivot foot – in basketball, a pivot foot is the foot that is in contact first with the floor when a player is controlling the ball. If you get the ball while in motion and your left foot gets into contact with the floor first, then the left foot is the pivot foot.

This is the foot that is used to gauge what is a travel or not. There are limited steps you can take once the pivot foot has been established. If these limited steps are surpassed, then the movement is counted as a traveling violation. The only way to free the pivot foot is bypassing, shooting, or dribbling.

  • Gather step – also called ‘a gather’ is a little wrinkle in the basketball rule books that allows a player to take a ‘gather step’ while controlling the ball. A gather is a one-step move taken to help the player position themselves better before the two-step countdown begins.

Travel Violation Rules in the NBA?

The traveling violation rule is Rule 10 in Section XIII of the NBA rule book. Most of the National Basketball Association rule book regulations are universal to all leagues, but we will take a look at the NBA and NCAA for comparison purposes.

As per Rule 10, Section XIII – Travelling:

1.    A player who receives the ball while standing still may pivot, using either foot as the pivot foot.

Being in motion can always be a great advantage in basketball. If you get the ball from your teammate when you are standing, you cannot take any other steps. If you take more steps, then the referee can call a traveling violation. You are only allowed to spin (pivot) or reorient yourself with your pivot foot remaining on the ground.

2.    A player who receives the ball while progressing or upon completion of a dribble may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing, or shooting the ball. A player who receives the ball while progressing must release the ball to start his dribble before his second step.

This is a strict rule to enact since many NBA players violate it all the time, and they are hard to catch. It means you can only move two steps before you make a complete stop, shoot, or pass.

3.    The first step occurs when afoot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.

The first foot to touch is the pivot foot. When both feet touch the floor after getting the ball, then the two-foot move counts as the first step.

4.    The second step occurs after the first step when the other foot touches the floor, or both feet touch the floor simultaneously.

The second step is the final step before you travel, and the only way to avoid it is bypassing, shooting, or dribbling the ball after.

5.    A player who comes to a stop on step one when both feet are on the floor or touch the floor simultaneously may pivot using either foot as his pivot. If he jumps with both feet, he must release the ball before either foot touches the floor.

If the ball is not released when both feet touch the floor, the move counts as a traveling violation. This rule is advantageous to the players since they can use any foot at the pivot to position themselves better.

6.    A player who lands with one foot first may only pivot using that foot.

Both feet can be used to pivot only if you come to a stop on step one with both feet on the floor.

7.    A progressing player who jumps off one foot on the first step may land with both feet simultaneously for the second step. In this situation, the player may not pivot with either foot. If one or both feet leave the floor, the ball must be released before either returns to the floor.

The two feet pivot rule cannot start after a pivot foot has been established.

8.    In starting a dribble after (1) receiving the ball while standing still or (2) coming to a legal stop, the ball must be out of the player’s hand before the pivot foot is raised off the floor.

9.   If a player raises his pivot foot off the floor with the ball in his possession, he must pass or shoot before his pivot foot returns to the floor; if he drops the ball while in the air, he may not be the first to touch the ball.

10.A player who falls to the floor while holding the ball or coming to a stop may not benefit by sliding.

11.A player who attempts a field goal may not be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the backboard, basket ring, or another player.

12.A player is not allowed to be the first to touch his pass unless the ball touches his backboard, basket ring, or another player.

13.Upon ending his dribble or gaining control of the ball, a player may not touch the floor consecutively with the same foot (hop).

Travel Violation Rules in the College Basketball (NCAA)?

The travel violation rules in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are found on Section 5 of the rule book under Rule 9 – Travelling:

  1. A player shall not travel with the ball.
  2. Traveling occurs when a player holding the ball moves a foot or both feet in any direction in excess of the prescribed limits described in this section.
  3. A player who catches the ball with both feet on the playing court may pivot, using either foot. When one foot is lifted, the other is the pivot foot.
  4. A player who catches the ball while moving or ends a dribble may stop and establish a pivot foot as follows:

When both feet are off the playing court, and the player lands: Simultaneously on both feet, either may be the pivot foot;

  • On one foot followed by the other, the first foot to touch shall be the pivot foot;
  • On one foot, the player may jump off that foot and simultaneously land on both, in which case neither foot can be the pivot foot.

When one foot is on the playing court:

  • That foot shall be the pivot foot when the other foot touches in a step;
  • The player may jump off that foot and simultaneously land on both, in which case neither foot can then be the pivot foot.
  • After coming to a stop and establishing the pivot foot:
  1. The pivot foot may be lifted but not returned to the playing court, before the ball is released on a pass or try for goal;
  2. The pivot foot shall not be lifted before the ball is released to start a dribble.
  3. After coming to a stop when neither foot can be the pivot foot:
  • One or both feet may be lifted but may not be returned to the playing court before the ball is released on a pass or try for goal;
  • Neither foot shall be lifted before the ball is released to start a dribble.
  • It is traveling when a player falls to the playing court while holding the ball without maintaining a pivot foot.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Soma Step a Travel?

The FIBA and NBA admit that the soma step is a legal and rule-compliant move. A soma step is defined as stepping forward with one foot after stopping the ball in order to make a shot.

Is Gather Step a Travel?

A gather step was introduced to help the players gather the ball. A gather is therefore defined as putting two hands on the ball to rest it, or permitting the ball to come to rest while controlling it. The step that is made when trying to get control of the ball is called the gather step. Therefore, the gather step cannot be a travel since it is not counted as the first step.

Once the gather step is done, the player can only make two more steps or else a travel violation will be called.

Why the James Harden Step-back Jumper is not a Travel

James Harden is arguably one of the most skillful NBA players of all time. He is known for his step-back jumper that helps him score almost every time. Some people get confused when it comes to this move since it appears be a travel.

James Harden’s step-back move starts with a ‘gather step’ that helps him gather the ball in preparation for a move. Taking the ‘gather step’ helps him to avoid travelling. After the ‘gather step’, he proceeds to take two steps before shooting.

The step-back move is not a travel. It is used to help a player create enough space around him to take a shot. It is a legal move since it takes advantage the exception in Rule 10, Section XIII of the NBA rulebook. The exception states’ “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, pasing or shooting the ball.”

Why Does LeBron James Get Away With Traveling?

You may be wondering why it seems NBA referees look the other way when Lebron James takes more steps than is required.  It is disputed how often Lebron travels and many people may agree that he is given some preferential treatment.

However, this is not usually the case. Some travels are not called since they happen in seconds, which makes it hard for the referee to catch. In other occassions, the referee may let a travel slide due to the intensity of the game. Regardless of the reasons, Lebron James does indeed get away with some travel moves.

For example, in a 2019 Lakers vs. Jazz game, King James picked up his dribble to take three steps before starting his dribble again. He clearly travelled and the referee did not call it. Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic who was gurading the ball noticed, as did many, and outright pointed at King James for the error. Lebron apologized later after the game saying that he wasn’t aware he did it.

His latest travel incident is in the 2021 Lakers vs. Rockets game where he travelled on an assist to Melo. He almost lost control on his way to the busket which forced him to move more than two steps before passing the ball to Melo, who then made the shot.

Take a look at this video for Lebron James’s worst travels.

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