17 Basketball Slang Terms to Elevate Your Game

Understand your air balls from your alley-oops.

Basketball has a language all its own.
Basketball has a language all its own. / Kelvin Murray/Stone via Getty Images

Hoops. Roundball. B-ball. When there are so many slang terms for the game of basketball itself, naturally, the sport has its own language. Whether you’re watching a game or playing one, here are a few terms to know to make you sound like a pro.

And One!

Yelled after scoring a basket, the phrase and one implies that you were fouled—and will go to the foul line to shoot a free throw. AND1 is also a sports clothing company that was founded in 1993 and found success quickly with its line of trash-talking T-shirts.

Air Ball

A shot attempt that doesn’t touch any part of the basket or backboard. It is usually met with the crowd yelling “AIR BALL” in unison, loudly, and always in the same tune.


A pass to a player breaking for the basket. If everything goes right, the player leaps, catches the pass in mid-air, and slam-dunks it, possibly posterizing someone (see below).


At each end of a basketball court, there’s a semicircle that comes out of the baseline and surrounds the basket. Inside the arc, shots are worth two points; beyond it, they’re worth three.


Like an air ball, a brick is another type of woefully missed shot. In this case, however, the ball generally hits either the metal rim of the basket (which itself is sometimes referred to as “hitting iron” or “clanking”) or the backboard—hard—then bounces off. A 1971 issue of Sports Illustrated explained that “Around the league they call them ‘bricks’ because the ball falls like a brick after one of these shots.”


A shot—often a three-pointer—that typically occurs in the last moments of a game and effectively seals a win for a team.


A three-point shot taken from far beyond the aforementioned arc. A shot said to be taken “from downtown” may also be referred to as being taken from “behind the arc.”

Dropping Dimes

In the era of pay phones, to drop a dime meant “to make a phone call to offer information” (or “to rat someone out”). In basketball, dime is a term for an assist, when a player passes the ball to a teammate who then scores. Dropping dimes is the act of setting up a player, or multiple players, to score many times. Damian Lillard of the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat star Kevin Love rapped about dropping dimes in a State Farm commercial.


Fadeaway is a term for a shot where the shooter is falling backward, creating more space between themselves and a potential defender.

Garbage Time

Time at the end of a game when the outcome is not in doubt, usually when the stakes are lower, and coaches might start giving reserve players who don’t see a lot of floor time a chance to take the court.

Granny Shot

The term granny shot refers to shooting a free throw underhanded. Rick Barry, who retired from the Houston Rockets following the 1979-80 season, was the last player in the NBA to employ the move—and continues to tout its effectiveness. “With the underhand shot, I could make 80 percent of my throws with my eyes closed,” he explained. “And I do mean closed.” Barry was the leading free-thrower in ABA history, and remains in the top 10 all time in the NBA.


The area immediately under the basket, stretching out to the foul line. Players stand around the key when a player takes a free throw, but can’t enter it until the shot is released (it’s a foul otherwise). If you stand too long in the key, you can get whistled for a three-second violation.


The term posterize means “being immortalized for the wrong reasons.” If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve probably got a poster of your favorite player, likely in mid-dunk. The defensive player made to look inept on the play is being posterized.


On a good shooting night, a player is raining down shots. This was used to comedic effect in Along Came Polly, when the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing pickup basketball, kept yelling variations on, “Let it rain!” (Spoiler alert: There were a lot of bricks involved.)


Another word for the ball, as in: “Gimme the rock! I can’t miss!”

Sixth Man

In basketball, there are five players on the floor (unless Gene Hackman’s coaching). The sixth man is the first player to come off the bench, usually playing a good number of minutes, but not starting the game. The NBA gives out an annual Sixth Man of the Year Award.


A basket where the ball arcs so perfectly that it goes through the hoop without hitting any metal, rendering the basket all but silent, minus the swish of the moving net.