What is a Carry in Basketball?

The NBA referees have let famous athletes like Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, and Isaiah Thomas get away with it because it ends up getting picked up. So, what does carrying the ball mean in basketball? 

What is a Carry in Basketball?

Carrying or moving the ball while palming it is a traveling violation. The offensive player either dribbles the ball after it has been placed in the hand or grips the ball in a manner that stops the dribbling motion of the ball.  

There are still many debates regarding what constitutes a carry in basketball. Different leagues across the world implement different definitions of what is meant by a “carry”. 

Basketball moves like the crossover look like they were carried by a player. This helps them control the ball easier. 

What Does a Carry Look Like in Basketball?

NBA officials identify a carry during a game of basketball by examining the palm of the player handling the ball. If the palm of the player is facing upward, referees typically call it a carry. 

  • You can control and direct the ball better with better control when dribbling along the sidelines. This is legal, but watch out that your hands do not slide down the ball too deeply.
  • Referees call it a carry if your hands are at a steeper angle than the ball’s plane. 
  • Referees also call a touch carry if you take too long to spread your hands out and stop the motion of the ball. 

Is Dribbling the Ball High a Carry?

Dribbling the ball high above your shoulders does not constitute a carry. Provided you keep the ball dribbling, you do not constitute a carry. Make sure the ball doesn’t rest in your hands as you dribble, otherwise the refs will call it a carry. 

Avoid dribbling a ball above your shoulders. The higher a ball flies, the harder it is to control. Oftentimes, players will palm the ball in order to control it so that the referees will signal a foul. 

Professional players often dribble the ball above their heads, either bending their knees or staying low. When they drive toward the basket, they often do these moves as a way to acquire a burst of speed. 

NBA Carry Rule

In the NBA, all players are permitted to carry the ball. The rule is under NBA Rule Number 10: Penalties and Violations, Section II – Dribble. 

A player who is dribbling may not put any part of his hand under the ball and (1) carry the ball from one point to the next or (2) pause the ball and continue to dribble. – NBA

It has caused controversy in the NBA because there is no definition of what the pause means or the length it should be paused for. The James Harden stepback move is an example as he seemingly pauses the ball in his hand and does a step back, without dribbling. 

NBA fans have been split over this issue whether it is a travel or not. The referees will interpret the rulebook and call the violation what they deem appropriate. 

Differences Between Double Dribble and Carry

Neither double dribble nor carry can be considered as traffic violations. They both share the same concept. It pauses and rests in your hand. If you double dribble, you usually have the ball in both hands. 

A touch of the ball on the palm or hands should be your signal to stop all dribbling motion. Any further dribbling is illegal and will be penalized by the officials for violation. 

What is a Travel in Basketball?

A traveling violation occurs when the player holding the ball makes an illegal movement. Carrying is a form of a traveling violation. 

In basketball, referees allow one and a half steps after dribbling before calling the offense for traveling. If you go over three steps without dribbling then the offense is flagged down for travel. 

The act of carrying is connected with traveling due to the fact that you palm the ball in your hand so you stop dribbling. 

How Long Can You Hold the Basketball Without Dribbling?

You are allowed 1.5 steps following a dribbling motion. If you go beyond that, the referee will call you for traveling. 

The referee will let some players go full two, and some even three steps without blowing the whistle. They get away with it by dribbling and running so fast that the referee barely has enough time to count the steps after a dribble.

Christina Mullenax

Christina is an American-Russian professional basketball coach and former player who is the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces of the Women’s National Basketball Association. She currently also serves as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association.


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