How Many Steps Is A Travel In Basketball? With Examples


We all watch the NBA or basketball highlights and see a play that leads to dunk, then stop and think how many steps did he take? was that legal. We think the referee missed the call, actually, we know the referee missed the call. So we question ourselves?

How many steps is a travel in basketball? Taking more than two steps with control of the ball is considered a travel, so in this case, three steps is a travel. Oftentimes a player will catch the ball while taking a step but not have full control of it and then take two more steps for a layup or dunk, this is legal. It is only a travel violation if the referee blows the whistle.

Travel violations can happen in many ways, but in the end, you are technically allowed two steps when in control of the ball. Taking more than two steps is not the only way to travel, let’s look at what else is considered a travel.

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More On Travelling

We can say that 3 steps is a travel but really it depends, for example picking up your pivot foot is a travel and that’s one step. If you catch the ball in motion it has to be out of your hands bypassing, shooting or dribbling, if not this can be a travel. Jumping up and down with the ball is a travel, so it obviously depends on the type of violation.


Easy to Understand Travel Violations

Below I have listed the rules to traveling as per the NBA rule book but if you don’t want to go through the fluff I will list in simple terms what other ways in basketball is a travel besides taking more than two steps.

In no particular order doing these things may result in a travel violation call:

  • Picking up the pivot foot.
  • If you land with a left then right and while catching the ball the first foot which in this case is the left is the pivot foot. If you use the right foot it is actually a travel.
  • Switching pivot feet.
  • Taking more than two steps without a dribble or motion to shoot.
  • Standing still you may not take a step without a dribble before the pivot foot is released.
  • Catching your own airball is a travel, it must hit the backboard or rim or touch another player.
  • You may not jump up and down with the ball you must release it on the way up, and catch it mid-air on the way down.
  • You may not take two steps after a jump stop.
  • If you fall to the ground you may not slide, roll or move on the floor with the ball.
  • Pass to yourself off the backboard unless you’re in motion to layup/dunk it.
  • Jab step to quickly and in the process pick up your pivot foot before dribbling the ball.
  • Catching the ball and then taking your two steps to set up for a shot at the hoop.
  • Up and Under is usually done in the post, you fake out the defender with a shot, defender jumps and you go underneath him by taking a step, you must be in the process of shooting the ball as you lift up your pivot foot.

Nba Rules on Travelling

So what do the rules say I will go over them using the NBA Rule Book as a reference, most of these rules are universal. You can find the traveling rules in Section XIII—Traveling.


1 . A player who receives the ball while standing still may pivot, using either foot as the pivot foot.

A player who catches the ball and is standing still can pivot but can not take any steps.


2. 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.

This is pretty clear you are given 2 steps to come to a complete stop, pass or shoot. Sometimes this isn’t always called when it is more than 2 steps as the player is running it may be difficult to catch, happens all the time in the NBA where the player looked like they took 3 steps.


3. A player who receives the ball while he is progressing must release the ball to start his dribble before his second step.

I feel this could have been worded better, usually, the ball is not in full control of the player’s hand until the second step which isn’t a travel. Even when the ball is in full control a lot of players do not put the ball down by the second step more like they have already taken their second step and now dribbled not released the ball.


  1. The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.
  2. The second step occurs after the first step when the other foot touches the floor, or both feet touch the floor simultaneously.
  3. A player who comes to a stop on step one when both feet are on the floor or touch the floor simultaneously may pivot using either foot as his pivot. If he jumps with both feet he must release the ball before either foot touches the floor.
  4. A player who lands with one foot first may only pivot using that foot.
  5. A progressing player who jumps off one foot on the first step may land with both feet simultaneously for the second step. In this situation, the player may not pivot with either foot and if one or both feet leave the floor the ball must be released before either returns to the floor.

This is why in basketball footwork is so important, there are many ways to travel, as you can see in most cases the if you lift up the pivot foot before releasing the ball this will be a travel violation.


(e) In starting a dribble after (1) receiving the ball while standing still, or (2) coming to a legal stop, the ball must be out of the player’s hand before the pivot foot is raised off the floor.

This is one of the most common travel violations, may not be called very often in the NBA.


(f) If a player, with the ball in his possession, raises his pivot foot off the floor, he must pass or shoot before his pivot foot returns to the floor. If he drops the ball while in the air, he may not be the first to touch the ball.

This all has to be in motion you can’t let the pivot foot hang in the air.


(g) A player who falls to the floor while holding the ball, or while coming to a stop, may not gain an advantage by sliding.

Any movement and you are more than likely to get called for a travel. You may dribble from the floor if you are that skilled.


Is The Step Back A Travel

Many people think that the step back is a travel, to those that play basketball it looks normal to those who just spectate it may look awkward to them. The way that I can explain the step-back is a backward jump stop or sideway jump stop. This move is actually legal.

Sometimes it is a travel, the player will take one too many steps, this is on the ref to call it. But when done right the step back is a very difficult move to guard that James Harden lives by.

I watched videos of James Harden doing step-back three’s this offseason and shooting them off one foot and making it during pickup games, this will be interesting to see if he pulls this off in a real game this season.

If your looking for more rules to the game of basketball check out my other articles down below.


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