The Definition of an Airball in the Sport of Basketball

Tom Izzo angry about something
Coaches are never happy when their players shoot airballs.

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There's nothing worse than an airball in basketball—regardless of the level, you're playing. The crowd tenses as a player sets up to take a shot—often an open shot—only to have the ball miss completely, hitting neither the net nor rim or even the backboard. Below is a brief description of the airball, as well as why you want to avoid shooting one as a player and avoid seeing it as a fan.


An airball is more than just a miss. It's a shot that misses everything: the hoop, the rim, and the backboard. It's the basketball equivalent of a fashion model tripping on her gown and face-planting on the runway.

It's an embarrassment.

Airballs are so bad, in some ways they don't even count as shots.

  • A shot must hit the rim to trigger a reset of the shot clock.
  • An airball on a free throw attempt is a violation and results in the loss of the free throw.
  • An airball inevitably leads to that awful sing-song chant from the opposing fans: "Aaaaair-ballll, Aaaair-ballll!"

Whittenberg's Historic Airball

One of the most bizarre airballs in NCAA history was North Carolina State's Dereck Whittenberg's errant shot at the end of the 1983 NCAA Championship game. Whittenberg missed badly, but his shot landed right in the hands of teammate Lorenzo Charles, who turned it into the game-winning slam dunk.

But airballs aren't only common in college basketball—they happen at all levels of the sport. Airballs at the professional level are an even bigger embarrassment because pro athletes are expected to be able to hit the rim—or at least the backboard.

You will undoubtedly come across thousands of embarrassing shots on YouTube. Even one of the NBA's top shooters, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, is not immune to this classic basketball whiff. 

How to Avoid Shooting an Airball

If you do throw up an airball don't let it bother you too much—as noted, it happens to the best players. But, to avoid shooting one:

  • Take your time: If you try to shoot a basket without thinking about it first, there's a good chance you'll throw up an airball.
  • Set your feet: Although you shoot with your hands and arms, setting your feet is extremely important. Try shooting a hoop without your feet being set and then try shooting one from the same distance with your feet set. You'll notice a huge improvement.
  • Follow through: Any basketball coach or professional player will tell you that you must follow through with your shot. If you don't follow through, the basketball is likely to take its own route toward the hoop—and that's never a good thing.