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In basketball, a steal occurs when a defensive player legally gains control of the ball from an offensive player. This can be done by deflecting and controlling, catching, or batting (to a teammate) a pass or dribble of an offensive player. The defender must not touch the offensive player's hands or otherwise a foul is called.

Stealing the ball requires good anticipation, speed and fast reflexes, all common traits of a good defender. However, like blocked shots, steals aren't 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. Therefore, an attempted steal is a gamble. Steals can pay off greatly, because they often trigger a fastbreak for the defensive team.

If an offensive player loses possession of the basketball due to a steal, he/she is recorded as making a turnover.

There is no necessarily 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 lead his team in the category, consistently ranking among the league's leaders.

Steals were first recorded in the NBA's 1973-74 season, while the rival ABA league first recorded steals during the 1972-73 season. Kendall Gill and Larry Kenon are tied for most steals in a regular season NBA game with eleven. Kenon's was recorded on December 26, 1976 while Gill recorded his on April 3, 1999.

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, while the leader in steals per game is Alvin Robertson with an average of 2.71.

Some of the greatest defensive specialists in the steals category in the NBA includes:

  • Jerry West; is widely known for his ability to execute steals, but he played before the statistic was recorded.
  • Alvin Robertson; led the league in steals and steals per game three times, #8 all-time in career steals and #1 all-time in steals per game.
  • Michael Ray Richardson; only player to lead the league in steals and steals per game four times, #35 in career steals and #2 all-time in steals per game.
  • Michael Jordan; led the league in steals and steals per game three times, #2 all-time in career steals and #3 all-time in steals per game.
  • John Stockton; led the league in steals twice, #1 all-time in career steals and #9 in steals per game.
  • Chris Paul; holds the NBA record for most consecutive games with a steal, led the league in steals and steals per game once.
  • Allen Iverson; Most steals in a playoff game.

Other notable players: Nate McMillan, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, Mookie Blaylock, Maurice Cheeks, Clyde Drexler, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade, Hakeem Olajuwon.

See also

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