Jones on NBA: Hoops speak 101

November 6, 2012, 5:12 PM

Terminology is a big part of any sport. Growing up playing (and later coaching) basketball I have become familiar with the jargon that comes with hoops. In any sport, the vocabulary is unique and helps form the game’s own language and subculture. There are long-accepted words and phrases that are part of the games language.

But there are some words and phrases that just appear out of nowhere and become part of the vernacular. From this seat, even though they may illicit a chuckle at times, they help paint the picture while succinctly and appropriately describing the action.

We understand that there may be some new listeners so below is a list of terms that my broadcast partner Eric Smith and I use regularly in our broadcast. Some legit and some born out of creativeness but all as one might say, “are in play.”

Court Geography and Standard Phrases

Paint — the key or the lane outlined from foul line to baseline and from one side to the other where players line up on free throws. It is usually painted a solid colour.

Short Corner — a spot just a step from the baseline, a shade in front of or level with the plane of the backboard about 10-12 feet out. A popular spot to use when attacking a zone.

The Nail — the point on the foul line where they have literally put a nail to help mark the six-foot radius of the circle used for jump balls at the foul line area.

Broken Circle — where the bottom of the aforementioned circle is painted as dotted line in the key.

The Box/Block — the box painted at the bottom of the key to signify the first marker where a player will line up to take rebounding position for a free-throw attempt.

Mid-post — the second marker from the box on the lane as you move toward the free-throw line.

Elbow — where the foul line, side of the lane and arc for the circle all meet.

Hash marks — are the four markings on the court that extend from the sideline toward the midline of the court. Not much function in the pro game but in the college game before the advent of the shot clock they helped divide the court into sections so officials could keep the game moving and prevent stalling. Also forms a boundary for the loosely-imposed coaching box.

Time line — the centre line where in the NBA you have eight seconds to cross with the ball or lose it on a turnover to the opposing team.

The Pocket — is the small strip of the floor where the three point line runs parallel to the sideline and offensive players get their closest shot at the basket from three point range.

Strong Side — when the court is divided in two parts with a straight line from one basket to the other, the strong side is where the ball resides.

Weak Side — using the same dividing line as above, it’s the other half of the court from the strong side, I.E. no ball and defensively it is often referred to as “help side.”

Restricted area — is the semi-circle under the basket where a player can’t take a charge on an airborne shooter.

Lower Defensive Box (LDB) — is a rectangle defined by two small marks on the baseline inside the short corner (going north and south) and two similar marks in the key (running east and west) just below the broken circle. An important area for officials in charge block calls. If a play start in the LDB the restricted area disappears and a charge can indeed be taken by a defender on an airborne shooter.

Put back/Stick back — an offensive rebound (loose change) that results in a score.

Hedge or Show — is a defensive term for the man guarding a player who sets a screen for another offensive player. The player guarding the screener has to hedge or show momentarily to prevent a clear path to the basket by the player using the screen.

Commonly-used NBA and Smith and Jones expressions

Burn — playing time or as some youngsters are calling it, “tick” as in clock time on the floor.

NBA — Stands for no boys allowed. It’s a man’s league and to reference former NBA tough guy Charles Oakley, “It’s OK to be young in the league but don’t use it as an excuse.” Yep, they play for grocery money.

Playing Plinko — coined, no pun intended, by Eric Smith when a shot bounces off the rim and or backboard hitting any combination of the two entities usually more than three times before going through the hoop or falling off to produce a rebound. A refence from the gameshow Price is Right.

The Grilled Cheese (AKA posterized, a noxema special) — is the old-time facial. Often used to describe an “in your face dunk” where a defender is unsuccessful in trying to block a dunk attempt. The phrase was inspired by former Raptor, Oliver Miller (surprising huh? — a food reference tied to Miller) when Michael Jordan jammed the ball over Acie Earl in 1996. On the bus ride to the airport Miller squawked “Hey Acie, Michael gave you the grill cheese man. He jammed it in your grill and I hope you was saying cheese for the picture they took.”

The Human Victory Cigar – originally the phrase was a nickname for Darko Milicic, who rarely saw the floor in his early days in Detroit. A Human Victory Cigar is a player that enters the game when a victory is sealed because it’s a safe time to play him. He is also referred to as a 20/20 player. No, not because he is a 20-point, 20 rebound-performer but it means the team has to be up 20 or down 20 in the dying minutes with the game out of reach before he can play.

The Ocho Special — Jose Calderon turning the corner on a screen and roll play and scoring in the lane. As an aside…we’re looking for a similar moniker for Kyle Lowry’s forays in the same situation.

Low Lunchtime YMCA Stuff — is a weak shot attempt that is usually blocked by the opponent. It might work in the Saturday morning rec league game or the 6:30 businessman runs but it has no place in an NBA contest.

Kitchen’s Closed — blocked shot. Any reference where food is denied is suitable for a blocked shot — “no soup for you”.

Beer/Tavern league D — I was told it was politically incorrect to call it the “beer-league reacharound” but it is what happens when a defender is beat and reaches behind the offensive player as he is going by to know the ball away from him. It is commonly called a foul by officials.

In Jail — When a player is caught out of position, particularly on the defensive end when rebounding or playing defense results in the player being “behind the iron or steel.”

Shooter’s Touch – a shot that scores after falling softly through the hoop after a few bounces (see Plinko).

As always, if you hear a term with which you are unfamiliar we are available via twitter to hopefully provide an answer.

The NBA broadcast family lost a terrific member on Monday with the passing of Jim Durham. Most recently, Durham was the voice of basketball on ESPN Radio but he was someone I listened to regularly in my formative years in the communications business. Durham and the late Johnny “Red” Kerr formed one of the most entertaining teams when the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls were gaining momentum as an up-and-coming team.

I was fortunate to be assigned to Bulls games as a neophyte broadcast associate and Durham’s call of those Chicago contests was always accurate, regularly electrifying and very descriptive. I can close my eyes right now and still hear “Jordan with a shot on Ehlo…….” Jim Durham will be missed.


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