What Is An Air Ball In Basketball?

An air ball in basketball may have caught your attention, but you may not be aware of its meaning. There’s nothing to worry about though, as this guide will clear everything up for you.

What Is An Air Ball In Basketball

So what is an air ball in basketball? Remember when a player takes a shot for the basket but the ball misses both the basket and the backboard, landing elsewhere on the ground, this is an air ball. It is called so because it only travels in the air. 

We get it that throwing an air ball takes a player into instant embarrassment and it feels like a huge missed opportunity. However, there is more to it than just crowd chants and a missed point. So, let’s dive into the game and get a detailed insight into air balls. 

Rules For An Air Ball

There are several rules surrounding the air balls. In certain cases, the fans might consider it an air ball when it actually would be just a missed shot. So let’s see what are the rules that determine an air ball. 

  • The ball was not defended at all and it straight away flung into the air and did not hit the rim, net, or even the backboard. 
  • When an air ball is shot and no team has clear possession of the air ball, the player has the opportunity to regain the shot and shoot it again. This does not count as a foul. This will also reset the clock and would not be counted as travel or a double dribble. 
  • In case an air ball goes out of bounds and past the baseline, the shot then goes to the opposite team. They get the inbound pass too. 
  • If an air ball stays within the bounds and the shooting team is able to recover it, then the shot clock is not reset and the teams are supposed to continue with the game. 
  • In another scenario, when the air ball stays within the bounds but is recovered by the opposite team, then the shot clock is reset and the ball is moved to the court. 
  • If an air ball does not hit the rim but hits the backboard or a player, even then the shot clock is not reset and the game continues. 
  • If a player is fouled when shooting an air ball, then they are awarded a free throw and the air ball is not counted. 

When An Air Ball Happens In Basketball?

Air balls happen when the ball is undershot, overshot, or is too far to the left or right. It will completely miss the rim and the backboard hence giving the other team a chance to score. An air ball can result due to several reasons. Some of these are discussed below.

When An Air Ball Happens In Basketball?
  • The shot taken by a player is out of his / her range which will eventually cause the ball to fly off in the air. 
  • The defense is very strong or overwhelming. 
  • The player might be injured or tired and hence was unable to gauge the force required for the shot. 
  • The clock is ticking and the player just makes a shot without considering the final result. 

What Is An Airball At Different Levels?

In certain cases, airball basketball is also defined on the basis of team level. It is generally considered that if the ball misses both the rim and the backboard, it is an air ball. However, the definition can differ when considering teams at different levels. Let me clear this up for you. 

What Is An Airball At Different Levels?

1. High School And Junior Level Players

There is a slight difference in the air ball rules for high school basketball players from the NBA league rules. So what is an air ball in basketball for high school players or juniors? In this case, even if the ball does not hit the rim but hits the backboard only, it is not considered an air ball. However, in the NBA, if a shot skips the rim, backboard, and the net completely, only then it is considered an air ball. 

2. College And Leagues

At the college level, the definition of air ball is further refined. Here, if the ball does not hit the rim, it is entirely considered an air ball. 

Does An Airball Reset The 3 In Key?

Before getting into whether the 3 key stops when an air ball is shot, first let’s understand what a three key is. The 3-second key is the timer which starts when one of the team gets possession of the ball after entering the front court. Now, when an airball is shot, the 3 keys will reset. This is because no team will have possession of the ball during that time. 

Difference Between An Air Ball And A Swish

There is a very minor difference between the air ball basketball and the swish. It is established that if the ball touches the net beneath the rim, it is entirely considered an air ball. However, if the ball goes straight through the rim and only hits the net. Then it is not called an air ball but instead a swish. 

To Wrap Up

Airball in basketball is a very well-known phenomenon. If not done or dealt with in the right way, it can become foul. However, if you are still confused as to what is an air ball in basketball? Then only consider the words literally. When the ball only stays in the air and does not hit any part of the basketball pole, it is considered an air ball. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that air balls can be easily overcome with practice and patience. 


An air ball is not a foul in the professional game. However, you might have seen it being considered a foul during high school or college basketball practice. 

Rebounds are not specifically for air balls. Even if a normal shot misses the basket and the board completely, it is considered a rebound. The same is the rule for an airball to be called a rebound. 

No, the player does not get a penalty for the air ball. An air ball can happen due to a number of reasons and hence is considered quite normal in a basketball game. 

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