What is a Nutmeg in Basketball and How to Do It

When I think of exciting aspects of the game of basketball, I don’t always just gravitate towards rim-rocking dunks. Another highlight of the game is watching the best in the world showcase their sick handles. 

The term “sick handles” is actually a compliment in regard to how well a player can handle the basketball. From ankle-breaking crossovers to circus-like passes, having sick handles is a sought-after skill.

One such move that displays your handle is a nutmeg. No, we aren’t talking about the spice found in baked goods, but a move where the offensive player makes their defender look silly by dribbling the ball through their legs. 

This article will go into detail on what makes a nutmeg so special, look at some examples of in-game nutmegs, and show you how to pull one off on your opponents!

The Nutmeg: Origin Story

There is some dispute about where the term “nutmeg” originated, so let’s take a look at the three most popular origin stories. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the term came from the soccer pitch above all else!

The first claim is that the term arose from actual nutmeg traders tricking their customers. Author Peter Seddon claimed that exporters would mix in wood with their nutmegs so the act of being “nutmegged” meant to be tricked or deceived by someone. 

The term then made its way into soccer when a player would “trick” their opponent by kicking the ball through their legs in order to get past them.

The second story had many different implications of what nutmeg stood for. In the book titled Over The Moon, Brian: The Language Of Football, author Alex Leith stated that nutmeg simply meant someone’s “nuts”, implying the nether region of a footballer. The ball goes between people’s legs when they get nutmegged which passes awfully close to the private area of the person.

There is a third story which is very similar to the second. Footballer Jimmy Hill once said a player “played the ball through his nutmegs” meaning they kicked the ball between a player’s legs. 

Never a dull moment when researching old football tales.

Nutmegging in Basketball

Nutmegs in basketball happen in two common instances: dribbling the ball between an opponent’s legs or passing the ball to a teammate through an opponent’s legs. Each is impressive, but they serve different purposes. 

A Nutmeg How-To

If you want to attempt a nutmeg where you dribble the ball through someone’s legs, there are a couple of important things to factor.

A big difference between a nutmeg in soccer versus basketball is that the soccer ball is usually going through the opponent’s legs low to the ground. In basketball, the ball is being dribbled between their legs but will be bouncing up on the other side of the opponent without them getting hit in their own nutmegs. 

First, you must be sure that the defender’s legs are spread open far enough to complete the move. This can be accomplished by faking going one way in order to get your opponent to move towards that direction. 

For example, if you fake going right and your opponent steps to that direction, their legs will be that much more spread open. This gives you a larger surface area to bounce the ball through whether you are passing or dribbling the ball.

Secondly, the angle at which the defender is standing will dictate whether or not a nutmeg is doable. If the defender is facing in a certain direction then you won’t pass the ball through their legs. If the angle doesn’t help get the ball to your teammate then a nutmeg is useless, especially if it leads to a turnover.  

Simply dribbling or passing the ball through your opponent’s leg doesn’t accomplish much if it doesn’t help the play. That is why everything has to be almost perfect in order to pull off the play. Speaking of perfect, this video highlights some of the best nutmegs in NBA history. Enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Pulling off a nutmeg during a game will definitely get you into the highlight reel! 

Utilizing your opponent’s positioning in order to dribble or pass the ball through their legs during a game is one of the coolest plays to see, because of the degree of difficulty involved. Not only does perfecting a nutmeg take practise, but it takes instinct, perfect timing, and a little bit of luck. 

Have you ever pulled off a nutmeg during a game? Let us know about it in the comments section below!

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