How Much Basketball Slang Do You Know?


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Wikicommons by Keith Allison

About This Quiz

Every sport has its own kind of language once it has been played enough. You can't help but come up with terms to describe the game-specific play and the odd, colorful slang word for when you want to have some fun with what you're doing. When basketball was first invented, did anyone use the term slam dunk? Not a chance. Did those guys playing with peach baskets know an alley-oop when they saw one? No, because they never saw one. And they certainly had no idea what the Splash Brothers were. Ticky tack fouls, airballs, flops, fadeaways and free throws. If you live and breathe basketball, then these aren't slang words; they're part of who you are and what you do. If you're new to the game, they're jargon terms you're just getting used to. If you're not a basketball fan at all, then they may as well be an alien language. But you don't have to worry about that, right?

Whether you're just a casual basketball fan or you're Kawhi Leonard himself, it's time to show off what you know about the words and phrases that get tossed around on the court. Take the quiz and prove your basketball slang skills!

What do you call a photo finish, last moment shot that pays off?

A buzzer beater does just what it says, it beats the buzzer. You take the shot before the clock runs out and, ideally, it goes in the basket after time has run out. Some people will call it the same thing if it goes in just before the buzzer, too.


What's it called when you pass the ball to another player who takes it and scores right away?

You could call it an assist, but it's more colorful to say you dropped a dime. Why do they call it a dime? It might be because phone calls used to cost a dime at a payphone, so you were doing someone a solid if you dropped them a dime.


What are you calling Steph Curry and Klay Thompson?

Technically speaking, any two players who are just killing it at jump shots could be called the Splash Brothers; but let's be honest, it's really meant just for Thompson and Curry and their incredible skills.


Your team is playing like they're blessed and players are hitting every shot they take. What's one way to describe that?

You don't need to be a weatherman to make it rain. This is a bit of a showboat way to refer to a team's dominance on the court. If you're making every shot you're taking, you're making it rain, and that's a good thing.


You can dribble so good your defender loses his balance. What are you doing?

Breaking ankles is what happens when someone falls or stumbles trying to keep up with someone on offense dribbling, usually a crossover, in a way that sets them off balance. Allen Iverson was especially skilled at this.


If you make yourself huge with a wide stance and arms all over the place to secure a better rebound position, what did you do to your opponent?

You can box out your opponent by basically blocking them away from a potential rebound. Since no one sits still in basketball, you need to be on your toes to pull this off with arms and legs wide. The bigger the wingspan, the better the box out.


Someone is talking about the "rock." What do they mean?

When someone references the rock, they're talking about the ball. You can use it pretty much synonymously as in "toss me the rock, I would really like to score some points for a change of pace" or "protect the rock, we're down by two!"


What do you call the player who misses shots like it's their job?

It makes sense that if someone keeps throwing bricks, they have to be a bricklayer. Not to name names, but players like Andre Roberson and Iman Shumpert are kind of known for this habit.


If you throw a bad shot, you throw one of these. What's it called?

Brick makes sense as a term for a massively failed shot because have you ever tried to throw a brick? They're not very aerodynamic at all. And they hit pretty hard. It's just a fun way to let people know you messed up pretty hard.


If you're a boss at rebounding, what might they call you?

A glass cleaner is anyone who has proven themselves to be a boss at rebounding. Why the name? Backboards are made of glass, so someone who excels at rebounds is constantly swiping the ball off the glass.


In football, you'd call it a "Hail Mary," but what's a basketball term for the same thing?

Both "Hail Mary" and "Prayer" evoke the same imagery of turning to a higher power for help. In basketball, you're throwing a prayer when you're chucking that ball from a truly unreasonable distance on the off chance it might work out for you.


What do you call it when a coach swaps all his starters for other players?

You're emptying the bench when you swap the entire team of starters for whoever else is on the bench. Why would you do that? When the game is winding up and you're either so far ahead that it doesn't matter or so far behind that it doesn't matter and you want to give your all-stars a rest.


When you lift the ball to take a shot and then oops, you didn't take the shot at all, what's that called?

They call it a pump fake when you're all geared up for the shot and then you don't actually take it. When it came to pros, few players could ever match Dwyane Wade when it came to pulling off an artfully crafted and utterly convincing pump fake.


If you take a shot by jumping up and back what's it called?

A fadeaway isn't just a shot that looks cool, it's a shot that has a purpose. Well, all shots have a purpose, but the point of a fadeaway is to put distance between you and the person defending you so they have less chance of blocking the shot.


Also big in soccer, when someone fakes an injury or makes a small one seem like a big deal, what do you call it?

Someone who flops is just the worst kind of person. In all of NBA history, there have been some terrible ones, but it's possible the worst ever was Vlade Divac who'd flop if someone looked at him funny. Of course, LeBron James also had the nickname LeFlop.


If you're losing, you might try intentionally fouling the worst player on the other team to gain an upper hand. What do you call that?

Hack-a-Shaq is an insult directed at Shaquille O'Neal, who was pretty well known for being bad at free throws. When you foul the worst player, you're hoping they miss their free throws and your team has a better chance of getting the ball and turning the game around.


