Word on the Street

Crab Dribble (krab drib’-uhl) noun. A hesitation dribble that is used to effectively mask a traveling violation. Depending on the situation and/or the player involved, the violation may or may not be called.

Usage example:No, no, no, dude. I didn’t travel. I used a crab dribble.”

Word history: Crab-Dribblegate began after what should have been a standard, run-of-the-mill regular season game between the Cavaliers and Wizards. But then – shock of shocks!! – the mighty LeBron James got called for …wait for it …traveling.


LeBron, not surprisingly, was displeased with the call. And, in trying to articulate his displeasure, he made postgame complaint history. “Bad call. We all make mistakes, and I think I got the wrong end of the bargain. I watched it 10 times after the game, and it was clearly a good play. You have your trademark play, and that’s one of my plays. It kind of looks like a travel because it’s slow, and it’s kind of a high-step, but it’s a one-two just as fluent as any other one-two in this league. I got the wrong end of it, but I think they need to look at it – and they need to understand that’s not a travel. It’s a perfectly legal play, something I’ve always done.

“I don’t know what [the official] said I did. I was trying to get an explanation from him but he ended up running to the other side of the floor. It was a bad call. Like I said, I watched it in the [locker] room. I took a crab dribble, which is a hesitation dribble, and then two steps. Everybody, you call guys can watch it. The bad part about it was I was able to finish at the rim with contact, so it would have been a three-point play. So it’s tough.

“What happens is when you take a crab dribble and you hesitate, that is not one step, because you still basically have a live ball. And then when you go into your one-two that’s when the steps get counted. So if you look at the play, I take a crab dribble and find a crease and then I take my one-two. So it’s a perfectly legal play, something I’ve always done and always been successful with.”

This attempt to justify a pretty blatant traveling violation not only reset the high bar for indignant and semi-delusional rationalizations, it also created a new term that, as it turns out, wasn’t really new at all (more on that below). It also amused the heck out of the Wizards who, as we all know, have been victimized by non-calls on LeBron before. Washington interim coach Ed Tapscott said : “I’ll have to check in my book to see what a ‘crab dribble’ is. I’m not quite sure. I do know that we don’t seem to get away with very many of them, whatever they are.” When asked if he knew what a “crab dribble” was, Antawn Jamison said: “I know what a traveling is. I think we all know what traveling is.” In response to the same question, Caron Butler added: “‘Crab dribble’ is when you, uh, travel. That’s the hottest thing on the market right now.: He further explained that, in performing the crab dribble, LeBron changed his pivot foot. Said Butler: “I couldn’t do it in AAU, I couldn’t do it in college. And obviously I can’t do it now.”

Things didn’t end there. Even two days after the fact, “King Crab” still couldn’t stop trying to acquit himself of traveling: “I’ve done that move plenty of times and I believe it’s a good move. If they called it more consistently, then I guess it ain’t a good move then and I’ll change my game. But it’s not called consistently.” To recap: He admitted that he traveled but felt entitlted to do so because traveling isn’t called consistently. Okay, got it.

Of course, LeBron couldn’t resist making a dig on everybody who’s been calling him out since Crab-Dribble Gate: “Everything I do is a big deal. It’s easy for people who don’t play the game of basketball to say something about a certain move. You hear all the people on SportsCenter talk about it, but they’ve never touched a basketball in their lives. They just report about it.” Oh, snap! But he’s totally right. It’s impossible, even with the benefit of slow-motion replay, for a non-basketball player to count the number of steps somebody takes on their way to the basket. Somebody better tell The Count on Sesame Street about that. He’s been wasting his time teaching kids to count all these years. What he should have been doing was handing them a basketball.

For the record, Bill Spooner – the official who penalized King Crab – explained his call in an e-mail: “3 steps on the move to the basket. Basic travel call.”

Despite all the hubub, LeBron was fairly chill, and seemingly unconcerned if his trademark move becomes the target of more consistent officiating. “If they take it away like they’ve done before with the hop step, I’ll find a way to do something else. How have I fared after that? I’ll be fine if they take this away, too.”

Now, most people – myself included – had never heard of a crab dribble and assumed that LeBron had simply made it up. But, surprise, he did not! It’s an honest-to-goodness move taught by basketball coaches. No, really. Only – sorry, LeBron, it doesn’t mean you get to take an extra step or two. So what, then, is it? According to Mike McNeill, Director of Coaching Development for Basketball BC: “The most overlooked dribble maneuver is what is called a crab dribble. What is a crab dribble? It is when the dribbler has their back to a defender and dribbles the ball between their feet with step-slide footwork.”


According to McNeill, the purpose of the crab dribble is three-fold:

1. To protect the ball by keeping the body between the defender and the ball. It is the most common dribble used by post players; the back-down move that is so common is a crab dribble. For perimeter players it is especially effective when the dribbler is bringing the ball up-court against an extremely quick, ball-hawking defender.

2. To set the pace at which the ball is brought up the floor. Often the coach will instruct the ball-handler to slow the pace of the game down, but if the dribbler is being pressured, the only way to relieve pressure is to attempt to go by the defender.

3. To change sides of the court when being pressured, without exposing the ball to the defender. This is usually done with a spin dribble but may also be done with a pop back move and then a change of hands dribble (crossover, behind back, between leg).

And here, courtesy of a anonymous reader, a video of the crab dribble drill. Note that, in the non-LeBron version shown here, actual dribbling (and not traveling) is involved.


In this video, NBA expert Jalen Rose explains the crab dribble and how it had nothing whatsoever to do with what LeBron actually did (which was to travel).


And, finally, a videographic parody.



Note: I know, I know. We’re all a little crab-dribbled out. But now that everyone’s finally spoken their peace and the fervor has died down, I wanted to get everything down for posterity’s sake.


Labels: LeBron James (King Crab) / Antawn Jamison / Caron Butler / Jalen Rose / Ed TapscottWashington Wizards / Cleveland Cavaliers / NBA / Word on the Street


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