United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously uttered the phrase, “I know it when I see it” when describing his threshold for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio. First spoken in 1964, Potter’s expression has been used colloquially across myriad applications ever since.
And for Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, he just doesn’t see it.
Speaking to a group of reporters this week, D’Antoni said that the NBA has made it abundantly clear that James Harden‘s patented step-back move is not a travel according to the new, stricter guidelines.
D’Antoni went on to say that several other items — including the players lifting their back foot when beginning a dribble drive — would be looked at with more scrutiny, but Harden’s move would not.
[The NBA] made a point to tell every head coach that that is is not traveling. And it’s not travelling! Hopefully coaches will quit complaining and hopefully you guys in the news will understand that’s not traveling.
His patented move is not a travel.
Harden’s move, which, you know, is absolutely a travel by the spirit of the rule, will apparently not be judged as such. Of course, there are contextual factors for why he will be refereed this way, but someone like Josh Okogie will not. Mostly it’s that Harden is a former MVP, and a deadly scorer outside of anything he nets with ticky-tack dribble moves. He’s a star, a franchise cornerstone, and the NBA is not in the business of handicapping its most marketable commodities.
So D’Antoni will go on cheerleading for a convenient free pass given to Harden as his “gather step” establishes two pivot feet on his way to 400 threes this season. The rest of us will roll our eyes at the legacy of one of the most electrifying scorers in league history continuing to be marred by remarks about free throws and 3-pointers.
Pro sports leagues keep trying to legislate their games into stasis; a perfect, consumer-friendly version of The Thing That Makes Us Money. Despite rule changes, and fan confusion about things like pass interference, or what constitutes a catch, or traveling, the truth is the truth.
The NBA has decided to better define a travel, and Harden’s gather move is outside that explanation. But that doesn’t really matter, because we know it when we see it.