The Basketball English To English Dictionary

Language is a living evolving being. It intermingles with many different fields including sports. Phrases like “three strikes” and “the whole nine yards” are frequently used outside of sports. Meanwhile sports has acquired words from the English language and gives them a new meaning. A word like “dime” has a totally different meaning when applied to basketball. This guide is intended for those who would like to learn more about basketball terminology. All of these words are borrowed from the English language, but their meanings are radically different from their original meaning. All quotes are made up.

Intangibles (adj) – Statistics other than points per game; Tangible stats like rebounds, blocks, steals, etc.
“Ben Wallace is a phenomenal player because of his intangibles.” – Bill Walton

Proven (adj) – A player who has done this feat once in his career. Frequently used when the player isn’t likely to ever repeat that feat.
“Charles Smith will help the Knicks reach the Finals. He’s a proven 20-8 guy.” – Anonymous analyst, summer 1992

Legitimate (adj) – A player who has been a starter for more than one year. Usually refers to one that is a borderline starter.
“We could probably get a lot back for Willie Green, since he’s a legitimate shooting guard.” – Random message board commenter, Philadelphia suburbs

Winner (n) – A person that was lucky enough to play on a championship team. Today this usually applies to just about anyone who played with Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal.
“Derek Fisher is a great acquisition for Golden State. He’s a proven winner.” – Bill Walton

Choker (n) – A person that was unlucky enough to face Shaq or Duncan late in the playoffs, during one of their championship runs.
“Chris Webber isn’t a winner, he’s a choker.” – Eric Montross

Athletic (adj) – Unskilled. Usually in intangible areas, like rebounding, blocking shots, etc.
“Our team could use an athletic player like Kwame Brown or Tim Thomas.” – No one. Ever.

Glue guy (n) – A valuable player who’s main contribution isn’t using up lots of possessions.
“Andrei Kirilenko is the type of glue guy that every team needs.” – Spokesman, Elmer’s Glue

Energy guy (n) – Unlike some of the aliens you would see on Star Trek (Q, Pah Wraiths, Trelane), these are corporal beings. Usually an illegitimate glue guy that can run the floor in transition, or excels in one intangible part of the game.
“And a fast break dunk by energy guy Tayshaun Prince.” – Kenny Smith

Chemistry (n) – Winning Percentage.
“The Lakers had great chemistry under Shaq, Kobe, and Phil Jackson.” – Jack Nicholson

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

44 thoughts to “The Basketball English To English Dictionary”

  1. Good list, there’s also:

    Lunchpail guy – does all the dirty work, translation: has no offensive skills

    I also always like when announcers say “he’s long and athletic” Doesn’t that describe 3/4 of the players in the NBA?

  2. Nice post, but Chris Webber really was a choker. I cannot recall him comming thru once in closing parts of playoff game. Well, once he did hit a jumper against lakers and was screaming shut up shut up to the crowd. But that was literally it. Although that whole Kings team did cultivate choking in my opinion. My countryman Divac, he is disaster. Christie is really terrible. And Peja is … just mildly so.

  3. There’s a new one thanks to Ron Artest: ‘Warrier’ – Player who out-toughs other players on the court because of/due to their ‘hood-cred (usually self-proclaimed.)

  4. So in sum, the Knicks have many athletic chokers, but lack enough proven winners and legitimate glue guys to generate chemistry.


    Did anyone bother to read this????????? Awful, I thought I accidentally got side-tracked to an onion piece about the Knicks again. I even checked the date on top to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. I know the post blog isnt exactly earth-shattering, but this was effing awful. I thought I was reading a joke the entire time.

    This guy is one step short of advocating the incorporation of Jedi-Mind-Tricks to help save the Knicks.

  6. Young(n or adj) – Absolutely no idea how to play the game.

    An Improving Jump Shot(n) – Has finally learned how to clang them off the rim instead of missing it altogether.

  7. I think “warrier” is a variation of another NBA archetype — “The Enforcer,” who delivers hard fouls and defends the team’s superstar from them. Charles Oakley was a great one for the Knicks and for Chicago, Jerome James and Reggie Evans had that role in Seattle.

  8. That personal achiever kind of stuff really works (see David Robinson), but I don’t want anyone to waste it on these Knicks. The worst that could happen is they win 30 games, we lose our draft pick, Dolan sees some improvement, Isiah stays, and the things stay the way they are.