Michael Jordan was known for this, but what do you call the duration a player can stay in the air after a jump?

Everyone wants a good hang time, but not every player can pull it off. While it seems like some players can absolutely fly, Michael Jordan's record hang time was actually only 0.92 seconds. Of course, the average person barely gets 0.5, so that's pretty good.


If you shoot the ball underhand, what are you doing?

This might be considered offensive to grandmothers, but the idea behind a granny shot is that you're shooting underhand rather than overhand. This happens pretty rarely in professional basketball, but every once in a while, it'll pop up in a desperation play to beat the clock.


Your opponent is coming at you with the ball. They jump for a shot but you're all over it, slamming it right out of their hands. How would you describe that?

This one dates back a few years, but it's still relevant in the game. When you smack that ball out of someone's hand to deny them they're getting stuffed. If you time it right, this can be incredibly dramatic and spectacular to watch.


What do you have if you have some great vertical leaping skills?

You can say someone has hops if they have exceptionally good jumping skills. Michael Jordan was pretty much the king of hops, the man had a 48-inch vertical jump, which is pretty much the best in NBA history.


When you blow past your defender with such power you knock them backwards, what are you doing to them?

You're putting 'em on skates if you cross your defender bad enough to knock them backwards. Why? Because they're stumbling back like an uncoordinated person on skates. It's impressive, but be careful of fouls!


Hey, what's a ticky tack foul?

This is in no way an official term, but a ticky tack foul is what happens when a ref calls a foul for light contact or for no contact at all that in no way disrupts play. It's a foul that no one else agrees with.


When you have the ball in your hand, you leap into the air and bring your arm full circle to the hoop. What are you doing?

There isn't a lot of mystery behind the windmill dunk. As its name suggests, you need to spin your arm like a windmill to make it work. Dominique Wilkins is generally credited with rocking the first windmill dunk in 1984.


You just blocked someone so bad their momma felt it. What's a good thing to yell?

This might be one of the most old-school slang terms in all of sports that has moved well beyond basketball. When you block someone, especially when you do it in a dramatic fashion, they just got rejected.


Let's say you toss the ball up and your buddy grabs it mid-air and makes a dunk. What just happened?

An alley oop is a pretty classic maneuver in basketball that dates back to around the 1950s or so. K.C. Jones and Bill Russell were famous for pulling off the maneuver, and Wilt Chamberlain had his fair share of good ones, even when he was in college.


What are you likely to yell if the other team just can't stop scoring with no response from your team?

Your team needs to D up if there's no D, and that means defense. It's usually something said in frustration when it seems like you have no D and the other team is just making you look like amateurs.


What do you call it when you take a shot, the ball hits the rim, then just get stuck at the edge of the rim against the backboard?

Mot of us know a wedgie as an old school high school-style prank involving the uncomfortable yanking of underpants, but it's also what you call a wedged ball. You could just say "wedged ball" but how is that funny? Also, if you're wondering, it becomes a jump ball after it gets stuck.


First, you make a move in one direction and then, boom! You head off in a totally different direction. What did you just do?

The Euro step is a fake-out move. You dribble, step one way, then step in the opposite direction to off balance your opponent. It's not considered traveling provided you only take those two steps. This makes a good set-up for a layup.


Hack doesn't refer to a saw or a tip to make life easier in basketball. What does it mean?

A hack in basketball is a foul. The use of the term is pretty organic and intuitive. You could say something like "I was about to take the shot, when this guy just hacked me right in the throat." No one wants t be hacked, but at least you get some free throws out of the deal.


You shoot, and you don't just miss; you hit nothing at all. What did you just throw?

An airball is a ball that is well-acquainted with the air. It's when you miss everything, not just the net but the rim and the backboard as well. Essentially, it's about the worst kind of miss you can make. You want to avoid this at all costs.


If the ref calls a foul on you but you didn't touch the other player, what might you tell the ref in defense?

All ball is a pretty generic defense to a foul. What you're saying is that you never touched the person you're accused of fouling, all you did was smack the ball out of their hands. So you got all ball but none of the other player. This may work but probably not.


If you overhand the ball to another player, you might call it what?

You know how you throw a baseball? Do that but with a basketball, and it's a baseball pass. It's a full power sort of pass that usually has to cover a good distance. You'd only do it in a pinch when you're running low on time?


So what the heck is a rimshot?

A rimshot is more than just a drumming term. When the ball hits the rim, that's a rimshot. No matter what else happens, it goes in, or it misses, doesn't matter. You just need that contact to call it a rimshot. Pretty simple!


A player on the offensive who can just move in and out of defenders like a breeze can do what?

You have some wiggle if you can weave in and out of defenders. There's a player who's known as "Mr. Wiggle," but you may not have heard of him. It's Khoa Tran of the VBA, the Vietnam Basketball Association.


Mix man-to-man and zone defense to get which of these?

Amoeba defense is meant to wear down the offense, and it was developed in the 1970s by Fran Webster of the Pittsburgh Panthers. It's supposed to be set up like a diamond with the fastest defenders at the top of the key and your biggest defender under the basket.


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