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Ask Donnie: Q&A with NBA Director of Officials Don Vaden

POSTED: Jan 6, 2014 5:37 PM ET


Have a question about NBA refereeing or a playing rule interpretation? Send your questions to Donnie Vaden (, the NBA's VP of Referee Operations and Director of Officials. If your question is selected, we'll post it on with Donnie's answer. Questions that are not in regards to NBA playing rules will not be considered. Questions such as those concerning specific calls in games, the game or playoff schedule, player statistics, will not be considered.

Here is Donnie's latest Q&A:

Q: Would it be traveling if you caught your own air ball? - submitted by Troy B

A: If a shot does not hit the rim or backboard, the shooter may not be the first player to touch it. If he does, a traveling violation will be called.

Q: You replied to an earlier post stating that a player may "tap" the ball in an attempt to save it from going out of bounds, go out of bounds, and then return to the court and be the first player to touch the ball. Why is that different from dribbling, where, in the same situation, he may not be the first player to touch the ball, as specified in Rule 10, Section II, b?

[Also] I've heard a number of TV commentators state that both feet must be planted inbounds before a player can touch the ball, but I can't find any mention of it in the rules. Rule 8, Section I discusses an airborne player, but it doesn't discuss a player coming from out of bounds who has one foot inbounds and the other still in the air. - submitted by Daniel L.

A: Good questions. With respect to the first question, the difference turns on control. When dribbling, the player has control of the ball. So if he were to step on or outside a boundary line, even when not touching the ball at the time, he is not allowed to be the first player to touch it. If the player taps the ball, he doesn't have control of the ball, which is considered loose. Therefore, the player can be the first to touch the loose ball, provided he isn't out-of-bounds at the time.

Concerning your second Q: Rule 8, Section I defines when a player is out-of-bounds. A player is out-of-bounds if he touches the floor or other object (e.g., scorer's table) either on or outside a boundary. An airborne player's position is determined based on where he last touched (he is inbounds if he is in the air having jumped off the court and out-of-bounds if he is in the air having jumped from outside the court or was touching the line). Based on the first part of the rule, as long as the player isn't touching something out-of-bounds, he is inbounds. So if he's jumped from out-of-bounds inbounds, he's considered reestablished as soon as he touches the floor inbounds. (Of course, that is provided he isn't still touching anything out-of-bounds.)

Both of these questions are addressed in the NBA Case Book (questions 290 and 291), which you can find here (PDF).

Q: If a player has possession and is in the air for a shot, and the shot is blocked free of his hands, can he catch the ball before it hits the ground or is this traveling? - submitted by Cari M.

A: Similar to the question about, if the player no longer has control, the ball is considered loose and he may be the first to touch it. No traveling call would be made on this play.

Q: Watching classic NBA games on NBA TV shows how quickly teams used to be able to inbound the ball after a made basket for a fast break. In today's game, this seems almost impossible due to the offensive team grabbing the ball after a made basket and throwing it to the official (which prevents quick inbounding). This seems to happen on almost every made basket. Isn't it illegal for the team that just made the basket to touch the ball? Why is it allowed when it slows the game down? Shouldn't this be a delay of game call? - submitted by Ricki W.

A: Hmmm. Is that you Commissioner?

Great observation. This season you will notice a change in how we enforce the delay of game penalty based on conversations with the Competition Committee. It's not a "no-touch" provision, but players will no longer be permitted to direct the ball after it clears the net. Going forward, an offensive player who catches the ball after a made basket and passes it to a referee will receive a delay of game warning (if team's first delay) or a delay of game penalty if it's their second.

Q: If a player is dribbling the ball in the front court and a defender taps the ball away with just a finger and the ball rolls into the back court, can the offensive player be the first to touch it without it being a backcourt violation? - submitted by Phillip

A: Yes. If a defender knocks the ball loose, even with just a finger, and the ball ends up in the backcourt, the offensive player may return to the backcourt to regain control.

Q: If an offensive player with the ball is in a shooting motion, and a defender hits the shooter on the hand that is touching the ball, would it be a foul or a block? - submitted by Joshua G.

A: The hand is considered part of the ball when it is in contact with the ball. So if a defender hits the part of a shooter's hand that is in contact with the ball, there is no foul (it would be considered hitting the ball and a block). However, if the defender hits the shooter's wrist or any part of the hand which is not in contact with the ball, it's a foul.

Q: If a player throws the ball full court in an attempt to beat the buzzer at the end of a quarter, and the ball bounces before time expired, and then goes in after time expires, does it count? What about if it bounces after time expires and then goes in? And if it counts, is it a two- or a three-point shot if it bounced within the three-point arc? - submitted by Will

A: Wow, that would be something to see. Yes, if the ball bounces before time expired, and then goes in after time expires, it would count. If the ball bounces inside the arc, it would count as a two-point field goal. If the ball bounces outside the arc, it would count as a three-point field goal.

However, if time expires before the ball bounces, the shot would not count. Once a shot attempt no longer has an opportunity to score (notwithstanding miracles), it's no longer considered a shot and the game would be over before the ball bounces.

Q: Can you please help end a debate? Can a team call a timeout after making a basket. I skimmed the rule book online and couldn't find anything. I appreciate you helping us out. - submitted by Josh F.

A: This should end your debate. In the NBA, a team may not request a timeout after a made basket. So, were you right or wrong?

Q: If a ball that is headed out-of-bounds touches a referee and stays inbounds, is the ball still considered inbounds? - submitted by Eli Z.

A: The answer depends on where the referee is standing. If the referee is standing out-of-bounds, he is considered an out-of-bounds object. So if the ball hits him, it is out-of-bounds -- even if it bounces in without touching anything else out of bounds. If the referee is standing inbounds, the ball is still considered inbounds -- unless of course it rolls out.

Q: Why is a five-second violation not called when the ball is rolled down the court when a team is inbounding and no one touches it within five seconds? The ball is not inbounds till it is touched. The clock does not start till the ball is touched. I know teams do this to keep time on the clock, but I think a five-second violation should be called. - submitted by David R.

A: The rule concerning inbounding (Rule No. 10, Section III) states that that the thrower-in must release the ball within five seconds, not that the pass has to be completed within five seconds.

Q: Why is it that free throws awarded on the basis of a technical foul must be made with no players in the key? - submitted by Mariam G.

A: A missed technical foul free-throw does not result in a live ball, so players do not line up because there will be no rebound. Why, you may now ask, do players then line up on the first of two free throw attempts on a personal foul when it also won't result in a live ball? The answer is that it's been done this way as far back as my rule books go. I can only venture a guess that it was probably instituted this way to help ensure consistency between the shots for the shooter and to help move things along.