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WHERE FOULS ARE FAIR
Leigh Montville
November 09, 1987
Sure, rules are rules. But in the NBA, officials allow an extra step, a palm here and there, a push and a shove or a bonus tick of the clock just to let the players play
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November 09, 1987

Where Fouls Are Fair

Sure, rules are rules. But in the NBA, officials allow an extra step, a palm here and there, a push and a shove or a bonus tick of the clock just to let the players play

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Different players are allowed different moves. This is another rule within the NBA rules. Never written. Always true. The NBA veteran, the NBA star, builds a line of officiating credit over his years in the league. He shows what he can do and what he cannot do. He is allowed to do what he can do.

"The game is the thing," Daly says. "The players are the performers. Let them perform as well as they can."

"You get familiar with a player who spends 38, 39 minutes on the court every night," Garretson says. "This isn't like college, where you might see a player three or four times a year. You get to know the way players play. Suppose Julius Erving, every time he went to his left, took one baby step. Suppose he did. Maybe he walked...but he never got any real advantage from it. That was the way he always played. Consistency. The new guy on the block...well, it's going to take him time to show what he can do."

I am dribbling the ball now. I am Michael Cooper. Or I am Byron Scott. Or maybe I am still Magic. I seem to put my hand underneath the ball on every bound. Or catch the ball on every bounce and then let it go again. Or guide it in some strange way. Or do something that does not appear normal to the basketball eye.

"Palming," you say.

"Never," I say.

"Never?"

"Almost never."

Who can call palming in the NBA? Virtually every hand is large enough to catch the ball and drop it again. Virtually everyone, even the guards, can pick a ball off the floor. Just like that. A big hand can put an index finger on top of a ball and a baby finger on the bottom. What is legal? What is not?

"I remember the first time I saw Earl Monroe," Garretson says. "I didn't know what the hell I was supposed to call. Here was this guy with these big hands, and he would catch the ball and move it over and move it back and do all kinds of things with the ball that I had never seen. He'd catch the ball for a second and then let it go. Was he palming? Did he lose his dribble? As the players have gotten bigger, this rule has become much, much tougher to call. Where's the line?"

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