Brandon Dill/AP Images
James Harden is often criticized for his signature step-back three that many NBA fans argue should be called a travel.
But most recently, it was a Euro step that had fans tripped up.
During his 38-point performance against the Utah Jazz Saturday night, the eight-time All-Star Euro-stepped his way past two defenders en route to an easy two points. Twitter immediately erupted into a flurry of posts calling for Harden to get whistled for a travel on the play, but the layup stood regardless - as it should have.
Though it appeared to many viewers - including the Jazz announcers on the game's broadcast - that the league's leading scorer had taken three steps after picking up the ball, the NBA rule book suggests that Harden's move was completely legal.
Like his signature step-back, the permissibility of Harden's Euro step hinges on a "gather" step. For a player dribbling the ball, the gather, according to the league's rules, is "defined as the point where a player does any one of the following:
"1. Puts two hands on the ball, or otherwise permits the ball to come to rest, while he is in control of it;
2. Puts a hand under the ball and brings it to a pause; or
3. Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body."
Further, the NBA rule book specifies how the gather relates to the league's traveling rules.
"A player who gathers the ball while dribbling may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing, or shooting the ball. The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after the player gathers the ball."
For all intents and purposes, after is the key word here.
When applied to the Harden Euro step in question, the NBA rules on gathering appear to indicate that the referees were correct in not issuing a traveling call. Though it's admittedly a close call in real-time, Harden's left foot is clearly down before he begins to pick up, or gather, his dribble.
Technically speaking, Harden could have legally continued dribbling at this point, so the step shown above doesn't count towards his two-step allocation after gathering the ball. Fans and the Jazz announcers mistakenly labeled the planted left foot as Harden's first step even though it came before he gathered the ball.
Harden fully picks up his dribble just before planting his right foot as his first official step. He then returns to his left foot and elevates for the layup, thereby limiting himself to just two steps and staying within the bounds of the league rules.
The Rockets left Salt Lake City with the 120-110 win thanks in large part to a combined 72 points from Harden and Russell Westbrook. They travel to New York to take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Monday night.