  9. Alan – In that post article I see:

    “Jamal Crawford said he plans to play tonight after missing one game with a sore hand. Crawford wore a white glove at practice but said it affected his shooting, and that he hopes to take it off for the game…”

    Gulp – just what we need a less accurate Jamal Crawford. This season is about as comical as they come.

  10. How has The Post sunk to a new low? It wasn’t an article. It was a blog by a guest blogger and all of that personal achievement stuff works.

  11. Charles: Personally I use the word “blog” to describe a web site, and article to describe the writing.

    In any case that article/post/thing, or whatever you want to call it, is just about the worst piece of writing/analysis I’ve ever seen. That it appears on the New York Post website and that someone either approved that moron to write for their site or that article in particular speaks poorly of the New York Post.

  12. I don’t know what you think is so bad about it. He used to work with the team in the past. He probably wouldn’t get the same results with a Stephon Marbaby as he would with an Alan Houston, but when they blow this team a peak performance coach would be helpful. Everyone needs a coach.

  13. “I don’t see us being active at the trade deadline. Simply, because this is the time where you’re down, you make mistakes, mistakes that will cost you years and everything you’ve worked for the last three, four years. You can make a mistake here that sets you back another three, four years.”

    What was going through his mind when he said this?

  14. No Basketball Team Left Behind

    Maybe we can take inspiration from the way our government fixed education. Students take a test. The analogy is that basketball teams play a game and produce a score. Back to the students: each state gets to decide what a passing score is and the standards get pretty loose down Mississippi way. So in light of how we’re doing this year, I propose setting up our own standard of a Knick Renormalized Victory or KRV. Anytime we come within 20 points of the other team, it’s a KRV win! Wouldn’t that fix up our self esteem? Damn, we’d be a cinch for the Renormalized playoffs, wouldn’t we? Or would we?

  15. “I don’t know what you think is so bad about it.”

    Charles, your medicine cabinet at home is chock full of snake oil which cures pancreatic cancer isn’t it.

    First of all, Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a highly controversial device which is believed by many neurological experts to be quackery as best.

    Second of all, when you’re trying to push a dubious mechanism for success, your best weapon is persuasive marketing. This blog was the worst pitch of an idea Ive ever read. Did this gem really convince you:

    “PPC utilizes Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that identifies what each player’s brain is doing when he is in his “mental zone” so we can put him back there for each game. That would improve each player’s shooting to around 50%. Elite shooters would be closer to 55% (Allan Houston shot 58% on his PPC program and just 42% off it). Hitting half their shots, the Knicks would start winning immediately.”

    Do 50 push-ups, re-read the article, and come back.

  16. I definitely believe the Bricks have a psychological problem. But the fact that the coach and GM is an ignoramus and the owner a dip isn’t something they can psychologically condition themselves to overcome.
    My point is the problem doesn’t appear to be the players as much as it’s the team management and leadership.

    Treating the symptoms of cancer is not curing the disease. Addressing some foibles won’t cure the Bricks. Excising the tumors (Zeke and Dolan) will set them on the road to recovery.

  17. T-Mart:
    I loved that line because of the vast number of assumptions that are made that the writer treats as if they are fact.
    I wonder what his “mental zone” is, and why should the player go “back there?”
    And how would being in that zone bring every and any player back to 50 percent?
    I mean, is the assumption that everyone can shoot 50 percent when ever they get back to their mental zone???
    If this is such a fact, why aren’t all teams shooting 50 percent or better?
    And why does he have time to write lame articles like that? Shouldn’t NBA teams be beating down his door for his counseling?

    Perhaps if he were “back” in his “mental zone,” he might actually be on contract with 50 percent of the players in the NBA.
    Perhaps if he were “back” in his “mental zone,” he might have written a clearer and more cohesive explanation for some of his assumptions.
    So he could only hope to achieve contracts with 50 percent of the players in the NBA if he were “back” in his “mental zone,” but Tony Robbins – because he is an elite motivator – might actually achieve 55 percent…?
    But if they were going head to head, then in his “mental zone” the writer, when matched against Robbins in his “mental zone,” would only achieve 45 percent to Robbins 55 percent?
    I thought when he got back into his mental zone he could achieve 50 percent. What’s with the 45 percent v. Robbins?

    This is all so confusing. It’s almost as if there is no logical underpinning for any of these assumptions…

  18. “he’s a real MAN out there”

    Example: “Eddie is playing like a real man out there tonight…” Mostly heard last season, not this one.

