Anyway, I often find myself embroiled in various debates (generally well-mannered, if not always good-natured) about various sports rules. Most recently, the question was about passes or shots that go over the backboard. For example, should this shot from 2009 by Kobe Bryant count?
Or how about this one from Jamal Murray, in 2019?
The common feeling is that these should not count, because the ball goes over the backboard, and everyone knows that a ball that goes over the backboard is out of bounds, right?
Well, it's complicated. Complicated enough that I'm just going to drop this here for the next time this comes up. Here's Rule 8, Sections II.a and II.b from the official NBA site:
a. The ball is out-of-bounds when it touches a player who is out-of-bounds or any other person, the floor, or any object on, above or outside of a boundary or the supports or back of the backboard.
This part of the rule is about what the ball touches, not where it goes. There's a bit of excitement in that it uses the word "above," but in context, I think it's pretty clear that it refers to the ball touching something or someone above the boundary (the out-of-bounds line).
b. Any ball that rebounds or passes directly behind the backboard, in any direction, or enters the cylinder from below is considered out-of-bounds.
This is the relevant part. Note that it uses the wording "directly behind the backboard." To me, that means you take the backboard, and project it back away from the court; anytime the ball passes through that imaginary three-dimensional box, it's out of bounds. It says nothing about the ball passing over the backboard. If it meant that, I think it would have said that.
In both cases, the ball clearly goes over the backboard, but it never goes directly behind the backboard. In the case of Kobe's shot, the best angle in this video (pretty poor resolution, but it was the best I could find) is found at about 0:48. As for Murray's shot, well, read on.
I think the phrase "directly behind" is crucial. It isn't enough that the ball go behind the plane of the backboard (which is four feet inside the baseline, so that would happen all the time). It has to go somewhere where, if you were to look from the opposite baseline, you would see the ball through the backboard, not around it.
If you go online, you will see a majority of the web sites that discuss this question insist, quite authoritatively, that such shots are not to be counted. As irritating as I sometimes find this, it's sort of understandable, because the wording of the rule is a bit terse, and also because the rules vary from governing body to governing body, as well as era to era. For instance, these shots would be illegal in the NCAA:
Rule 7-1-3. The ball shall be out of bounds when any part of the ball passes over the backboard from any direction.
This rule is stated again, almost verbatim, as Rule 9-2-2.
On the other hand, they're legal in FIBA:
Rule 23.1.2. The ball is out-of-bounds when it touches:
- A player or any other person who is out-of-bounds.
- The floor or any object above, on or outside the boundary line.
- The backboard supports, the back of the backboards or any object above the playing court.
Fortunately, we have an approved ruling, from none other than Joe Borgia, NBA Senior Vice President of Replay and Referee Operations (I'll bet you already knew that):
Joe Borgia, NBA Senior Vice President of Replay & Referee Operations, joined @NBATV to discuss three plays from Sunday's NBA Playoff action:
- Butler charge in Q1 of #TORatPHI
- Gasol offensive foul in Q4 of #TORatPHI
- Murray shot over backboard in Q1 of #DENatPOR pic.twitter.com/5Lto9JNxOr
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) May 6, 2019
Jamal Murray's shot is discussed as the third case, at about 1:38 of the video.
"...When you look at this angle, our rule is the ball cannot pass directly behind the backboard. So when you saw that replay, you saw the ball went up, and it went over, but it never went directly behind it. Otherwise, we would have seen it through the glass; that would have been illegal. But up and over is fine, so that is a good basket."
I think that should settle the matter fairly nicely.
Here's more from Borgia:
"The old rule stated it was illegal when the ball went over the backboard (either direction). So imagine the backboard extending up to the roof—if the ball bounced off the rim and hit any part of the imaginary backboard a violation was assessed. We had too many game stoppages when the ball bounced over the edge so we changed the rule to say the ball cannot go directly behind the backboard. That is why I said the backboard is now an imaginary ‘tunnel’ that goes back, not up to the roof like in the old rule."