What is a Carry in Basketball?

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Famous players like Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, and Isaiah Thomas have been accused of carrying the ball. They get away with it because NBA referees have ended up letting it go. So, what does carry imply in basketball? 

What is a Carry in Basketball?

Carrying or moving while holding and palming the ball is a traveling violation. The offensive player continues to dribble the ball after the ball had already rested in the hand or grip the ball in a manner where it stops the dribbling motion of the ball.  

Many basketball fans still debate what a carry is in basketball. Leagues across the world implement different definitions of a “carry” in basketball. 

Some basketball moves like the crossover would look like a player had carried the ball. This gives players an easier time controlling the ball. 

A basketball player about to shoot the ball along the free throw line

What Does a Carry Look Like in Basketball?

NBA referees have a way to spot a carry in basketball. They check the palm of the dribbling player. If the palm of the player is facing toward the sky, most referees will call it a carry. 

  • You can dribble the ball along the sides. It allows better control and direction of the ball. This is a legal move but make sure your hands don’t slide too far down the side of the ball.
  • Referees will call it a carry if your hands are below 180 degrees of the ball’s plane. 
  • Referees also call it a carry if you station your hand for too long and make the motion of the ball stop. 

Is Dribbling the Ball High a Carry?

Dribbling the ball high above your shoulders isn’t considered a carry. As long as you keep the ball dribbling, it isn’t a carry. Make sure the ball doesn’t rest in your hands as you dribble or the referees will call it. 

As a precaution, try not to dribble the ball above your shoulders. The higher the ball, the less you have control over it. Oftentimes, this leads to players palming the ball in order to control it and the referees will call it. 

Professional players oftentimes bend their knees or stay low and the ball dribbles above their head. They often do these to acquire a burst of speed when they drive towards the basket. 

NBA Carry Rule

In the NBA, the rule about carrying the ball is vague. The rule about carrying the ball is under Rule Number 10: Violations and Penalties, Section II – Dribble

“A player who is dribbling may not put any part of his hand under the ball and (1) carry it from one point to another or (2) bring it to a pause and then continue to dribble again.” – NBA

There is no definition of what the pause is or how long it should be paused. This has caused a controversy in NBA. James Harden’s stepback move where he seemingly pauses the ball in his hand without dribbling and does a step back is an example. 

NBA fans have been divided on this issue if it’s a travel or not. It’s really up to the referees how they interpret the rulebook and call the violation. 

Differences Between Double Dribble and Carry

Both double dribble and carry can be classified as a traveling violation. They both have the same concept. The ball stops its motion and rests in your palm. In the case of double dribbling, the ball usually is in both hands. 

The rest of the ball in your palm or hands is the signal that your dribbling motion has stopped. Making a dribble after that is illegal and will be called by the referees for violation. 

Photo of a basketball playing trying to steal the ball

What is a Travel in Basketball?

Traveling is a violation where the player holding the ball illegally moves a step. You can say that carrying is a form of traveling violation. 

The standard rule in basketball is that the player holding the ball is allowed one and a half steps after a dribble. If you go over three steps without dribbling the ball then referees will call you for travel. 

Carrying is associated with traveling because in carrying you stop the motion of dribbling by palming the ball in your hand. 

How Long Can You Hold the Basketball Without Dribbling?

You are allowed 1.5 steps after you stop your dribbling motion. When you go over the number of steps, the referees will call you for traveling. 

Some players get away with full two steps and even three without the referee blowing the whistle. They do this by dribbling and running really fast that the referee barely has time to count the steps after a dribble.

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.