In basketball, a steal occurs when a defensive player legally causes a turnover by his positive, aggressive action. This can be done by deflecting and controlling, or by catching the opponents pass or dribble of an offensive player. The defender must not touch the offensive player's hands or otherwise a foul is called.
Steals are not credited if the defensive player merely picks up a loose ball in his vicinity or when an errant pass goes directly to him. Steals are credited to the player who gains possession. Whenever a steal is recorded for a defensive player, an offensive player must be credited as making a turnover.
Stealing the ball requires good anticipation, speed and fast reflexes, all common traits of a good defender. However, like blocked shots, steals are not always a perfect gauge of a player's defensive abilities. An unsuccessful steal can result in the defender being out of position and unable to recover in time, allowing the offense to score. Therefore, attempting to steal is a gamble. Steals can pay off greatly, because they often trigger a fastbreak for the defensive team.
There is no prototypical position from which a player may get many steals. While smaller, quicker guards tend to accumulate the most steals, there are many exceptions. For example, forward Rick Barry led the NBA in steals in 1974-75, and for many years center Hakeem Olajuwon led his team in the category, consistently ranking among the league's leaders, and is the only center ranked in the top 10 all-time in steals.
NBA steals records
The most steals by a player in an NBA season is 301 by Alvin Robertson in 1985-86.
The NBA's all-time leader for steals is John Stockton with 3,265 in his career.
The NBA leader in steals per game is Alvin Robertson with an average of 2.71 (career, 1250 steals minimum) and 3.67 (season, 125 minimum).
Notable players in the NBA
Some of the greatest defensive specialists in the steals category in the NBA includes:
- Walt Frazier — renowned for his masterful defense, which culminated around his ability to deflect dribbling and passes using his incredibly quick hands. Steals were not recorded during the early part of his career. Reportedly, he once picked off 8 consecutive steals during a third quarter against Atlanta in 1971.
- Allen Iverson — led the league in steals three times (consecutively); most steals in a playoff game.
- Michael Jordan — led the league in steals and steals per game three times, #3 all-time in career steals and #3 all-time in steals per game. #2 all-time in career steals in the playoffs behind Scottie Pippen.
- Chris Paul — holds the NBA record for most consecutive games with a steal, led the league in steals and steals per game five times.
- Michael Ray Richardson — led the league in steals three times; #2 all-time in steals per game.
- Alvin Robertson — led the league in steals and steals per game three times, #9 all-time in career steals and #1 all-time in steals per game.
- John Stockton — led the league in steals twice, #1 all-time in career steals and #6 in steals per game.
- Jerry West — is widely known for his ability to execute steals, but the statistic was not recorded until his final season. West was the first player to officially record 10 steals in a game.
Other notable players:
- Mookie Blaylock
- Don Buse
- Maurice Cheeks
- Baron Davis
- Clyde Drexler
- Tim Hardaway
- Derek Harper
- Ron Harper
- Hersey Hawkins
- Eddie Jones
- Jason Kidd
- Lafayette "Fat" Lever
- Shawn Marion
- Johnny Moore
- Gary Payton
- Scottie Pippen
- Rajon Rondo
- Larry Steele
- Don "Slick" Watts
- Gus Williams
- List of National Basketball Association career steals leaders
- List of National Basketball Association season steals leaders
- List of National Basketball Association players with most steals in a game