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Talk the Talk

Understand the on-court lingo with our handy glossary of basketball terms, from Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight.

AIR BALL — A shot that doesn’t even hit the rim or backboard. Air balls are usually followed by a deep sense of shame.

ALLEY-OOP — When a player throws the ball towards the basket for their teammate, who catches the ball mid-air and scores, usually with a dunk. It’s pretty cool.

AND-ONE — The free throw awarded to a shooter who is fouled while scoring.

ARC — The three-point line. Somewhere I generally try to avoid.

ASSIST — A pass to a teammate who scores a basket immediately or after one dribble.

BIG/BIG MAN — A man who is big and plays basketball.

BLOCK OUT/BOX OUT — Making sure your opponent doesn’t get a rebound by pushing them away with your bum.

BOTS — Comes from the Samoan word ‘fiapoto’, meaning someone who tries to be smart but fails.

BOUGIE — Trying to be fancy but failing.

CENTRE (US: center) — The biggest big man. A centre’s job is to control the area under the basket and get rebounds.

COURT — Lorde wrote a song about a tennis court. Now imagine basketball hoops at either end. That’s pretty much a basketball court.

CUTTER — Someone who is cutting, which is running towards the hoop and looking for a pass. My job on defence is to bump the cutters when they pass by me because I guard the hoop and no one’s allowed near it.

DOUBLE-DOUBLE — Gaining double-digit figures in two positive statistical categories (e.g. 12 points, 14 rebounds).

DRIBBLE — When saliva rolls down your chin. Also bouncing the ball.

DUNK — You don’t know what a dunk is? Just ask anyone on the street and they’ll demonstrate with whatever they’re holding and a rubbish bin.

FADEAWAY — A fadeaway is a shot taken while jumping backwards, away from the basket, but still facing it. YouTube ‘Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway’ to see the greatest fadeaway in history.

FAST BREAK — A quick basket scored through swift ball movement down the court after a defensive rebound and before the other team has set up their defence.

FLOATER — A shot with a high arc. If the ball looks like it’s gone abnormally high on its way to the net, it’s a good floater.

FORWARD — One of the three standard player positions, forwards are mainly responsible for scoring and rebounding. See power forward and small forward.

FOUL — There are so many ways to foul someone in basketball, both on offence and on defence. Some contact is illegal and a foul while other contact is legal and fine. It’s impossible to explain but if you get called for a foul, that’s bad.

FOUL OUT — The personal limit in the NBA is six fouls. Foul six times and you’re out for the rest of the game.

FOUR MAN — Someone who is strong enough to play in the post if needed but is versatile enough to act as a guard, too. Four men can do everything.

FREE THROW — A free shot given to a player when they’re fouled while shooting. For technical fouls one free throw is awarded and for flagrant fouls you get two.

GUARD — The smaller guys in a team who start the plays out by the three-point line and shoot more three-pointers.

HOOK SHOT — Classic shot used by most big men, because the shot is released sideways with a nearly fully extended arm, which makes it hard to block.

HOPS — Having a good vertical jump. If you can’t jump, you don’t have bad hops, you have no hops.

HORI — Being a bit rugged. You can’t just call anyone hori though, you’re only allowed to say it about people you actually like, and who like you. Some people say it disrespectfully, I just say it to my brothers.

IN THE BONUS — When you’ve fouled too many times and now your opponent gets ‘bonus’ free throws for every new foul.

INBOUND (pass) — Passing the ball IN from out-of-BOUNDS, hence INBOUND.

JUMP SHOT — Surely you figured this out by looking at the words ‘jump’ and ‘shot’?

KEY — The painted circle and lines by the hoop that, funnily enough, look a little like a keyhole.

LAY-UP — The simplest way to score points and yet the hardest to explain. It’s when a player dribbles towards the hoop and scores a basket while still in motion, usually in fast breaks. Seriously, it’s really hard to explain.

LOW-POST AREA — The area closest to the basket.

PAINT — The key.

PERIMETER — Has a few different meanings but most people know it as the three-point line.

PICK AND ROLL — Setting a screen (pick) then turning (rolling) to block the defender more while you cut to the basket for a pass.

POINT GUARD — Usually the shortest player on the court. Runs the plays and argues with the refs a lot.

POST — The area on court closest to the basket.

POST UP — Setting up with your back to the hoop.

POSTERISE — Dunking on someone so bad a photo of it could be used on a poster.

POWER FORWARD — A big guy who’s not as tall as a centre.

PUTBACK — When you ‘put’ the ball ‘back’ into the hoop after rebounding.

REBOUND/REBOUNDING — Gaining possession after the ball – wait for it – rebounds off the basket.

ROOKIE — In the NBA, a player in their first season. In life, someone who’s just done something dumb.

SCREEN/SET A SCREEN — Establish a stationary position to act as a block for your teammate to use to get rid of their defender. If you’re a guy, cover your nuts when setting a screen because someone will probably be running right into you.

SEAL — To establish a good position by ‘sealing’ your defender and keeping them behind you.

SMALL BALL/SMALL GAME — A style of play that favours use of smaller players for their speed, agility and increased scoring (often from the three-point line).

SMALL FORWARD — Smaller than a forward, bigger than a guard.

TECHNICAL FOUL — A foul for unsportsmanlike non-contact behaviour, which is usually complaining to a ref or taunting your opponent.

TIP-OFF — The start of the game.

TRANSITION — The short time after the defending team gets a rebound but before a play is set up. Good transition means quick ball movement down the court and fast break lay-ups.

TRAVEL — When you take too many steps without dribbling, you get called for a travel then run back down the court and think very hard about what you just did.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE — Double-digit figures in three positive statistical categories (e.g. 12 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists).


Taken from Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight.

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