Basketball slang terms frequently come from pickup games played in cities around the United States. Many of these descriptive terms like “shooting bricks” or “dropping dimes” add some creativity and flair to descriptions of games played.
Players who honed their basketball skills in games where these fun basketball slang terms were used carried these expressions with them to high levels of play throughout the country. Plus, basketball commentators, who enjoyed a love of descriptive language, spread the terms into everyday use. Nowadays, you’ll find that most of these terms are understood by a good share of basketball players at all levels of play.
Here are a few terms you’ll want to know if you want to expand your basketball IQ. Let’s start with the definition of basketball slang.
What is Basketball Slang?
Basketball slang refers to the calling common of basketball terms in an informal manner. It is often used only by people who know the sport and unrecognizable by casual fans.
Here are some examples of basketball slang:
A player’s shot attempt that doesn’t hit the rim or backboard. Undoubtedly, an embarrassing moment for the shooter. This is usually compounded by the opposing team fans chanting “Air Ball, Air Ball, Air Ball!”
Bank is Open
When a player makes a shot using the backboard, in effect banking it in off the glass, it’s a common hoops expression to say that the bank is open.
Breaking someone’s ankles usually happen after a nifty dribbling maneuver and the defender loses his balance. It is similar to the term “putting ‘em on skates.”
“He could rebuild Atlantis with all those bricks.” If you heard the word “brick” in basketball, it is always not good. “Shooting bricks” is equivalent to missing shots left and right. It is the direct opposite of the term “making it rain.”
In basketball, the slang term “buckets’ refers to made shots or baskets.
Catch and Shoot
When an offensive player receives a pass and immediately attempts to make a basket. This usually refers to an outside shot.
The free throw line in basketball is called the charity stripe. With no defenders guarding the free-throw shooter, it should mean easy points.
A player who takes a lot of shot attempts with little success. More often than not, these shot attempts are from three-point range.
A “dagger” is a made shot that has the potential to put the game away for good. For example, Team A leads Team B by two, 92-90, with 10 seconds left and two seconds on the shot clock. Suddenly, player X attempted a three-pointer and made it as the shot clock expires. The score is now 95-90, making it virtually impossible for team B to win. The shot that player X made is what’s called a “dagger.”
Drive and Dish
When the player with the balls dribble towards the hoop but instead of shooting, passes to a teammate in hopes of an assist.
Dimes is the slang term for assists, that is, a pass that leads to a basket. However, when an assist is specifically referred to as a “dime,” it has the connotation of being fancy.
Emptying the Bench
This means the coach has pulled out all his starters and put his second or third-stringers in the game. Emptying one’s bench is usually done toward the end of a game, and the result is already sealed.
An on-ball defender might try to draw a charge by acting like incidental contact was a little something more. By falling on the floor or “flopping,” the hope is that the officials will call an offensive foul. A flop is most likely to happen on a hard drive by the player with the ball.
“Downtown” is the slang term for the area beyond the three-point arc. If someone made a shot “from downtown,” this usually means he made a three-point basket.
Greatest Of All Time. In basketball, most GOAT discussions center around Michael Jordan. Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, and Kobe Bryant are also usually in the conversation.
When somebody got stuffed, that means he is blocked in his shot attempt. The term is usually used when the offensive player tries to dunk, and a defender emphatically blocks that attempt. In basketball, “getting stuffed” is the same as “getting denied.”
The hack-a-Shaq is a defensive strategy that emphasizes fouling someone who is not a good free-throw shooter. This is usually done when the opposing team is in a penalty, and you don’t want them to run their normal offense. Don Nelson first implemented the strategy, then of the Dallas Mavericks, to exploit Dennis Rodman’s poor free-throw shooting. Since then, it became synonymous with Shaquille O’Neal, another notoriously bad foul shooter.
Refers to the ball-handling abilities of a player. A guard with a “good handle” can really control the ball effectively.
A “heat check” in basketball is applied to a player who has made a few shots in a row. The player heating up attempts a difficult shot, perhaps from long distance, to see if he can keep his streak going.
The ability to jump high off the basketball floor is referred to as his or her’s hops – or jumps. Players with impressive vertical jumping ability, or hops, seem to almost float in the air. At higher levels of play, players with hops are more likely to make impressive jams or dunks.
