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Rondo, Rules, Bird and Backboards

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  November 5, 2009 11:17 AM

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When Rajon Rondo pulled off a little trick-shot magic a couple nights ago against Philadelphia, pulling up from behind the backboard with the shot clock winding down and heaving a rainbow up and around the backboard, there were two instant reactions.

1. “Wow!”

2. “Is that legal?”

Consulting the rulebook doesn’t help a ton since rules are only as good as your interpretation. But here’s the official rule.

Rule No. 8, Section II. b: Any ball that rebounds or passes directly behind the backboard, in either direction, from any point is considered out-of-bounds.

After taking a look at the shot and determining that it was on the up-and-up, NBA vice president of referee operations Joe Borgia took a couple minutes to explain the rule to the Globe yesterday.

“Think of the basketball backboard as a long tunnel that goes straight back,” Borgia said. “If the ball goes through that tunnel, it’s a violation. If you looked at Rondo’s shot, it was an arching shot up and over the backboard. It never passes through the tunnel.”

The comparison’s between Rondo’s shot and the shot Larry Bird hit in a 1986 preseason game against Houston were instant. The difference, of course, is that Rondo’s counted and Larry Legend’s was waived off.

Looking at them both though, you can sort of see what Borgia’s talking about. Rondo took his shot from outside of the lane, faded away and essentially avoided the backboard altogether. Bird is deep in the paint, literally behind the backboard, and treats it like an obstacle – sort of like those McDonald’s commercials. The shot he puts up almost makes it look like he’s shooting into a silo, or as Borgia put it, a tunnel.

Typically, the rule applies to rebounds that bounce off the rim and over the backboard or terribly thrown lob passes that go over the backboard. Borgia said it’s not likely that a player finds himself down low and heaves a shot from one side of the backboard to the other.

“It’s extremely rare on shots,” Borgia said. “Players know it’s illegal. Every once in a while you see a guy drive and get fouled and try to throw up a circus shot. Very rarely are they under the basket and they try to shoot the ball up and over."

It Rondo’s case, speaking more as an observer than an official, Borgia said the circumstances more or less dictated the shot. There were 3.4 seconds left in the first quarter and, with the ball in his hands, shooting was more or less his only option even if he wasn't on the most convenient spot on the floor.

“I guarantee you if he wasn’t at the end of the game clock, he wouldn’t have taken that shot,” Borgia said. “But it worked out for him.”

*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.

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