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It’s legal for an NBA player to sit on his teammate’s shoulders... sort of

What brave team will begin the revolution?

Art by Phil. He’s like the Banksy of Secret Base.

According to the NBA rulebook, it is not illegal for one player to climb onto his teammate’s shoulders and play as one unit. This is a potentially game-changing discovery and I look forward to many accolades rolling in as I revolutionize basketball. I found this tactical revelation after reading the entire NBA rulebook, a gruelingly repetitive codex that does a wonderful job of spelling out every detail and not forcing you to guess.

However, I chose my words carefully - it is not illegal. I wish I could simply say “it’s legal,” and we could all move on with our day. Unfortunately, the NBA (assumedly after the release of Air Bud) drafted language that can cover their ass in any situation. It’s called Elastic Power, which basically means if a ref sees something they don’t like, they can just decide it’s a foul. It’s similar to the NFL rule that can turn the commissioner into God whenever they feel like it, and therefore is a dumb concept built to prevent anything from getting too fun. That said, until the NBA actually uses their Elastic Power to ban shoulder sitting, the law is on our side.

Now, like any good scheme, it’s important to know exactly when you can and can’t get away with these antics. We have some very definitive don’ts which then frame the playground in which we can properly stack some boys.

The rulebook really hammers home how you can’t stack players in order to score. This would be considered an illegal assist, which occurs when a player helps a teammate “gain height while attempting to score.” While gain height sounds like a cop trying to describe someone who’s got ups, this section sadly ruins more than just player stackability. This is the text that prevents a player from hoisting his teammate up to the hoop. The phrasing also implies that even an “unintentional” assist, such as Player A bending down to tie his shoe and Player B using A’s back as a springboard to elevate towards the hoop, would receive a whistle.

However, there is a positive to this killjoy of a rule. It has such extreme specificity that I believe if they didn’t want us stacking dudes, they’d just say so. It’s the only direct reference that really says not to try this stunt. Other parts of the rulebook require you to read between the lines to see where players on shoulders wouldn’t be allowed.

  • Jump balls: only one player can be within the restraining circle. Therefore, you could not have a two-player stack vie for the opening tip.
  • Defensive three-seconds: only one player can actively guard the offensive player with the ball while in the lane. Since a player stack would count as a double team, this would draw a whistle pretty quick. Sure, you could have each player face opposite directions in the stack with the bottom half getting a face full of crotch, but ideally their visibility is not hindered.
  • Inbounding the ball: only one player is allowed over the boundary line when the ball is thrown-in. Simple enough. No goofs here.

That’s really it. And realistically, I think outside of really hilarious tall dunks, there are far better uses of stacking a player atop another.

Take jump balls for instance. I don’t think you’d want to do this anyway since the player taking the tip isn’t allowed to grab the ball. But, they don’t forbid stacking two guys in order to grab the ball once it’s tipped. Same goes for inbounding the ball. And with defensive three seconds, you’d be better off using this meat stack out on the perimeter regardless. It’s a three-point shooting league, so why not try to block those shots straight at the source? That’d also help prevent some egregious (although again hilarious) goaltending calls.

So with that clearer picture of when not to build a dude stack, it’s time to get into how to best utilize this tall tactic. I’m now realizing I haven’t said anything’s a “tall task” yet. Huh.

Anyway, since you can’t use a stack for scoring directly, the obvious alternative is let them dish out assists. Honestly, this might even be more beneficial than doing the actual scoring anyway. Imagine a point guard astride his sturdiest teammate, scanning the floor from 10-feet up in the air, soaring over opponents to generate passing lanes that simply aren’t there for the plebians on the floor. I believe you could utilize a two-player stack to create the deadliest passer the NBA has ever seen.

How would you even combat this thing? Well, the defense would need a player-stack of their own. They’d need to mirror their counterpart’s every move, four arms plus two legs stretched out to take away every opportunity possible. While the offensive duo could dish like crazy, on defense you could generate steals in addition to endless blocked shots (if some single-bodied player was foolish enough to throw up a shot). It would be the duel of the ages, like Pacific Rim but good. Height can only be defeated by more height. If Team A throws a third player on the stack, Team B better hurry and do the same.

The most interesting bit of this concept regards traveling. Since we can trust the NBA to have thought everything and spelled things out how they saw best, they’ve given us some wiggle room when it comes to dribbling the ball. Every reference to traveling focuses on “a player,” and at what point they must dribble, which depends on when their feet are on or off the floor at time of possession. But if our top player has the ball, feet off the ground, when is he expected to dribble? Since these are two of our five players, it would be unfair to say the bottom half’s feet are now what dictates the dribbling of the top half. Based on the text, you could make an argument that if a top-half player holds the ball, they don’t have to dribble and the bottom-half can run around as they please.

While the possibilities aren’t necessarily endless, the well-defined rulebook leaves plenty of room to experiment. The important thing is an NBA team could get away with this if they were brave enough and had the perseverance to keep trying until they get a cool ref.

Now, if anyone has Mike D’Antoni’s number, please leave it in the comments so we can begin the revolution.