    Meaning: Eddie isn’t whining about not getting the ball exactly where he needs it…his chest is puffed out in pride…the tallest guy covering him is 6’6″…

  19. Leadership (n.) – A veteran player who spends most games on the bench, usually on teams with good records (See: Chemistry).

    “Darrick Martin’s shown outstanding leadership this year.” – Sam Mitchell

    Intelligent (adj.) – Slow and/or unathletic.

    “I really think Nick Fazekas is one of the more intelligent rookies out there.” – Avery Johnson

    Character (adj.) – Never been arrested.

    “If you’re looking for a character guy to add to your roster, don’t look any further than Earl Boykins.” – Earl Boykins’ agent

  20. “Fly” (adj) — cool

    “Missing 25 footers is so fly” — Fly Williams

    That is retro. Great crowd college chant from his days at Austin Peay.

    “Fly’s open! Go Peay!”

  21. Nice post. I laughed aloud at a few of those. This is a nice site. What do you guys talk about when the Knicks are winning?

    Bone to pick on one definition:

    Intangibles (adj) – Statistics other than points per game; Tangible stats like rebounds, blocks, steals, etc.

    I always thought intangibles were things that did not show up in the player’s box score. Things like deflected passes, forced turnovers, setting screens, and counseling teammates. Things that help the team but are not recorded stats. Bruce Bowen might be a good example. He does not score in bunches (though his 3 point shooting is a dangerous weapon), he does not get many boards or assists. However, he does affect the game by doing the little things, mostly on the defensive end.

    Hey, what do I have to do to get my screen name in red letters?

  22. Real shame you don’t know what the words “intangible” and “tangible” mean and that you repeatedly use them incorrectly, LOL

  23. Max,

    What is your point?

    in·tan·gi·ble [in-tan-juh-buhl]
    –adjective 1. not tangible; incapable of being perceived by the sense of touch, as incorporeal or immaterial things; impalpable.
    2. not definite or clear to the mind: intangible arguments.
    3. (of an asset) existing only in connection with something else, as the goodwill of a business.

    tan·gi·ble [tan-juh-buhl]
    –adjective 1. capable of being touched; discernible by the touch; material or substantial.
    2. real or actual, rather than imaginary or visionary: the tangible benefits of sunshine.
    3. definite; not vague or elusive: no tangible grounds for suspicion.

  24. A Top 5 Player (n) – The best player on his team, but when you actually run the numbers could be anywhere from Top 5 to Top 40.

    “When Gilbert Arenas is right, he’s a Top 5 Player”

  25. “Winner (n) – A person that was lucky enough to play on a championship team. Today this usually applies to just about anyone who played with Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal”

    Come on– all those guys were lucky enough to play with Robert Horry.

    “Without Robert Horry, Tim Duncan Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon would be ringless.” -Socrates

  26. Beast (n) – A player whose dunking abilities are three levels of magnitude better than his shooting.
    “Tonight’s game matches up the soft Dirk Nowitzki and the beast Dwight Howard.” – Marv Albert.

    Veteran (n) – A person with three years of experience.
    “With Greg Oden on the sideline, the Portland turn to the veteran Brandon Roy.” – Portland color analysts.

    Leadership (n) – The capacity to lead, guide or direct a team to achieve higher goals; or any player who’s been in the league for 10 seasons.
    “The Denver Nuggets really misses the leadership of Mark Pope.” – Matthew Pope.

    Distributor (n) – A point guard who can’t shoot.
    “With Ginobili, Parker and Duncan on offense, Jacque Vaughn fits in the perfectly as the distributor.” – Bill Walton

    Slasher (n) – A shooting guard who can’t shoot.
    “With LeBron penetrating the defenses of opponents, the Cavs don’t need another the slasher Larry Hughes.” – Charles Barkley

    Scrub (n) – Cannon fodder for insults and jokes, who still earns ten times your salary.
    “What a blowout game! Look, the scrub DJ Mbenga checks in.” – Some basketball fan drinking beer with buddies

    Uptempo (n) – An offensive scheme to hide defensive deficiencies.
    “Alright, men! We’re going to play uptempo!” – Mark Iavaroni to the Grizzlies during halftime

  27. bill walton’s (or his awesome quotes) recurrence in the definitions is very appropriate. also, just a little thing – whole nine yards isn’t a sports reference. it’s from WWII, the ammo belts for fighter planes were 9 yards, so if you used all your ammo you went the whole nine yards…

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