What is a Dime in Basketball?

In basketball, a “dime” is an assist. That is any pass that leads to a bucket. If you dish out the final pass before your team scores, you get an assist added to your stat line.

dime from a legend

But not exactly, not always…

See, the pass actually needs to contribute to scoring. And this can be a little subjective. If you hand the ball off and your teammate dribbles down the lane through heavy traffic to score, that’s not an assist.

However, if you thread the ball through that traffic to hit your teammate as their cutting into the basket, that can count as an assist.

But it can get very complicated. The general rule of thumb is that a motion to score must initiate directly from the pass. If you really want to dig into how the NBA looks at it, turn to the video rulebook.

And there is at least a subtle difference between an assist and a “dime.” The term is generally reserved for a more interesting or exciting assist.

But Why is it called a Dime?

Nobody really knows for sure…

The likely story is that it evolved from some dated East Coast slang.

See, way back in the day, we had these things called pay phones. Instead of taking your phone out of your pocket, you had to walk around until you found this ridiculous box mounted on a pole. You’d put a quarter in the box and it would let you call your Mom.

But even further back in the day, it didn’t cost a whole quarter, it only cost a dime. So, if you needed to call your Mom, you would request assistance from friends or passersby in the form of a dime.

And so the story goes that a “dime” became a symbol of simple but valuable assistance. This would eventually lead to use of the term “dropping a dime,” to describe passing crucial information to law enforcement. And the theory is that this use of the language would eventually slide its way into basketball vocabulary.

Why do Assists Matter?

Typically, the three most important player stats in basketball are scoring, rebound and assists. Scoring points is obviously important. And rebounding is crucial to getting you the ball to score those points. Assists are maybe a little more subtle.

Assists are a strong measure of a player’s ability to read the floor and see ahead of the game. It’s one thing to be able to create scoring opportunities for yourself. It’s another thing to be able to interpret movement on the floor, apply your understanding of the abilities of your teammates and opponents, and thread a pass into a high-percentage scoring opportunity.

But assist stats can also be a little misleading. You can be a mediocre player who just drops the ball off to your star player every time you get ahold of it, and you’ll probably rack up a fair amount of assists without contributing anything very meaningful to the game.