Basketball Jump Balls

Basketball Jump Balls

A jump ball in basketball is one of the ways to put the ball into play. On a jump ball, the referee blows his whistle and tosses the ball high into the air. One player from each side takes the jump ball by leaping into the air and trying to tip it into their team's possession. The players representing each respective team are not allowed to grab the ball. Instead, they must tap and redirect the ball in the direction of a teammate using one hand. Jump balls are used in order to give both teams an equal chance at possession. In the event of a jump ball at the beginning of the game, it is usually the player that is the tallest and/or can jump the highest on each respective team as this will give the team the best possible chance to attain possession.

The Jump Circle

Basketball Jump Circle

Jump balls usually take place on the midcourt line at the jump circle. The jump circle is also known as the center circle or midcourt. This is where every game begins as a jump ball called "tip-off" happens to open a game, it is much like an opening faceoff in hockey. It can also happen at midcourt during the start of overtime play. If a jump ball is to happen during regulation time caused by a held ball or any sort of disagreement among officials, it could happen at either free throw line as well.

Jump Ball Rules

There are rules that dictate how players take jump balls. Here are the rules of jump balls:

  • Both feet must be in the jump circle
  • The jumper cannot leap for the ball until it has reached its maximum height, but this rule is not strictly enforced
  • The jumper is not obligated to actually perform the act of jumping
  • The jumper cannot leave their team's half of the jump circle
  • The jumper cannot grab or hold the ball until it has touched another player on the floor
  • The jumper cannot tap the ball more than once
  • All other players must be outside the jump circle, but may be on the other team's side of the circle

Jump Ball Violations

A violation of the jump ball procedure would be anything that does not abide by the rules of a jump ball; i.e. if a non-jumper is inside the circle, if a jumper jumps before the referee throws the ball in the air, etc. Another example of a jump ball violation would be if a jumper catches the ball as the first touch to the ball. Again, the first touch of the ball following the referee tossing it into the air needs to be a tip. Additionally, if a jumper makes contact with the ball before it reaches its peak, it is considered a jump ball violation.

When Do Jump Balls Happen?

In basketball, a jump ball will be used to put the ball into play:

  • At the start of a game
  • At the start of overtime
  • When officials cannot agree on a call
  • Any special cases when penalties/fouls might cancel out resulting in uncertainty of possession
  • After a held ball is called
  • After a flagrant foul

What Player Takes Jump Balls?

Basketball center

Any player on the floor can take the jump ball. However, the center is usually responsible for taking jump balls. This is because centers are the tallest and biggest players on the team. Since jump balls require players to jump in the air and redirect the ball to a teammate, it is in a team's best interest to have their tallest player take jump balls. When a possessive stalemate occurs, i.e. two players wrestle over the ball until it is deemed that they have equal possession, then it is those two players and those two players only who can take the jump ball for their respective teams.

History Of The Jump Ball

The origins of the "jump ball" in basketball date back to before 1938. It began to take place after every single field goal was scored. Then in 1938 the rule changed so that the team that was scored on would receive possession of the ball, in an attempt to make the game more fluid, and the jump ball only took place at the start of every quarter and in the event of a held ball. Starting in 1975, the NBA, in another attempt to bring more fluidity to the game, implemented a system where a jump ball would only be guaranteed to happen at the beginning of the game. Then in the second and third quarters the team that lost the starting jump ball would start with possession and the team that won the starting jump ball would receive possession to start the fourth quarter.


What causes a jump ball in basketball?

A jump ball can be caused by multiple things. First off, it is what signifies the start of an official game of basketball, this is called the "tip-off." If a game goes to overtime, a jump ball is what starts this extension of play as well. Jump balls can occur during regulation, though. A jump ball is in order if a disagreement among referees occurs, if a situation in which penalties/fouls may cancel each other out, or if a held ball is called. A held ball is when two opposing players are deemed to have equal possession of the ball, resulting in a possession stalemate, after pursuit of a loose ball, both not being able to muscle the ball off of each other, or anything of the like.

When did they stop doing jump balls?

In 1981, the NCAA implemented a rule that made it so that the jump ball's occurrence was limited to the start of the first quarter and overtime, that is it. In the event of a held ball or any other cause of a regulation jump ball, the alternating possession rule started to come in which entailed the score table to have an alternating possession arrow. The team that lost the commencing tip-off would start with the arrow pointing to their bench and any subsequent jump ball call would automatically give them possession. The arrow would then switch to the other team's side and jump balls after that would follow the same cycle. The NBA has never adopted this rule but the rule has remained in most levels under it.

Can you tip in a jump ball in basketball?

The object of the jump ball is precisely to tip the ball into the hands of one's teammates. The ball is thrown into the air, hopefully perfectly in the middle of the opposing jumpers, by the referee and two players of opposition jump at the ball's peak and try to tip it to their team. The first touch of the ball by either player needs to and can only be a tip. They cannot grab the ball, they must tip it.