What Is a “Dime” in the NBA?

dropping dimes basketball assists

When it comes to basketball, it’s not always obvious how some of the terms they use came about. A good example of this is why the Golden State warriors are called “the Dubs” as a nickname, but this isn’t the only confusing term in basketball.

If you listen to a National Basketball Association (NBA) game on television or the radio, there’s a good chance that at some point during the telecast, you’ll hear the announcers say that a player is “dropping a dime” or some similar variation of that sentence. You can sometimes see the reference in commercials with basketball players as well. For those who aren’t familiar with its meaning, it sounds strange and out of place — and the chances are you have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

What is a “dime” referring to in basketball?

A “dime” in basketball is the same thing as an assist. For those unfamiliar, a basketball assist occurs when one player makes a pass to a teammate which leads that teammate to score a basket. By making the pass to the teammate, the player has “assisted” in the making of the basket.

Usually, an assist is recorded when a pass is made to the teammate and the teammate then shoots and makes a basket without dribbling the ball, but this isn’t a hard-set rule. While this is the case most of the time, there is some judgement involved when considering whether an assist has been made or not. For example, a player who passes to a teammate who is breaking toward the basket and that teammate dribbles once while continuing the cut toward the basket would be given an assist even though the player dribbled.

Assists are an important statistic kept for basketball players during each game. Assists are one of the big four statistics (assists, points scored, steals and blocks) tallied each game. They’re also recorded on a career level as well as career assists. The statistic is important and valued in basketball because setting up teammates with good passes can lead to easier baskets than for the player to try to score all on their own.

Why is an assist called a dime?

The origin of a basketball assist being called a dime isn’t readily known. There are a variety of theories, but the most common assumption is that it came from earlier times when pay phones were available across the US. When payphones were most popular (long before cell phones were the norm) it cost a dime to make a phone call. If one needed to make a phone call, it was common for that person to ask, “does anyone have a dime?” In this sense, “dropping a dime” or giving someone a dime was assisting someone to make a phone call. Most people believe this phrase ended up transferring over to the NBA as helping a teammate make a basket.

Although “dropping a dime” is considered a positive move for basketball, it doesn’t always have positive connotations when used in other circumstances. For example, “dropping a dime” is a way to label a person a snitch or someone who tells on another person. Again, the reference to making a phone call is used as when someone tells (calls) authorities to inform someone has broken the law, thus snitching on them.

Another popular theory is that it comes from the phrases “dropping it on a dime,” “turning on a dime,” “at a drop of a dime,” and “stopping on a dime.” These phrases all refer to precision, doing it quickly and without hesitation — all characteristics of most assists in basketball. A quick pass right on the mark to a teammate will assist that teammate in scoring.

(Image courtesy of Voldy Morton)

  • This is one of those terms that has never made sense to me. Why don’t they just call it an assist since that’s its proper name? All this “dropping dimes” crap seems to be done to make the people saying it feel special like they know a secret code that others don’t. If it was something that people could figure out on their own, that’s one thing, but how is anyone supposed to figure out dime = assist?

    • I ended up here because I saw the State Farm dropping dimes commercial and I had no idea what the reference was about.

      • I think this helps clear it up because many people have no idea what it is. It would be easier to use the term assist but then again almost everything in the world goes by 2 or 3 different names. If you want to be a basketball fan, you have to be willing to learn the lingo that goes with it.

    • It’s not in any relationship to casuals, it’s in relationship to the game and culture itself. Same as when dunks starting gettin more flavourful or you wanted to trashtalk so you got creative, like when scoring on somebody and yelling “wet” instead of “bucket” because you’re “makin it rain” or “droppin dimes”. The lingo is part of all sports cultures often. And sometimes it comes from streetball and follows the kids that go pro. Sometime it’s an inside thing or joke. Either way it feels like a victory when it makes it up top.
      “Ballin !”

  • I think most people who don’t watch basketball regularly get confused by this term. On the surface of it, it doesn’t make sense to call an assist “a dime.” I think I’ve had to explain the meaning to at least a dozen friends who have watched basketball games with me over the years.

  • I love seeing dimes (assists) in the NBA. I think the Warriors are making this part of the game fun again, dropping dimes at a pace of 30 a game this year. It’s great for the game!

