What Is a Carry in Basketball? An Explanation

what is a carry in basketball

On the court, dribblers can pass the ball, shoot, pivot, or move toward the basket. They can’t, however, carry the ball.

What is a carry in basketball, and how common is it among pro players? That’s what I set out to find.

The Carrying Violation Explained

In basketball, a player can’t run/move with a ball unless they’re dribbling it—continuously, with one hand on top of the ball.

If the dribbler puts a hand under the ball to either “carry” it from one point to another or create a “pause” between dribbles, that’s considered carrying, which is an illegal move.

Let’s check out how carrying in basketball differs from other violations.

Carrying vs. Palming

“Carrying” and “palming” can be used interchangeably to mean that the player placed a hand under the ball while dribbling.

Carrying vs. Double Dribbling

Sometimes, players stop dribbling, carry the ball to keep it from falling, and dribble again. That’s called an illegal double dribble.

That said, double dribbling can also mean that the player dribbles with both hands at the same time.

Carrying vs. Traveling

Traveling violations are also a lot like carrying ones. A travel violation usually happens in one of two forms:

  • A player stops dribbling, “picks” up the ball, and takes three or more steps without passing or shooting.
  • A player receives the ball and takes steps before they start dribbling.

Section XIII of rule 10 in the NBA rulebook covers traveling violations, gathers, and proper pivots in more detail.

carrying in basketball

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5 Must-Know Facts About Carrying in Basketball

Let’s check out some interesting facts about the carry violation’s history and enforcement.

1. Refs Have a Special Signal for a Carry in Basketball

Refs don’t just blow their whistles when they spot a violation during the game. They’ll also use a hand signal to communicate what they believe is happening on the floor to the crowd, coaches, and scorer’s table.

For instance, they might show five fingers if they just spotted a five-second violation. The signal for a carry in basketball is a half-rotation of the palm, usually repeated a few times.

Refs signal a double dribble by putting their hands in front of them with their palms facing down. Then, they mimic a patting motion, alternating their hands up and down.

Meanwhile, the traveling violation is signaled by rotating one’s fists in a circle.

2. Not All Carries Are Unintentional

It’s possible for a player to unintentionally commit a carry violation, especially if they’re not particularly good at dribbling or are just not familiar with the rules of the game.

However, not all carry violations are well-intended.

Sometimes, players see it as a way to slow/pause dribbles, which can help them move and react to what’s happening on the court better. Plus, “cupping” the ball in your hand, with the palm slightly going under it, gives you more control over your maneuvers.

That’s quite the advantage, provided that refs don’t catch you in the act. Because, regardless of the intention, the ref could impose a penalty and turn over the ball to the opposing team.

carry in basketball

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3. Naismith’s Rules Set the Base for Carry Violations

You might know this already, but basketball is an all-American sport.

What you probably don’t know is that it was invented by James Naismith, who developed the game’s 13 basic rules and published them in 1892.

In a way, the original set of rules established the base for what became the carry and traveling violations in the modern rulebook.

Dribbling wasn’t a coming practice back then, so the rules made it clear that “running with the ball” wasn’t allowed. Instead, players had to throw the ball from the very spot where they caught it.

4. Carrying Rules Weren’t Always Heavily Enforced

Section II of rule no. 10 in the NBA rulebook states that both palming and double dribbling are illegal moves. Yet, these rules weren’t always “punished” on the court since the degree of enforcement changed over the years.

In the earlier days of the league, dribbling rules were more strictly enforced. Things started shifting gradually, with the refs showing more leniency and tolerance to cupping and pushing techniques.

By the 80s, players could get away with cupping and rotating their wrists around the ball.

Maybe things changed because this shift made the game more fun.

Or perhaps it was just because it’s hard to tell whether a carry violation was committed in real time. The gameplay is often so fast that you’d need to see the move in slow motion to be able to tell for sure if a player’s hand “palmed” the ball.

Either way, lots of players were doing it. Even players like Aller Iverson were accused of getting away with carrying the ball.

Allen Iverson’s Crossover Move is a “Carry”?

carry in basketball

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5. The NBA Started Cracking Down on Carrying Violations Recently

In November of 2022, the rulebook enforcement trends shifted again as the NBA announced that it would be cracking down on “discontinued dribbles” and carrying violations.

Jordan Poole from the Golden State Warriors was the first to get a taste of this shift in a game against the Miami Heat. The ref team recorded four carrying violations, and three of them were against Poole alone!

On the Miami Heat side, Caleb Martin was also called out for carrying. Still, Jordan Poole’s violations got the most reactions from the fans.

Later that day, Steve Kerr, the Warrior’s head coach, didn’t deny that what Poole did was technically a carry.

However, he also said that this move was so normalized that the entire league was doing it since Allen Iverson “convinced” refs that it was a legal move.

Jordan Poole Getting called by Steve Kerr & Draymond For 3 carry violations. #nba #Stevekerr

Kerr also said that he didn’t check his email before the game, so he didn’t see the league’s memo regarding the crack-down on carrying violations.

Jordan Poole and Caleb Martin weren’t the only players to be called out after the memo, either.

In November 2022, there were 44 carrying violations. For reference, there were no carry violations called at all in October. The 2021–22 season had 43 carry calls (yes, for the entire season).

So, it looks like the NBA is quite serious about enforcing this memo.

Final Thoughts

Steering away from carries might slow the game down, but it also helps you avoid penalties. So, make sure to keep your dribbles continuous and your palms facing downwards!

Caitlin Mueller, an avid writer, embraces the vibrant tapestry of life. With a curious eye, she delves into the intricacies of everyday existence, immersing herself in the bustling world that surrounds her.