April 10, 2008

#01-096: Sports Idioms - Part III: Basketball

basketball player in red and white lying on the floor; referee with back to camera and hand raised in air, one player in red and white yelling at the ref, another in green and white engaged with them, another player in green and white walking away
Someone has been fouled.

Note: This column and three others (#01-094, #01-095, and #01-097) were written as the Olympic Torch toured the world in 2008. It seemed appropriate at that time to examine some sports-inspired idioms.

Get Ready: Do you play basketball? Or watch it on TV? What do you like about it? What don't you like?

In Lesson #01-094, we began to examine idioms that included the word "ball." Then in Lesson #01-095, we continued with idioms taken from American football (that didn't include the word "ball"). Let's look now at some idioms taken from basketball.

Read the conversation. Then do the Practice and, after checking your Answers in the first comment below, read the Explanations.

Fred and Rick are discussing a sales effort.

Fred: How was the TV ad campaign, Rick?

Rick: Well, even though we expected it to be an alley-oop, it turned out to be a slam dunk!

Fred: Great! And the radio spots?

Rick: Another swish!

Fred: Excellent. Are we going to take a shot at print ads, too?

Rick: We thought about it, but based on our research, it seems like a jump ball. The other guys had a head start, and they've organized a full-court press in the newspapers.

Fred: Ah, so no free-throw there.

Rick: And it's a lot of money to waste on an air ball.

Fred: Well, let's keep at it. The campaign ends at the start of next month.

Rick: Don't worry, Fred. We'll beat the buzzer!

There's one more "sports idiom" lesson to go!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basketball

Practice: Match the term to its definition below. After checking your Answers in the first comment, read the Explanations below.

  1. air ball
  2. alley-oop
  3. beat the buzzer
  4. free throw
  5. full-court press
  6. jump ball
  7. on the rebound
  8. slam dunk
  9. swish
  10. take a shot at something

  1. a very difficult maneuver
  2. give something a try
  3. a situation the outcome of which is too close to call
  4. recently available
  5. a chance to do something with little opposition
  6. complete something before a deadline
  7. concentrated opposition
  8. an excellent effort
  9. a complete miss
  10. a piece of cake

Answers are in the first comment below.

Explanations of the Answers: After you check your Answers in the first comment below, read on for more information on these idioms.

  • air ball: Sometimes when a player shoots the ball at the basket, he misses completely, hitting neither the backboard, the rim, nor the net. This is a complete miss. So we might say, "Our ad campaign missed our market entirely. Air ball!"
  • alley-oop: Player A throws the ball to Player B, who is near the basket. Player B jumps, catches the ball in mid-air, and "dunks" it into the basket before coming back down to the ground. This very difficult maneuver is called an "alley-oop," named after an expression used by French acrobats, "allez hop," meaning "I'm going to jump!" We use it to describe a difficult feat, or to encourage others: "Let's improve these sales figures. Alley-oop!"
  • beat the buzzer: NBA games are played in four quarters of 12 minutes; each ends when a buzzer sounds. So players trying to finish before each period ends have to "beat the buzzer." We can use it to mean "finish something before a deadline": The end of the sales quarter is coming soon; we'll have to move three million more units by the end of the month if our quota is going to beat the buzzer."
  • free throw: Sometimes one player does something illegal to another. The "fouled" player then gets a chance to stand a certain distance from the hoop and shoot the ball unopposed; this is called a "free throw." The term can be used to describe an opportunity to do something with little opposition: "Failing to close this deal would be like missing a free throw."
  • full-court press: In basketball, one team will have the ball and try to get it to their basket. The other team, on "defense," tries to stop them. When the defense becomes particularly aggressive, pushing hard against the other team all over the basketball court, this is called a "full-court press." Thus, "We need to sell more product; our competitors are running a full-court press to beat us."
  • jump ball: When the play stops and is to restart, sometimes two opposing players stand at the center of the court and the referee throws the ball into the air. The players try to take possession of the ball (or hit it to one of their teammates). It's never certain who will succeed, so the phrase can mean a situation the outcome of which is too close to call: "Three days after the election, the governor's race was still a jump ball."
  • on the rebound: Sometimes when a player shoots and misses, the ball bounces off of the backboard. This is called a "rebound," and the ball is still in play. When a romantic couple breaks up, and one member finds another partner too soon, we say he or she is "on the rebound": "I'd be careful dating Joe. He just broke up with Susan and still on the rebound."
  • slam dunk: This is when a player leaps high and practically throws the ball downward through the hoop. It only happens when a talented player is in a good position to do it. So it has come to mean "doing something easily," similar to "a piece of cake." "It shouldn't be too tough to sell our leading product, because everyone wants it already; it's a slam dunk."
  • swish: Sometimes a shot is so precise that it doesn't touch the rim of the hoop as it goes through, only the net. This makes a sound like "swish" and is considered to be excellent. "Good job, April; you got on A+ on the test! Swish!"
  • take a shot at something: This is just to give something a try, especially with an uncertain outcome, like a player trying to make a basket. "I know you're busy, but I'd appreciate it if you'd take a shot at finishing that report before Friday."

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 10, 2008, as China prepared for the Beijing Olympics.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. a; 3. f; 4. e; 5. g; 6. c; 7. d; 8. j; 9. h; 10. b