When the players without the ball clear out of the way – usually by going to the opposite side of the court – so that one offensive player can create their shot on their own.
Knocking the Bottom Out
This term is used when someone is making a high quantity of shots. The term’s origin goes way back to the advent of basketball, using actual peach baskets as goals. When someone makes a high volume of his field goals, it would literally break the bottom of the peach basket.
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Best Basketball Lingo
Basketball slang and lingo can spread quickly. If a star NBA player uses a term in an interview or an announcer calling the game at a critical moment shouts the term, it’s more likely to become widely known quickly. As basketball is a fluid sport, new basketball jargon, lingo and slang are developed ongoing. Here are some basketball terms folks use to describe the game.
Make it Rain
If a player is making it rain, he is making shots from all over the floor. It doesn’t matter where he is– left side, right side, top of the key, corner– he is making every attempt.
Nothing but Net
“Nothing but net” is an expression used to describe essentially the perfect shot. In this made attempt, the ball does not hit any part of the rim. Instead, it goes directly straight into the net. SPLASH!
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Picked his Pocket
If you hear this term used, it simply means the defender got a steal while the opponent is dribbling. “Picking his pocket” usually means the same as “stole his cookies” in basketball slang jargon.
Pound the Ball Inside
When the team on offense makes a focused effort on feeding low-post players the ball. Also, known as feeding the post, this strategy takes advantage of a team’s post player’s ability to score inside.
When you hear a prayer used in a basketball context, this generally refers to a shot attempt that is unlikely to go in. For example, an offensive player may heave a shot from 60 feet and beyond when the ball is inbounded with only a second remaining. This may be referred to as a “prayer.”
Put on Skates
To put someone on skates is to make a defender fall as if on skates. This is often caused by some nifty and quick dribbling by the offensive player.
A basketball lineup that doesn’t include a traditional center – a “big man.” Designed to be smaller and faster, a small ball lineup can present match-up advantages.
Splash refers to a made shot in basketball that doesn’t touch the rim or backboard. It is most often used about long three-pointers. Sinking a three-pointer that swishes is making a splash. The Golden State Warriors duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were adept at their 3-point shooting; they earned the nickname “The Splash Brothers.”
When an NBA superstar – think LeBron or Kevin Durant – gets the benefit of the doubt on close calls by officials. Referees may rule in their favor despite visual evidence to the contrary because of a certain “halo effect.” For example, if a shot attempt by LeBron is way off the mark, the official might assume that he was fouled because his shots usually go in or are close to going in.
Taking it to the Rack
This expression is used when someone is attacking the basket aggressively.
Also called a “floater,” this shot is typically made off a dribble which is worried about a shot-blocker blocking the shot. The player shoots the ball with enough arc to avoid being blocked. A teardrop is usually shot in the paint by a guard.
Thread the Needle
A precise pass usually leading to a basket that goes between defenders and figuratively “threads a needle.”
A foul called by the referee that typically would not be called. A small offense that an official calls can have huge consequences if the infraction is called on a star player who is in foul trouble.
Too Much Sauce
“Sauce” in basketball context refers to an excellent move or an excellent player in general. It originated from hip-hop artists that use the word “sauce” for swagger and excellence.
The expression “wet” is often used to refer to jumpers or jump shots. It simply means that the jumper is good and pretty to look at.
A wedgie is when a ball gets stuck between the backboard and the basket. This results in a jump ball in professional basketball.
To “wiggle” in basketball means to move in and out of defenders, usually through a dribbling move.
Final Thoughts on Basketball Slang
Interesting basketball slang makes definitely makes the game more interesting. Which is more exciting? To say that someone is good at assists or there’s a master at droppin’ dimes?
Slang terms also serve the purpose of helping distinguish casual fans from more serious fans. If you know most of the terms above, you’ve probably played or watched a fair amount of hoops.
Basketball slang terms will be updated regularly, so please check in again and see if you find something new.
By Jan Rey with Mike O’Halloran
Jan is a sucker for all things basketball and still yells, “Kobe!” every time he tosses a crumpled paper into a trash bin. Mike is the founder of Sports Feel Good Stories and is the all-time leader of triple-doubles on his Nerf basketball court.
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