    • You make an interesting reference here. Dropping a dime/or dimes makes reference to scoring or making buckets. Aka making it rain or dropping a 10 out of 10. That’s why i always thought that a dime pass was a 10/10 perfect pass so to speak. I wonder if this holds any truth.

  • Shouldn’t they all it a “quarter” instead of a dime? Payphones cost quarter for a longer time than they cost a dime. Nobody can even remember when payphones cost a dime. They should be calling assists quarters. That makes a whole lot more sense.

    • By this logic, they should be dropping 50 cents of dollars since that is what it costs to make a call from a payphone now (if you can even find one). When payphone were originally created, it cost a dime to make a call. it makes sense that that is the term that’s still used today for an assist in basketball.

  • I always wondered about this. It seems so strange to talk about dimes when talking about basketball. I guess it makes sense, but it’s a pretty old-school way to refer to it. I can see why people get confused.

  • I believe dime means to give. I think this term came up in the 70s.. where the coin was made I guess. On its own I know, it doesn’t make much sense. Foodstamps and Jimmy Carter’s dropping Dimes perhaps? Rough guess..

  • For the nonbasketball fans who only watch occasionally, this is a great post to explains why the announcers are always saying “dimes”. It’s helpful as you hear the word a lot in games, but have no idea what it actually is. The NBA isn’t all super fans. A lot of casual fans want to know what these words mean.

  • There’s the commercial that talks about “dropping dimes” that’s for an insurance company or something. I think it may be Allstate. That’s the reason that I came searching for what it meant. I don’t think most people who aren’t basketball fans would know what this means without some type of explanation.

  • Actually, there are THREE major components in each basketball game, Scoring points efficiency, assists, and DEFENSIVE rebounds. Steals and Blocks are MINOR game components and there is not much incidence of them occurring in any game.

    Why are DR’s more valuable than OR’s. First, there are 2-3 times more DR’s in the typical game. And second, on a regression basis, DR’s have a value of + 1.32 points per unit, so far this NBA season, right up to Thanksgiving. OR’s have a regression value of just + 0.27, to date.

    Teams showing a plurality of 1621 DR’s, so far this season, have outscored their opponents by 2134 points, thus the + 1.32 value. They also show a W-L record of 196-52.

    Teams showing a plurality of OR’s, so far this season, have outscored their opponents by 270 points, and have a W-L record of 125-104.

  • I have been a Cleveland Cavs fan and NBA fan since the birth of the Cavs. Former basketball player myself. I just finally goggle what is a NBA dime. I tried to figure it out and it made no sense to me. Now it does. Thanks a lot.

  • To the writer, The Golden State Warriors nickname is the Dubs, simply because “Dub” is short for “W” as in Warriors

  • The Golden State Warriors are called the “dubs” as it pertains to the letter W in Warriors.

  • This is just a thought, because, as has been noted, a dime phone call was a long time ago. Another current meaning for the verb ‘dime’ comes from music, electronics, and other applications where equipment with knobs are in use. To ‘dime’ something in this context means to turn it all the way up, often to 10 on the dial in the same way you can ‘floor’ an accelerator pedal. So to whip a pass that results in a score could be to ‘dime’ the game at that moment. This may be a stretch, but so is the phone meaning, IMO.

  • It’s most definitely derived from “dropping a dime” as in assisting the cops/feds (snitching). Though the connotations are opposite, it is meant to express the same thing: assist.

  • I am only doing this for my basketball homework.
    Our coach asked us what is an assist. Btw, I love playing fortnite.

  • It’s when somebody drops change on the floor at the basketball concession stand pulling bills out a pocket because they want some grapes, and like, nobody bends over to pick it on uppy because they feel as though they will be laughed at, or get butt-rammed, or pull a nerve, or they can’t because they are likely to be way in the Sam Hill too fat and/or stupid to do that, and etc…….and it also means assists because they are helping a player to score into a hoop, much unlike anything to do with snitching, because everybody is corrupt.

  • Loan Me A Dime, (Allman Brothers ) “brother can you spare a dime?”,both refer to assistance ,or an assist, in this case with a “drop of a dime”in a hat. Old school…

  • That is one of the most asinine things I have ever heard. Seems like the NBA needed to make an assist sound cool, so they paid some think tank to come up with some gangsta lingo. They didn’t pay enough…

    • You make no sense. Who would pay for lingo? Commentators have had their expressions for years, and some come from the streets.

