Jump ball

A jump ball in basketball is a method used to initiate or resume play in the game. Similar to a face-off in ice hockey or a ball-up in Australian rules football, a jump ball involves two opposing players competing for control of the ball following an official’s toss into the air between them. This crucial aspect of basketball determines which team gains possession of the ball and sets the tone for the entire match.

At the beginning of the game, one player from each team lines up on each side of the midcourt line at center court. The referee then stands between these players, blows their whistle, and tosses the ball above their heads. The two players vie to tip the ball to a teammate, aiming to establish possession and move the ball down the court. A jump ball can also be used to resume play after two opposing players simultaneously get their hands on the ball, either by grabbing it while the other has it or wrestling with the ball on the ground.

Jump Ball Definition and Purpose

Role in Starting a Game

A jump ball is a method used in basketball to begin or resume play. It involves two opposing players attempting to gain control of the ball after an official tosses it into the air between them. The two players who are jumping for the ball must try to tip it to one of their teammates.

The jump ball is primarily used to start a game. At the beginning of each match, the referee tosses the ball in the air between two players—one from each team. The players then leap into the air, attempting to tap the ball to their teammates and secure possession for their team.

Resolving Possession Disputes

In addition to starting games, jump balls are also used to resolve possession disputes during play. When two opposing players both have their hands on the ball simultaneously, it’s considered a held ball situation. To fairly determine which team gets possession, a jump ball is called. This occurs at the spot where the held ball situation happened, with the two players involved in the dispute participating in the jump ball.

The Jump Ball Procedure

The Role of the Referee

The referee plays a crucial role in the jump ball procedure. The referee initiates the jump ball by tossing the ball upwards between the two opposing players. The toss must be fair and even, allowing both players an equal chance to gain control of the ball. The referee is also responsible for ensuring that all players adhere to the jump ball rules and regulations such as maintaining their positions, not touching the ball before it reaches its highest point, and not violating the jump circle area.

Player Positions

During a jump ball, players are positioned in specific formations around the jump circle, depending on their roles. The two players competing for the jump, typically the tallest or highest jumping players from each team, stand inside the jump circle. The remaining players on both teams are positioned outside the jump circle, spaced evenly around the circle. They must stay in their positions until the ball has been tipped by one of the players competing for the jump.

Executing the Jump

When the referee tosses the ball, the two players competing for the jump must both attempt to tip the ball with one hand to one of their teammates. They cannot touch the ball with two hands, catch, or hold it during this process. Additionally, both players are not allowed to touch the ball before it reaches its highest point. Once the ball has been successfully tipped, the other players can move from their positions and try to gain possession of the ball.

The jump ball execution requires precision, timing, and athleticism from the players involved. The team that successfully gains possession after the jump ball has the advantage of initiating the game or resuming play with the momentum in their favor.

Alternating Possession Arrow


The Alternating Possession Arrow is a concept that was introduced in basketball to address the issues surrounding jump balls in the middle of games. The possession arrow rule, officially called the alternating-possession rule, replaced jump balls as a method of putting the ball into play through an inbound.

Supporters of the possession arrow argued that jump balls gave taller players and better leapers an unfair advantage over others. The alternating-possession procedure thus aimed to balance the play and add an element of strategy to basketball, especially during the NCAA Tournament.

Usage in Modern Basketball

In modern basketball, the Alternating Possession Arrow is predominantly used in non-professional leagues, particularly in college basketball. The process of alternating possession begins after the initial jump ball at the start of the game or an extra period.

During the game, when a jump ball situation occurs (e.g., two players having simultaneous possession of the ball), the possession arrow determines which team gains possession for an inbounds pass. The arrow initially points towards the team that didn’t gain possession from the jump ball and alternates after each jump ball situation.

To summarize, the Alternating Possession Arrow:

  • Replaced jump balls as a method of putting the ball into play
  • Aims to remove the advantage created by jump balls for taller players and better leapers
  • Is predominantly used in non-professional basketball leagues
  • Determines which team gains possession from a jump ball situation during the game
  • Alternates after each jump ball situation

By introducing the Alternating Possession Arrow in basketball, the game has become more balanced and strategic, ensuring a fair and competitive playing field for all participants.

Notable Jump Ball Moments

One of the most famous jump ball moments in basketball history took place during the 1972 Olympic gold medal game between the United States and the Soviet Union. With three seconds left on the clock, a jump ball resulted in a controversial last-second basket that gave the Soviet Union a one-point victory, marking the first time the United States had not won the gold medal in Olympic men’s basketball.

Another notable jump ball situation occurred in the 1984 NCAA Championship game between Georgetown and North Carolina. During the game’s final moments, with Georgetown trailing by one point, a critical jump ball was called leading to North Carolina gaining possession and ultimately winning the championship.

In the NBA, a memorable jump ball moment came in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. The Pacers’ Reggie Miller managed to steal the ball during a jump ball situation and scored a quick three-pointer, turning the game’s momentum and eventually leading to Indiana’s victory in the series.

During the 2013 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, a crucial jump ball took place in the closing moments of Game 6. With less than a minute left in the game and the Heat down by three points, Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat won a pivotal jump ball against the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. This play led to an unforgettable three-pointer by Ray Allen which tied the game, sending it to overtime. The Heat ultimately won the game and the championship that year.

These are just a few examples of notable jump ball moments that have had significant impacts on the outcomes of important basketball games. Though it may seem like a simple play, the jump ball can often provide a crucial turning point that defines a game’s legacy.