What is a Carry in Basketball?

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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?

In basketball, carrying occurs when a player dribbles the ball after allowing it to rest on their hand. This happens after the offensive player grips the ball in such a way that it pauses the dribbling motion. 

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

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 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

Double DribbleCarry
The player uses two hands to dribbleThe player grabs the ball from underneath
The player catches the ball with both hands and continues dribblingThe player stops dribbling, palms the ball, and continues
The player touches the ball more than once while dribblingThe player holds the ball from underneath while dribbling

Both double dribble and carry can be classified as a traveling violation. They both have the same concept. However, in the case of double dribbling, it occurs when the ball is caught with one or two hands and the player continues to dribble.

The rest of the ball in your palm or hands signals 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 you stop the motion of dribbling by palming the ball in your hand. 

Related Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about carrying in basketball.

How Long Can You Hold the Basketball Without Dribbling?

After you stop dribbling, you are given 1.5 steps. The referees will call you for traveling if you exceed the number of steps. Furthermore, if you do not release the ball after eight seconds, it will be considered a violation.

Is Dribbling the Ball High a Carry?

Carrying the ball high above your shoulders is not considered a violation as long as the ball is dribbling. However, if the ball rests in your hands while dribbling, the referees will call it.

Try not to dribble the ball above your shoulders as a precaution. The higher the ball, the less control you have over it. This frequently results in players palming the ball in order to gain control of it.

How Do I Stop Carrying the Ball?

In order to stop carrying the ball, you need to improve your ball control. To do this, you need to spread your fingers wide and cover most of the ball. Then, you need to control your movement.

Professional players frequently keep their knees bent and keep their bodies low as the ball dribbles above their heads. They do this in order to pick up speed before driving toward the basket.


When it comes to basketball, dribbling and controlling the ball are essential to have good mobility and avoid traveling violations. In this case, carrying the ball is a common mistake that many beginners can commit.

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.

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