Blowing the whistle on confusing basketball lingo

By Ted Blankenship | June 1, 2022

If you watched a lot of basketball as I did during the NCAA Tournament, you’re likely confused by some of the terms used in the game. 

For example, there’s the airball. You might think it’s similar to air guitar, which is strumming an imaginary guitar. But it’s actually a shot that misses the rim, backboard and everything else, generating derisive chants of “airball!” from opposing fans.

 Then there’s the backdoor. That’s not a reference to the rear entrance of the arena. It’s an offensive action in which a player without the ball cuts behind a defender and toward the basket. 

A carry is a penalty called when a ballhandler resumes dribbling after momentarily cupping the ball from underneath. The penalty “gives the ball to the other team,” as announcers like to say, but they don’t get to take the ball home with them. 

A fast break is when a team tries to advance the ball up the floor as quickly as possible after a steal, blocked shot or rebound. It also applies when a team brings out a picnic basket during a time out. 

A flop is when a player tries to draw a foul by exaggerating the force of contact from an opposing player. 

These terms are part of what make basketball interesting, so it’s important to keep the sound on when you are watching games on TV. Otherwise, basketball just looks like a bunch of people in shorts running up and down a wooden floor with other people in striped shirts blowing whistles. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention cheerleaders. They are people, usually young women, who perform organized cheering, chanting and dancing in support of their team. Their tools include short dresses and pom-poms which they shake and wave around during the game.

The reason you’ll sometimes see them spelled pompons (with a “n”) is because that’s the way the French spelled them in the 18th century, and they didn’t even play basketball. 

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