DunkOrThree > Your Basketball Blog > Can NBA Players Chew Gum During Games?

Can NBA Players Chew Gum During Games?

Publish Date: 10.05.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

In professional sports, chewing gum is something typically associated with baseball. The game is played outdoors, athletes have access to trash cans in the dugout, and the pace is slower than most sports. Other contests, such as basketball, are much faster paced.

Even so, that doesn’t mean that gum chewing is illegal on the court. Iit’s allowed at all levels, including the NBA, and has been popular with quite a few stars in the past. Many professional players enjoy gum for various reasons.

Though gum is not as popular as it once was in the NBA due to shifts in the game and larger trends, it still pops up from time to time. The following sections cover why such shifts happened, the rules and perceptions around gum, and whether or not you can chew gum in the NBA.

Rules and Regulations

While NBA players have a lot of freedom when it comes to their individual persona, the league does have quite a few rules on what they can and cannot do. For instance, jewelry is not allowed during games, durags are banned, and jerseys must be tucked in at all times.

Such limitations help create a more focused appearance for all players and ensure that no one stands out or harms the league’s image. However, despite all of the many rules in place about on-court behavior, gum is something that’s largely fallen through the cracks.

NBA players can chew gum. Not in an overt way, where it might interfere with their performance, but rather where the act is simply ignored by the league. There is no official policy banning gum during games, which means it’s allowed league wide.

That includes coaches as well. Where they are subject to many of the same rules as players, including having to wear a “uniform” in the form of a suit or more professional clothing, they also have the same freedoms. They can chew gum as often as they see fit.

As long as athletes don’t abuse the gum policy, such as throwing it out on the court or spitting it at someone, they can do it for any and all contests. That stays in line with all other major sports organizations, which also have no bans on the chewable substance.

Reasons Players Chew Gum

It may seem odd that basketball players would want gum. The game is extremely fast, takes a lot of energy, and isn’t exactly conducive to constant chewing. Despite that, many professional basketball players chewed gum during games in the past. A few still do it today.

When asking why do NBA players chew gum, it’s important to look at the benefits behind the process. The most basic is that it tastes good. Having the positive feedback of that taste can then make the game more enjoyable, which leads to relaxation and better play.

Some studies have also shown that chewing gum during a sporting event can increase mental stimulation in a way that helps focus, improves concentration, and raises processing speed. It can speed up alertness and directly improve memory too.

In that way, gum might not just be an enjoyable experience, it might actually help athletes reach their peak performance. Some teams even have whole squads chewing during practice, as it enables them to better communicate or run plays.

Some suggest that chewing gum can help reduce anxiety too. That can be extremely important for professional athletes trying to compete at the highest level. Nerves are a common problem for NBA players, and they do whatever they can to calm themselves down.

It’s not just about some extra enjoyment during the game, there are plenty of tangible benefits to gum. What reason each player chooses to chew the substance is largely up to them.

Player Perspectives

Currently, gum is not very popular among NBA players. However, that hasn’t always been the case. There have been plenty of basketball stars who enjoyed chewing gum on the court, especially during regular season or more relaxed contests.

As with any fad, chewing gum came and went with different decades. It wasn’t terribly popular during the early days of the NBA, but rose to prominence in the late 80’s and held on throughout the 90’s. Though it dipped down again after that, some big 2000’s players chewed gum too.

Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Baron Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, and even Lebron James all chewed gum during one game or another. They all had their own reasons for the routine, but they were likely linked to the above benefits.

There is no one reason players chew gum, but those that did it often likely incorporated it into their gametime rituals. Baron Davis, for instance, chewed gum during a majority of his games as a way to both focus and relax while out on the court.

Some players, like Shaq, chewed gum before games. That’s another way players could bring the substance into their routine and help themselves calm down, focus, or simply get a little extra relaxation before going on a big stage.

Health and Safety Considerations

While gum comes with many benefits, it’s important to note that there are certain downsides that stem from gum chewing too. The biggest is that, as basketball is a high-energy contact sport, having gum can lead to accidental choking during a collision or tough play.

It wouldn’t take much force to knock the gum down someone’s throat, which could then lead to serious damage. Even if that didn’t lead to major health issues, it could still stop play. Such incidents are few and far between, but something the NBA has to monitor.

On top of that, gum is a foreign substance. Accidents occur in basketball, which means there can be plays where someone drops their gum or accidentally spits it out. It can then get stuck in someone’s hair, beard, or just spread germs.

That last point is particularly important in today’s post-pandemic world. Though saliva always has the capacity to be a problem in a close-quarters contest, an object like gum simply increases such risks.

Those considerations are important for both the league and players alike. That’s especially true for organizations who need to make sure their players stay healthy at all times.

However, no team in the league has any current public policy about gum chewing. There’s a chance some owners or coaches may frown upon the process for one reason or another, but no one has spoken out about it in the last few decades.

Fan and Media Perception

As mentioned, gum chewing is nowhere near as popular in the NBA as it used to be. Many players now wear mouth guards, which make chewing gum an impossibility while out on the court. Some, like Stephen Curry, even choose to chew their guards instead.

As such, if a player does decide to chew gum during a game it stands out to fans and media alike. There’s no one consensus on chewing in the NBA. Some fans think it’s unique and cool, while some people think it’s a bit odd. The same goes for the media.

There’s so much going on in the current NBA and so much drama on and off the court that gum chewing is not something most outlets even pay attention to anymore. It fades into the background in favor of other bigger stories.

The only time coverage happens on gum chewing is if it’s extremely noticeable, such as when Reggie Miller threw his gum at a ref or when Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla stopped his excessive chewing on the sideline during games.

The act doesn’t warrant much press these days, even if it is a bit of a rare occurrence. Still, some fans do connect with it and think it’s cool in various situations.


Gum chewing is not something many people expect to see on an NBA court, but it’s perfectly legal and has been quite popular at times. Some of the biggest basketball players of all time chewed gum every now and then, making it much more commonplace in the sport.

It’s gone through shifts over time, but gum chewing will likely stay in basketball. The NBA has made no move against it, and it’s unlikely they plan to. Though some might see the act as unprofessional, it doesn’t distract or impact the game in any significant way.

What do you think about NBA players chewing gum? Do you think it should be allowed, why or why not?

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