In basketball, when is a travel not a travel?
Whenever the referees don’t whistle it, at least according to Rockets superstar James Harden.
That was essentially Harden’s answer to a young fan who asked him at a question-and-answer session in Houston on Friday, “What made you do that traveling step-back?”
“In the NBA, especially the highest level of basketball, you gotta find ways to get better every single year … this year I’m gonna come up with something more creative.”
James Harden says his step back isn’t a travel. pic.twitter.com/h9bOEyL6m8
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 20, 2019
Harden contested that it was not a violation simply because the referees never call him for traveling on his signature move.
After establishing that the move is legal, Harden added that he’s always adding a new wrinkle to his game to separate himself from everyone else.
“In the NBA, especially at the highest level of basketball, you got to find ways to get better every single year,” Harden said. “You got to find ways to create an advantage every single year. And that’s what I’m doing. It’s not a travel.”
He then let the kids know that he was working on yet another new move that may appear to be a travel, but is still within the rules of the game.
“This year, I’m going to come up with something more creative, and it’s gonna look like a travel but it’s not,” he said.
“Honestly! Even when I was on a tour, in Europe or China, or even when I’m here in the U.S., I see kids your guys’ age that are working on step-backs, working on moves, because it’s going to gain you an opportunity to be better than the rest of your peers. And that’s what I’m going for,” Harden added, according to ESPN.
“So until they call it a travel, if they start calling it, I’ll continue to find ways and find ways to get creative and make my impact on the game.”
Harden uses the step-back to gain additional space on the perimeter for a jump shot. After picking up his dribble, a player is allowed to take two steps, and since Harden’s steps are going away from the rim, the play is unique and often looks like a travel to the naked eye.
Judge for yourself if this is a travel or not:
— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2019
Harden’s argument that the play is not a travel is backed up by the statistics. According to NBA Miner, Harden was whistled for traveling just 0.08 times per game last year, and 0.04 times per game the year before, during his MVP campaign.
By comparison, the player who Harden lost the MVP award to this past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was called for traveling 0.51 times per game.
As for the new move Harden will debut, we’ll have to wait and see what it is and how the referees call it. But we do know that Harden’s new teammate, Russell Westbrook, already has the step-back down pat:
Harden, for his part, cited playing with Westbrook in the 2012 Summer Olympics and with the Thunder as to why his new teammate will be a seamless fit.
“None. None. None,” Harden said when asked if he’d need to make any adjustments to accommodate Westbrook.
“We played with each other in the NBA and the Olympics and all that. When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is.”
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