James Harden’s Signature Stepback: Is it an Illegal Travel or a Legit Move?

James Harden

Getty Houston Rockets guard James Harden

The debate over James Harden’s signature stepback move has been reignited in these NBA playoffs — is the action truly a travelling infraction, or is it, in fact, a legal play?

The motion received major attention back in October when the MVP candidate got away with an alleged infraction right in front of the referee. And now Harden’s stepback is in the spotlight once again after the Rockets’ Game 3 victory.

Todd Lisenbee, a radio host at 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma City breaks down Harden’s move in this clip, and he doesn’t sugarcoat his feelings on its legality.

“Watch his feet,” says Lisenbee. “As the ball goes from his right hand, between his legs, to his left hand, he is in the middle of the gather right now. He’s allowed to step left-right, and one-two with the gather, but as he brings the ball together here, he steps left-right-left. That is a travel, a hundred percent of the time. The NBA has got to figure out how to officiate this rule, because that is a travel any way you cut it.”

He’s not alone. Twitter is ablaze with hoops fans who can’t understand how Harden continues to get away with it.

“Every time I watch James Harden touch the basketball and do a quadruple step back I wonder how you can even officiate and not call that a travel,” said one user.

“Every James Harden stepback three is a travel,” griped another.

NBA players being allowed to take two steps before passing or shooting is a relatively new development. The league moved away from the “one-step rule” in 2009 so that players “may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.”

The Case for Harden’s Stepback as a Legal Move

NBA Ref Explains Why The James Harden Step Back Isn't TravelingThe James Harden Step Back doesn't always get called a travel by NBA referees. Zach Zarba, a 15-year NBA referee, is here to weigh in on whether or not the move is a travel. He takes a hint from when the ball is gathered. Business Insider tells you all you need to know about business,…2018-04-28T15:00:01.000Z

Not everyone is convinced that Harden is getting away with an illegal move on a nightly basis, however.

Zach Zarba spent 15 years as an NBA official and lays out his reasoning for why today’s refs aren’t calling Harden’s stepback in this video clip.

“There’s subtle differences in the traveling violation in the NBA as opposed to high school and college,” posits Zarba. “If you look at when the ball is gathered, that pivot foot is not the first step, that is the zero step. So after that pivot foot, when they step back into a one-two that, in the NBA, is a legal two-step.”

And that is the NBA’s official position on the matter as well. In response to the infamous travel incident in October, the league tweeted, “This is a legal play. Although James puts the ball behind his back, he only takes two steps after the gather of the ball and therefore it is NOT a travel.”

And for what it’s worth, one astute Twitter user pointed out that Harden is not the only superstar getting the benefit of non-traveling calls in this series. It appears that Steph Curry may be getting away with a few liberties as well.