THESPORTSDOC- Doin' the two-step: Borgia stops dancing around rule

The shoe rules.
Flickr/Bernardo Borghetti

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about the pivot foot: what it is, what it does, and how intrinsic it is to the rules of basketball. What I saw on television and what I read in the official NBA rulebook didn't make any sense. As confused as I was then, I'm even more in the dark now.

Just a few months ago, the official NBA rules demanded that a dribble had to be started before a player's pivot foot left the floor. A player who received the ball in progress or completion of a dribble was allowed a one-two count after receiving the ball, in preparation for a stop, pass, or shot.

As I wrote in 2007, the one count was elegant in its simplicity. It was the two count that was the bear. After the count of one, if either or both feet touch the floor, that's count two. 

The NBA rules offered seven interpretations of the intangible two. Can either foot be the pivot foot? Does the pivot foot have to be off the ground before a dribble starts? If a pivot foot is raised, can the player retain possession after the foot returns to the ground? If a pivot foot is so important, why are walks never called? Is there a rule differentiating a drive to the basket from any other step?

Neither the NBA nor the National Basketball Referees Association could give me the definitive answers– and frankly, both organizations were embarrassed to admit their lack of knowledge. 

But when it came to the practicality of the issue, there was one man who wasn't embarrassed.

In March of this year, ESPN's Henry Abbott confronted Joe Borgia, the NBA's Vice President of Referee Operations, about the pivot foot– and not just its relationship to the basket, but to a more mundane move.

The move in question was one Dwayne Wade made in the 2005 Christmas day game against the Lakers. Wade picks up a dribble while spinning on his right leg. Then, without dribbling, he takes one step onto his left foot and another onto his right. After initial review, Borgia said, "I don't see a travel. He gathers the ball, and then he gets a one-two."

Again that two! 

Viewing a slow-motion replay, Borgia admits that Wade's pivot foot hopped without a dribble– a clear traveling violation. (To be clear, a pivot takes place when a player who's holding the ball steps once or more than once in any direction with the same foot, with the other foot (pivot foot) in contact with the floor.) And here comes the whammy.

"We really don't reference the rulebook," Borgia told Abbott.

Finally, someone somewhere admitted what even the most casual fans knew already: players get away with breaking the rules. But are they accountable when Borgia tells referees to ignore such behavior? 

According to Abbot, "Borgia– the man in charge of telling referees what is and is not a travel– admits that referees are instructed, by him and others, to ignore one part of the NBA's written traveling rule."

Or was. Well aware that the crowds with torches and pitchforks couldn't be held at bay forever, Borgia made sure these traveling violations wouldn't continue. No longer would players get away with murder, and no longer would he instruct referees to ignore the rulebook. With one fell swoop, Borgia solved the whole problem and turned referees into enforcers.

He changed the rule. Now NBA players will be able to take two steps before they have to stop, pass, or shoot.

Under Borgia's guidance, the NBA has written a rule allowing players on the move to gather the ball, after driving or catching it, and then take two steps, rather than the previous one step.

The new rule reads, in part: "A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing, or shooting the ball."

Isn't that brilliant? Don't enforce, eliminate. 

According to ESPN, "It is believed to be the first time any league, at any level anywhere in the world, has explicitly allowed two steps."

We'll see how long it takes for Borgia to instruct referees to ignore the new rule and allow three. 


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her">Sports Doctor site.