10 Things to Say (Or Not Say) During Basketball Season to Make You Sound Like a Baller

I find that there are times in life when I need to impress someone — whether it be a significant other’s family or coworkers. One of these times came around basketball season when I was hanging out with a group of basketball fans. I was lucky enough to know the basics of basketball, for example, rules and object of the game. However, when you’re not understanding the lingo, it’s easy to lose confidence and fall out of the conversation.


I created this guide in time for March Madness and the height of the NBA season. With these simple phrases, you shouldn’t feel left out of the conversation. Remember to keep your confidence and show that even though you may not be a baller, you can talk the talk.


Please notice that the phrases are very short. That is because when watching the game on TV with a group of people, you want to respect the audience and not talk anyone’s ear off. Plus, if you’re mostly quiet, it shows that you are paying attention — even if you’re really just scrolling through your social media feed.    


1. “That’s a travel!”

Traveling, or taking more than two steps without dribbling the ball, is starting to become a controversy in the NBA because the calls are not being made. A great example of a player who has become a “master traveler” is James Harden of the Houston Rockets. He has a tendency to travel, but the refs have a tendency not to call it. A travel causes a turnover, so the other team will get the ball and have the chance to score some points. Although, it's in the hands of the refs whether they make the call. Some say that these days the game of basketball belongs to the referees.


2. “He’s a freak.”  

‘Freak’ references anyone who is a flying, dunking machine — or makes three-point shots after three-point shots. If you’ve ever heard of the phrase ‘Greek Freak’, that is referencing the Milwaukee Bucks’ player Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s from Greece and he’s a dunking machine.


3. “He’s washed up.”

You would say this to reference a player that used to be good and isn’t anymore, but some people still might think they can play as good as they used to. For example, Los Angeles Lakers’ Lebron James — The King — is not having a great season. I might say, “he’s washed up,” but that is a controversial topic amongst NBA fans who worship Lebron. After all, he just passed Michael Jordan on the scoring list. (See below on why we shouldn’t compare the two).


4. “He’s a bust.”

If you are looking to describe a player who was good in college but doesn’t do well in pro ball, you would say this. For example, Sam Decker was a boss when he played for the Badgers, but now that he’s in the NBA playing for the Washington Wizards, people refer to him as a bust. However, recently he’s been arguing for more playing time and making improvements.  


5. “Pick and roll.”

A pick and roll is an offensive play. The team looking to score gets in the defenders’ way (pick) and then another player on offense shuffles (rolls) under the hoop and grabs the pass and shoots it in (see gif for example). The defense gets confused and disrupted because defenders have to switch coverage — most likely an unwanted matchup — which allows for an easy pass and score. Pick and rolls are a common and easy way to get a quick 2-points.


6. Synonyms to scoring: “Getting buckets.” “It’s raining threes.” “A triple.” “And one.” “A three.”

These are great phrases to use when there is scoring. Buckets is another word for baskets. “And one” is a common phrase that means you got fouled in the act of scoring and the ball goes in. Then, you get to take another shot making it a total of three instead of two points. Using the words “three” or “triple” are just words for a three-point shot.  


7. More Shooting Terms: “Nothing but net.”, “Airball” and “Slam dunk.”

These might seem obvious to some, but for others, these are just some really common phrases used in basketball. “Nothing but net” means that the ball goes right through the hoop without touching anything other than the net. “Airball” is when the shot is made but doesn’t come close to the basket and drops through the air usually short of the basket. A “slam dunk” is when a player literally slams the ball right through the hoop.


8. “They’ve got good rhythm.”

Say this when a team has great flow. You’ll be able to tell because the passes are really smooth and the team looks like they’ve practiced offense. The first time I watched the Milwaukee Bucks play, I said “wow, they’ve got great flow”, and the basketball fans I was with nodded in approval. Boy, did I feel like a baller.  



1. “He’s only good because he’s black.”

This is extremely offensive, a stereotype, and racist. I hear it all too often. The color of your skin does not define your skill at a sport. If you say this during a game, you’ll probably get a lot of weird looks and create tension. Amongst true basketball fans, skill is valued. Saying that the color of someone’s skin is the reason for success devalues that individual's hard work and dedication. So never say that, ever.


2. “Who’s better: Lebron James or Michael Jordan?”

There cannot be a comparison between these two magnificent people (but you could compare their shoe brands). Keep in mind that James and Jordan are from two different time periods. Take a look at how technology, training and sports medicine have changed over the years. I don’t mean to dis on Lebron, but he does have an advantage with all of the new sports research and studies that have made today’s players better than ever before. It’s unfair to assume that Lebron would be better than Jordan — because he is statistically — when we have no way of giving them the same type of training and treatment for an equal comparison. I think it’s best to say that they are equally the best for their time. If you feel that you have a stronger argument for why one is better than the other, then stay confident in that argument and show your stuff in your next baller debate.


All in all, I hope this tool of what to say/what not to say comes in handy for you. Remember that for any situation in life, stay confident in yourself and always be a part of the conversation!