What Is a Swish in Basketball? Everything You Need to Know


The basketball about to go into the net.

When it comes to scoring in basketball, there are numerous ways to get the job done. You can lay the ball up, hit a bank shot, dunk the ball, or pull up for a jumper to name a few different scenarios. But one thing is for sure, getting a swish is one of the most satisfying things to watch in basketball.

So, what is a swish in basketball?

A swish is a shot that goes in the net without making contact with the backboard or rim. The term gets its name from the sound the basketball makes when going cleanly through the net. Swishes aren’t worth any extra points but they’re incredibly satisfying to watch and earn.

While that’s a general answer to what a swish is, the rest of this article will go into further detail on how the swish got its name and when the term was first used.

What Is a Swish in Basketball?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a swish means to “sink (a shot) without the ball touching the backboard or rim”. In other words, any player who shoots the basketball with such precision and the ball only contacts the net upon entering the rim. 

This type of accuracy is often grounds for bragging rights. Such is the case as when players learn fundamentals of basketball, they are taught to use the painted square on the backboard as layups and short shots result more consistently in scored points.

Why Is It Called a Swish?

The term ‘swish’ is derived from the sound the ball makes passing through the net. This is an example of onomatopoeia and is common with words like hiss, boing, and tick-tock. Swish has long been associated with basketball, but it is not a term that was coined within the official rules and regulations of basketball.

Basketball was invented in 1891 by physical education instructor Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. The early incarnation of the game was considerably different than the modern one.

This is perhaps best exemplified in the game’s equipment. Dr. Naismith invented a game entirely new and as such had to appropriate what he had around him. Because there wasn’t a basketball that already existed, players used a soccer ball and perhaps most famously, peach baskets, from which the game’s name is derived.

This early incarnation of the game could not have produced a term like swish when referring to an accurately released shot, as the sound of a heavy leather soccer ball smashing into a peach basket produced a thud.

Nobody is going to brag about “shooting a thud”, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Sometime in the first two decades of the sport, a natural evolution occurred allowing for open-ended nets, allowing for the phenomena of the swish to take root.

The term appears to have first appeared in a short story called “The Coward” by author Trebor Yarruns. In the story, the main character, Dempsey, is watching a basketball game and upon witnessing a goal describes it as, “A swish of netting resounded as the ball dropped through the goal without touching the iron rim”.

Whatever the actual origin or the reason for it, it has made its way into popular culture and is used by players, coaches, announcers, and writers to this day.

How Many Points is a Swish in Basketball?

Unfortunately, no extra points are awarded by shooting a swish.

There are four different ways to score points in basketball. Points are rewarded by making a shot into the basket in values of 1, 2, and 3 points. Depending on where you’re at on the court and the action taking place decides the value of the basket.

One point is awarded from free-throw shots. These occur after a player gets fouled and is awarded an unguarded shot from the foul line. Most often the fouled player gets an opportunity at two free throws, each worth one point. If the offended player makes his shot, he’s awarded one free throw instead of two.

Three points are awarded when a player shoots from outside the three-point arc. In regulated basketball games, this arc can be anywhere from 19’ 9” for high school ball to 23’ 9” in the NBA. If a player sinks a shot from behind the arc and is also fouled, he gets an attempt at a free throw, which could result in 4 total points.

Two points are scored from anywhere on the court within the three-point arc. Whether it be a lay-up, a slam-dunk, or a jump-shot each earns two points. A jump shot from inside or outside the arc can result in a swish. While the swish does not add points to the scoreboard, it still holds some value.

Athletes on every level receive accolades for the style in which they play. When beginning a new sport, the most important thing to learn is the fundamentals. But as skill level increases and competition becomes stiffer, new aspects of the game appear.

When a player consistently makes accurate shots resulting in swishes, everyone can see and hear it. This certainly plays in the psychology of opponents and teammates alike and gives the shooter the sense of being “on fire”.

Teammates will pass the ball more; opponents will stress over the ball being in the player’s hands and make mistakes. So, while the swish doesn’t add points to each field goal, it can build confidence and effectiveness on the court.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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