Can You Pass to Yourself in Basketball?

The game of basketball is beloved by millions worldwide and has been that way for over a century. Part of the reason is the sport’s team element; passing the basketball is at the forefront of being a good teammate and winning games. However, some players may want to “cheat” the game and pass the ball to themselves. But is that even possible? 

You cannot pass a basketball to yourself. In basketball, if you attempt to pass the ball to yourself from one area of the court to another without the ball touching another player, the play is illegal and is referred to as “traveling.”

Traveling is a common occurrence in basketball, and attempting to pass to yourself is one of the many ways a referee can determine a player has traveled. 

Can You Pass to Yourself in Basketball?

In basketball, passing is an essential part of the game. Because the sport is team-based, with 5-on-5 being the normal gameplay, passing is a huge element that the best teams regularly implement to improve their chances of winning. 

However, despite the teamwork required for a good game, some players may want to take the basketball and score every time by themselves. One of the ways they may try to do this is “passing” to themselves. 

But, although passing to oneself during a basketball game is possible, it is illegal. If referees spot this infraction, they will call it as “traveling” against the offensive player, with loss of possession being the penalty. The referee, when signaling “traveling,” will blow their whistle and begin to roll their forearms over top of each other in a circular pattern.

Illegally vs. Legally Passing to Yourself in Basketball

Passing to oneself is a tactic that is not usually used in the game of basketball. The main reason is that, as mentioned above, it is illegal in most cases during gameplay. In cases where it is legal, the play will be so out of the norm that it can be confusing and a little controversial among the referee and opposing teams if it happens. 

With that said, in these next sections, we’ll cover how you can distinguish an illegal versus a “legal” pass to yourself. 

Illegally Passing the Basketball to Yourself

When a player illegally passes the basketball to themselves, or “travels,” they do so by throwing the ball in the air and catching it without the ball hitting another player, the backboard, or basket rim. This is usually more common during a shot attempt when the player simply misses the entire basket rim and blackboard. 

However, in other scenarios, the player may attempt to throw the ball to another player, but for some reason, the ball does not touch the other player, nor does it go out of bounds. In this case, the player who last touched the ball cannot be the first player to touch the ball; otherwise, it is considered an illegal pass to yourself (traveling). 

In either situation, once the referee calls traveling, the ball is turned over to the other team. However, if you want to avoid this illegal move, simply allow the ball to go out of bounds or leave it up to another player to attempt to gain possession, at which point anyone else can touch the ball while it’s on the court. 

Legally Passing the Basketball to Yourself

According to an ESPN article that did a deep dive into the research about passing to yourself, there is only one situation where a player can theoretically pass to themselves “legally.” 

NBA Rule 10, Section II – Dribble, Amendment E says that “a player may dribble a second time if they lost control of the ball because of: 

  1. A field goal attempt at his basket, provided the ball touches the backboard or basket ring 
  2. An opponent touches the ball 
  3. A pass or fumble which touches his backboard, basket ring, or is touched by another player.”

(Source: NBA)

In short, a player may dribble a second time after the ball touches the backboard or basket ring. This means a player can throw the ball off the backboard, catch the ball, and regain their dribble.

This move has been made numerous times, with the late Kobe Bryant becoming infamous for duping defenders by appearing to purposely shoot the ball at the backboard and then leaping back in the air to grab his own miss and shooting again. 

How to Legally Pass a Basketball to Yourself

Legally, when a player passes the ball to themselves, the ball has to touch another player or the backboard or basket rim. In some cases, as we mentioned above, players will get creative and throw the ball against the backboard to themselves to get free from defenders. Technically, this action would be considered a missed shot and rebound for the player.

Another way a player can legally pass the ball to themselves is by throwing the ball off another player in the legal playing court area. If a player is out of bounds when the ball is thrown off of them, then the ball is technically out of bounds, and the whistle is blown to determine who will have possession.

When throwing the ball off of another player, there is usually some element of surprise. For instance, players have thrown passes off of the backs of defenders and then gaining possession. This is legal because the offensive player loses possession of the ball, but before gaining it back, the ball touches another player. 

Why Would a Player Want to Pass to Themselves?

Gaining an advantage is the game within the game of any sport, including basketball. There are players constantly attempting to work the system by exploiting rules and referees to gain an advantage. This scenario of a player passing the ball to themselves is just another case of this.

For the most part, players who attempt to pass the ball to themselves are trying to gain an advantage creatively. You will find that these plays normally occur in situations where the offensive team attempts to make an easy basket or get out of a difficult situation. 

However, throwing the ball off of the backboard or basket rim on purpose and regaining possession is a difficult task and, more often than not, leads to turnovers. 

Other scenarios might involve a selfish teammate or a teammate who thinks that his or her own team would benefit more if they were in sole possession of the ball no matter what. However, this normally means the player is attempting to do illegal plays on the court, so it normally does not work out too well. 

Final Thoughts

Passing is an important part of the game of basketball. Teammates have to rely on each other to help propel their team to victory and the easiest way to do so is by passing. Individual players, however, cannot pass to themselves in basketball, as this would result in a traveling violation being called.

Traveling is a common occurrence in basketball, with passing to oneself being one of the many things it can be called. When a player is attempting to pass the ball to themselves, more often than not, the player simply accidentally made a bad pass or made a bad shot attempt. 

In any case, it is pretty obvious when this kind of play occurs, which can make it simple to learn and understand as a novice player. Be sure to read all of the rules before going out and playing a game to ensure you follow the rules and play the game properly.

If you liked this post, be sure to check “Can the Basketball Hit the Top of the Backboard?” & “If a Basketball Bounces in Does It Count?“.

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