Basketball’s most important rule … judgement

The past few weeks have allowed for discussion of rules that may have misconceptions in the interpretation and enforcement by officials.

I have attempted to simplify the explanation from the exact wording of the rules book and I have been informed by a few readers that my explanations of these rules are complicated and difficult for fans to understand.

The point I would like to make is that every official has to be able to understand these rules, remember them and apply them quickly and in some cases while the players are moving at full speed and the official also may be on the move.

Rules are definitive but the most important value of a sports official is “judgment” and the better officials are the ones that can view the complete play and quickly and accurately judge what rule applies and enforce it appropriately even when it doesn’t agree with players, coaches or fans.

During a game nearly every time the ball makes contact with a foot or leg someone verbally suggests “kicking” but the official must know the rule before making a call.

The rule states that kicking the ball is an intentional act to play the ball with a foot or leg.

Officials look for whether the leg or foot was raised or the foot is still on the floor. When the foot is on the floor and the ball strikes the foot it should not be called kicking and if the foot or leg hits the ball is different than when the ball hits the foot or leg. Very seldom should there be a kicking call against the offensive team.

An official views a player with a hand in the net or on the rim and immediately must determine where the ball was when it happened. When this happens and the ball is on the rim or in the basket creates basket interference and either counts or cancels points depending on whether the touching was by a defensive or offensive player.

What most people don’t know is that if the ball was in the cylinder above the rim when the net or rim is touched there is no penalty. It is basket interference if the ball is touched while in the cylinder above the rim.

There comes a time in every official’s career that he/she will blow the whistle accidently.

This creates a dead ball situation and the ball is awarded to the team that had possession when the whistle blew.

In the event that the ball in the air on a shot or not in control by either team, the ball would be awarded using the possession arrow. When an official has an inadvertent whistle, they know they have made a mistake and really don’t need everyone reminding them.

By rule a player holding the ball is travelling if they fall to the floor with the ball. A player dribbling the ball may fall to the floor while dribbling.

The rule allows a player that gets possession of the ball while on the floor may legally slide provided they don’t roll over to avoid the defense.

A player on the floor with the ball is travelling when they attempt to get up unless they have first started a dribble.

I was lined up to throw the jump ball at Strasburg one Friday night and this was to be our last game with two officials. Just before I got started there was an announcement made, “Would the owner of a green Geo Tracker please move your car or it will be towed”. I told the players I would be right back and walked over to my partner and said, “You do know that’s your car don’t you”? After a brief conversation with the police officers in the corner of the gym we got the game started.

Later in that same game, my partner was preparing to hand the ball to a player for a throw-in and it was very quiet when a man stood up and screamed “Three seconds”.

Then an opposing fan yelled just as loud, “Hey dummy, wait till he gives them the ball”. After the laughter died down, we put the ball in play.

Years ago we were officiating a Cambridge vs. Dover boy’s game and both teams had great coaches and very good teams. The game was very intense and at a very critical time I had just made a call against Cambridge and coach Gene Ford motioned for me to come over and as I approached he had his hands on his hips with this very stern look on his face. I assumed he wanted either an explanation or to complain about the call. Much to my surprise he glared at me and asked, “I’d like to know one thing, does this sweater vest make my look fat?”. So much for tension.

Howell can be reached at