In Favor of NBA Goaltending Rules > FIBA's
In FIBA basketball, goaltending rules allow for the ball to be live after it hits the rim. In other words, what's known as basket interference in most of American basketball is a legal play in the international game.
Many, including outgoing commissioner David Stern, have called for the NBA to adopt the FIBA rules regarding basket interference.
I favor the American goaltending rules, and the wild finish to Tuesday's Rockets-Suns game helps illustrate why. For a quick recap, the game was tied 98-98 in the final seconds, when James Harden launched a three which bounced high in the air before hitting the rim again. Jermaine O'Neal knocked the ball away while it was still "within the cylinder" above the rim for the rare buzzer-beating goaltend on a three, which won the game for the Rockets. Here's a look at the play:
It's not a perfect illustration for a couple reasons: 1) The shot had little chance of going in on the second bounce and 2) O'Neal's hand appeared to partially come up under the rim, which is a goaltend under any rules, including FIBA's.
So, imagine a slightly different play, in which:
• Harden's shot had a softer second bounce, with a 50-50 chance of going in, and
• O'Neal simply knocked it away off the rim cleanly.
By FIBA goaltending rules for basket interference, that slightly different play would have been legal. Would that have been a fun play to watch? A satisfying way for regulation to have ended? To me, it would not.
A ball bouncing around and rolling on the rim, especially in an important moment -- Did the shooter put the ball up softly enough? Will he get the roll? -- is an exciting play!
There seems to be a sense that the FIBA rules would unleash an extra level of above-the-rim play in the NBA. But in reality, most instances of legal basket interference in FIBA basketball look an awful lot like O'Neal's play on Tuesday: a defensive big man reaches up and easily knocks the ball away off the rim, at about 10'1" in the air.
There's a theory that the superior athleticism of NBA players would lead to more spectacular putbacks on offensive rebounds with FIBA rules, but based on what we've seen from NBA players in Olympic and World Championship play, there are a few extra "guide-in" followups of balls on the rim.
Ultimately, the rule is not a major deal, as it affects a small percentage of plays. But I think the "shooter's roll" is more fun to watch than a "No soup for you!" denial by a big man reaching up to the rim.