What is a Carry in Basketball? A Simple Guide with Examples

I’ll never forget the first time I was called for a carry in a junior pro basketball game as a 7 year-old. 

I had no clue what I had done wrong. All I could see was the referee making a scooping signal with his right hand and giving the ball to the other team.

If you are new to the game of basketball and not sure what a carry is then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll break down the carrying rule in basketball with examples that demonstrate it.

What is a Carry in Basketball?

In basketball, a carry occurs when the ball handler abruptly stops his dribble to raise the ball up into the air. A carrying violation isn’t called very often because some players are good at disguising it. 

Carrying sometimes happens so fast in the NBA that referees don’t even notice it. With a legal up and down dribble, the player’s hand stays on top of the basketball. With a carry, the player’s hand goes underneath the basketball and pushes it up.

Another type of carrying is when the ball handler palms the ball in the middle of dribbling it. Palming causes the dribble to be interrupted, which is why it’s considered a carrying violation. Any disruption in the dribble is supposed to be a turnover and the possession of the ball should go to the other team.

The best way for players to avoid getting a carry called on them is to always keep their palms facing down. Players should always strive to keep their hands on top of the basketball and never on the bottom of the basketball.

The Penalty for a Carry

When a player is called for a carry, it is a penalty on the offensive player and results in a turnover. The referee will blow his whistle, make the carrying motion with his right hand, and award the basketball to the opposing team.

Sometimes the referee will call a double dribble on the dribbling player instead of a carry. A double dribble occurs when the player stops the dribbling motion and then starts it again. 

The penalty for a double dribble is the same as a carry. The offense must turn the ball over to the defense.

Examples of Carrying

A casual fan may not notice a carry while watching a game because it can happen so fast. The following YouTube videos contain examples of carrying. Now when you are watching a game, you’ll know what to look for.

1. College Basketball Player at Kennesaw State

This player and coach from Kennesaw State do an excellent job of explaining what a carry is. Notice how the coach talks about illegal crossovers as being a new point of emphasis with officials. The coach also talks about how players can get away with dribbling on the side of the ball but never underneath it.

2. Allen Iverson’s Killer Crossover Move

Hardcore basketball fans just knew this one would be on our list. Allen Iverson had quite possibly the best crossover move of all time. However, you can see in the video that it looks like Iverson’s hesitation dribble with his left hand could have been called a carry.

Interestingly, both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen comment on Iverson’s crossover move in the video. Jordan spoke highly of Iverson’s ability while Pippen accused him of “picking up and carrying the ball.”

3. Example of Carrying in Youth Basketball

This video shows an example of a young lady carrying the basketball during the first freeze-frame. You can see how her hand is completely underneath the bottom of the basketball. That’s a classic example of carrying.

The latter portion of the video explains how, with a legal crossover move, the hand will be on the side of the basketball. You can see how it can be difficult for officials to tell the difference, especially because the pace of the game is so fast.

Players Who Excel at Masking Carries

Several NBA players are masters at getting away with carrying the basketball. Here is a quick list, along with a YouTube video of each player.

1. Kevin Durant

Durant is one of the most gifted players in the NBA. However, the former Texas Longhorn star is notorious for getting away with a ton of carries.

In the above video, you can see how Durant’s entire left hand is underneath the ball. Does the official call this a carry? Nope… Welcome to the new era of the NBA!

2. Isaiah Thomas

Thomas is one of the best ball handlers in the NBA. As the new saying goes, this kid has some serious “handles”. 

The above video shows Thomas’s 20 greatest crossover moves. On some of these brilliant plays, Thomas could have been called for a carrying violation. Former Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg complained about this during a press conference in 2017.

3. James Harden

Harden is a spectacular scorer and virtually every defender in the NBA fears “The Beard”. The former Arizona State standout is an insanely good ball handler and he’s mastered the hesitation dribble (AKA the hesi). 

In this video, Harden makes Paul George look like a fool. However, when the video is broken down in slow motion, you can see that this could have been called a carry. Harden’s hand almost palms the ball from the bottom, but he does it so fast that the referee couldn’t see it.

Tips on How to Dribble to Avoid Being Called for a Carry

Newer basketball players may worry about getting called for a carrying violation. Here are a few tips to keep that from happening on the court.

  • Always keep your hand on top of the basketball while dribbling
  • You can dribble with the side of the ball a little bit but never raise your palm to the sky
  • Don’t fool with crossover moves or hesitation dribbles until you’re a seasoned ball handler
  • Work on dribbling the ball as low to the ground as possible

This is an interesting question and the answer is a little bit complicated. It all depends on how the player palms the basketball. Here are a couple of examples.

Let’s say that a player is dribbling the ball and then palms it briefly from the bottom to try a hesitation move. In this example, palming the ball is illegal because it gives the offensive player an unfair advantage over his opponent.

Now, let’s say a player down low on the block has already picked up his dribble. He decides to palm the ball to get a better grip and keep it away from the defender. In this case, palming the ball is legal because the player isn’t committing a carrying violation or any type of unfair advantage.

When a player palms the ball when going up for a thunderous dunk, that is a legal play. So, in other words, palming the ball is both legal and illegal. It just depends on how and when the player palms the ball.

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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with basketball for over 30 years as a player, coach, and bettor. He has a degree in Sports Psychology and enjoys following both the NBA and College Basketball on a nightly basis.