There Is No Misunderstanding the ‘Unwritten Rule’ of NBA Playoffs

Just what is the “unwritten rule,” and who all knows about it?

The rule is a coaches’ maxim: Nobody should be allowed to shoot an uncontested shot in such an important game.

But in actual practice, it has come to mean that almost anything goes, including trying to grab and pin the arms of a player who may be soaring in for a layup. This is an imperfect art, to say the least, and has resulted in many flying tackles and melees.


Some coaches are renowned for the physical style they advocate and teach. One who was resented by fellow coaches was Hubie Brown of the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.

Who knows about it?


“That’s true,” the Lakers’ Michael Cooper says. “What can you say? This is the time of year when you don’t want the other team to get easy baskets. You’d rather make them earn it at the free-throw line.

“Coaches talk about contesting all shots. Now how much of the ball you get and how much of the man you get is something else. There are some coaches in the league who actually tell players, ‘Get the players and not the ball.’

“When they say no layups, they mean no layups.”

Says Laker Coach Pat Riley: “We teach contest-to-the-rim. . . . You don’t give up layups. You don’t just concede, that’s not basketball. But contesting to the rim is not contesting to the body. And if there’s contact, then that’s the way it is.

“But if there’s a blatant takeout, then you go out with the guy. . . . That’s the rest of the unwritten rule.”

The National Basketball Assn. did put in a flagrant-foul penalty after the Kevin McHale-Kurt Rambis rumble in ’84, but officials don’t often assess it. It wasn’t called in either the Bill Laimbeer-Larry Bird takedown or the Danny Ainge-Sidney Moncrief collision. In the Robert Parish-Laimbeer incident, no foul was called at all.