  • ok so cool had a moment today with this common phrase and the other meaning of it but as i shot hoops as well today couldnt help but retort with where i hear and refer to it most bball but never really thot much of its ultimate meanings in both one to snitch on another calling cops and the other an assist in bball but REALLY why im writing this and wanting to figure is why is this hot as shit babe hanging on my arm a fucking dime piece??????? i started getting these hot babes just to hand them off to my buddies cause i was dishing dimes im sooooooooo confused now

  • I played basketball in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. I never heard the term “dime” in relation to an assist until about 5 years ago. To say that it came from earlier times when pay phones were available across the US is flat out wrong.

    • Nobody said that the term was used with basketball in the 1960s. They said that back then it referred to assisting with a pay phone, which over time turned into assisting someone in general, and that nowadays it means a basketball assist.

  • I find it interesting that there are so many explanations offered, but none of them give actual credit to where not only the term derives, but more importantly, by whom. Let’s be honest, the NBA as well, as NFL are and always have been greatly influenced by culture, and you can’t talk about culture without acknowledging it’s diversity, and racial influences. As with most of the cool colloquial terms and trends used in America it came from the black community. It’s likely that the term, which is also used in the NFL to describe a pin-point accurate, pass, seemingly “dropped” into the receiver’s outstretched arms or “pocket”, came from some version of dropping dimes into hats, or the value of what was being dropped. Whether either is true is less important than “why”. The reason is found in the activity itself. You’re offering help…assistance, which we all as humans regardless of culture, can relate to. And in all cultures, there is some gesture or phrase that exists to show thanks for the kindful act. In the NBA’s case, it’s acknowledging the guy who “could probably score if he wanted to”, or he intentionally “created an opportunity for another guy to score”. In every instance, the act of “acknowledging’ these moments and acting on them consistently is one of the games most notable and praised player attributes because it takes great vision, skill and intelligence to be an effective passer. So much so, that most players attributed to being great passers, are usually the leader of the team. Magic Johnson wasn’t considered the best ball handler in NBA history, but his passing skill and vision were off the charts. Guys used to say that he’d consistently hit people with the ball who weren’t expecting a pass. Le Bron James and other “big men” are constantly referred to by their passing ability, and this is a metric of analysis that can distinguish one player to be better over another. Not only because of the selflessness of the act itself, but because passing is difficult…the men are large and athletic, the game is fast…which makes the windows by and through which a pass is possible, very small and infrequent. So, let’s continue the great debate of where the word came from, but we’d be remiss for not acknowledging the “who” or the “why” we use the term to begin with.

  • you are clueless about american idioms, dropping a dime means calling the police to snitch on someone, “help with a phone call” thats funny

  • … a pass that was so accurate that, if a dime (coin) had been the target, it would have hit it. … right on the dime, or right on a dime.

    • Makes sence. I’ve even heard “right on the money” as in “the right pass”.
      When’s the first time you heard a pass being described as “right on the dime”?

  • “To drop a dime on”, as mentioned, means to inform on. Supposedly originating, as also mentioned, because it would likely be via an anonymous call from a pay phone which cost a dime for many years.

    The phrase can be heard in the Amazon LA detective series Bosch, season 5 (2019), episode 10, at 1:59. “Do you think Galligan will drop a dime on you?”

  • I’m an old point guard. It was always explained to me that a certain kind of assist was called “a dime.” That was an assist, often in a backdoor play, where the guard passed into and through traffic to the scorer. Coach said it was a “dime.” He meant that the only way to get the ball through to the scorer, through traffic, was to make the ball as thin as a dime.

  • Funny . O have been following the nba all my frickin life and this is the first I heard of an assist being called a dime. Just another example of people claiming they want equality but contradicting it by the separatist display of getting there own way. Go figure. Rock on.

    • What are you talking about? I’ve at least heard that in playgrounds since 2005-ish.
      And what are you on about with politicisin the randomest bullishness? Geez.

  • I always thought it was because that pass was a 10 as in a 10 out of 10 perfect pass.. In the same way you would rate/describe an attractive person by sayin he or she was a 10.

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