What is a Dime in Basketball?

A dime is the US coin for 10 cents. However, in the world of basketball, it is worth much more than just 10 cents. In fact, empires and careers have been built on said dimes.

So, what is a dime in the world of basketball? A dime means an assist. And an assist is a statistical point attributed to a player who passes the ball to a teammate in such a way that it leads to their team scoring a field goal. Thus, the word “assist” since they helped the team in a significant manner to score a field goal. Now to be fair, this is a technical definition of what an assist is, and to be honest, this definition and term is kind of jarring and boring word to hear or read when referring to a high-paced action-packed sport. 

Having said that, why do we say “dropping dimes” instead of using the statistical term “assist”?

Where Did the Term “Dime” Come From?

Before understanding why we use “dime” instead of “assist”, we’ll first need to find out where the term “dime” originated from. To be honest, it’s very hard to trace the etymology of the dime as a term describing an assist. But it appears that the term began to spring up as a reference for helping out someone with the payphone. You see, back in the 50s to 90s, there was no such thing as smartphones. The only way to get in contact with someone was to dial their number on a wired telephone, well that’s if you had one at home. However, if you were on the road or out with your friends, the best way to contact someone was through a payphone. With the help of a beeper (another relic of the past), people are notified if someone is trying to contact them or if someone wants them to call a specific number.

Image of a payphone.

Now like all things in the world, the payphone was not a free service. To make a call, one had to pay 10 cents (price for an hour in the early 1950s). Easy right? Just pay a dime and get on going with your call. Well that was not so much the case. People back then, especially in the U.S. were somehow at a loss for dimes. Why? This was because of the rapid rise of the economy where people started to earn more and more money in such a way that it was a nuisance to carry loose change compared to having lighter and more convenient bills in your wallet. Thus, whenever someone had to make a call on the payphone, they first have to secure at least 10 cents (and again if they wanted to keep the call going).

So, what was the most logical thing to do then if you wanted to make a call, but lack the dime to do so? Well its easy, ask someone for a dime. Asking someone else for loose change or a dime, became so common that the world dime eventually began to mean helping out someone as well.

Why Were Assists Called Dimes?

Now it would be so convenient to just assume that the dime, since it was associated now with the idea of helping someone out, would naturally fit in with the basketball’s assist. After watching some old NBA games, I came to a conclusion that the word dime inserted itself into the world of basketball as a fancier and flashier alternative to the assist. Like I have said earlier, the term assist does not necessarily fit the game’s image as high-paced, action-packed, captivating, and jaw dropping. Just as how the term field goal does not capture the variety of moves (such as a jumper, a slam dunk, a floater, or a long-range bomb) that could be done to achieve such.

That is why for the assist, we have the dime. A slang that has been adapted from the idea of helping someone out on the street with ease. A dime perfectly captures the unbothered yet impactful move a player does to deliver the ball to a teammate for a score. Sure, not all the time NBA announcers call assists as dimes. Sometimes they do just call it an assist, or a pass. But admittedly, there are some cases when its just to smooth, just too good, just too flashy, just too fancy, to be called merely an assist. Thus, the dime.

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