Wastebasket Ball

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Basketball at work? It sure beats work at work.

Crumpling up a piece of paper, and attempting to toss it into a wastebasket across the room without getting up is deemed a sport. Failure to get a basket will often derive many comebacks and general bad attitude that can follow a man, or woman around.

In fiction, the competency of the thrower is often directly proportional to how well that character does at other things.

Most of the time there will be a pile surrounding the basket of missed previous tries. If it's a literal waste basket, you can see more inside, unless the character is really a terrible shot.

Often shown as a part of a Writer's Block Montage.

A Seen It a Million Times trope. This is also, of course, Truth in Television. Maybe not so much the backboard et al., but you'd have to live a pretty isolated and/or boring life to not have at least witnessed this.

Compare Office Sports.

Examples of Wastebasket Ball include:


  • A recent ad for either NCAA basketball or the NBA features various people from all walks of life pretending to throw an object into a goal at the buzzer.


  • In the film The 25 th Hour.
  • The Daredevil movie has one of those little basketball hoops hung over the wastebasket. The blind yet supersensitive Matt Murdock always dunks it, and the comic relief sidekick, Foggy Nelson, can never manage it. It doesn't stop him from saying "swoosh" to try to convince the blind guy that he made it, however.
  • In the film City of Angels, in the middle of surgery, an assisting nurse is sitting reading a Who magazine. He tosses it for a solid three points into a big bag marked "Biohazard materials".
  • The film The Cutting Edge has the ice-skating male lead do this while negotiating with the female figure skater's father over being hired on as her partner after the father misses three times.
  • In Primer, Abe and Aaron are seen playing this as part of a Time Compression Montage prior to their trip back in time.
  • In Semi Pro, Ed Monix misses the wastebasket while being introduced as the team's new captain.
  • In Iron Man 2, the Holographic Terminal that fills Tony's work station allows him to pick up a floating program window, scrunch it into a ball, and throw it in the Recycle Bin, which immediately announces "SCORE!"
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has a humorous variation, in which the title character tosses a package backwards over his shoulder into a trash can. As the DVD outtakes demonstrate, it took Michael Cera thirty tries before he got it right.
  • Comes into play at the beginning of One Crazy Summer. After we see that "Hoops" is not a very good cartoonist, he plays the trope by throwing away the crumpled up drawing. A couple dozen such crumpled papers surround the wastebasket which is completely empty. Apparently, Hoops isn't much of a basketball player either.


  • In the first Red Dwarf novel, Rimmer decides that, if he can get do this first time with a paper towel, this means he will pass his exam. He doesn't. So he decides that if he can do it three times in a row this cancels it out, and not only will he pass his exam, he will have sex with a beautiful woman. He achieves this by standing directly over the bin. And then he gets hit in the face by a nuclear blast.
  • When Susan Sto Helit of Discworld does this, she never misses. Sometimes, the basket will even move to make sure the paper ball goes in.
  • In the novel The Man Who Never Missed, the title hero makes his reputation by tranq-darting several thousand enemy soldiers with a tiny personal firearm, each one with a single perfect shot. In the last scene, after the hero has retired and opened a bar, he makes a paper-ball-and-wastebasket shot - and misses.
    • It is revealed early on that his reputation is a careful construct, and that he has missed a (very) few times.

"Only eight times. It's still amazing." Khadaji heard grudging admiration in his voice. Then Venture said, "But The Man Who Only Missed Eight Times doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?"

  • This leads to Bob Lee Swagger's realization that the man the FBI thought had committed the crime couldn't have done it in I, Sniper.

Live Action TV

  • Done in an episode of Seven Days.
  • The very first episode of Moonlighting.
  • One of the ways Shawn amuses himself in his office on Psych.
  • In Monk, Stottlemeyer is playing this when his wife's camera crew come in, in an angle that doesn't allow them to see the actual wastebasket. He misses, says "swoosh" and Randy pretends he hit it.
  • In an early episode of ER, John Carter loses a bet with Doug Ross, and his buttocks have to be the backboard for Doug's wastebasket.
  • In the Scrubs episode "My Best Moment", when all the characters are reflecting on their best moment in medicine, Dr Cox remembers a time he was trying this, when he saw a woman choking. He performed the Heimlich, whatever she was choking on flew out and landed in another patient's mouth, he performed the Heimlich again, and it went right in the basket.
    • In "My Quarantine", the Janitor loses badly at this, betting ridiculous amounts of money with Dr Kelso.
  • Interesting take on this in The West Wing episode "Faith Based Initiative." A basketball is left on C.J. Cregg's desk as a joke in response to recent internet reports about the skills she had as a high school basketball player (really these are an attempt to call into question her sexuality). C.J. easily sinks the actual basketball into the trash can while sitting behind her desk.
    • In "Evidence of Things Not Seen," the staff's poker game devolves into a card-tossing contest after somebody throws away the joker from all the way across the room. (They move into the press briefing room to try aiming for different seats and are in there when someone attempting Suicide by Cop fires three shots at the window, one of the main plot points of the episode.)
  • In The Office, Michael pits his staff against the warehouse workers in a game of basketball, under the assumption that by having a black man on his team, Stanley, it's a shoe-in. We then see a brief segment of Stanley tossing a ball of paper, completely missing. Kevin, the lazy fat man, on the other hand, does the same thing, and makes it. It's a bit of foreshadowing, as later on Stanley sucks at the real game, and Kevin shoots hoop after hoop once the game is done, never missing a shot.
  • The staff of Sports Night often played garbage can basketball on slow news days.
  • Jon Steadman, the "new" bank manager, does this in Roxy Hunter and the Secret of the Shaman.
  • Tony often does this on NCIS. He is either freakishly amazing (scoring repeatedly from across the room, over his shoulder, without looking) or terrible (hitting everything- and everyone- except the basket) depending on which of his coworkers he is trying to annoy.
  • Ocassionally, Mulder does this on The X-Files. There's a hilarious blooper of David Duchovny trying (and failing) many times to try and get the ball of paper into the trash can. His response: "I hate this game."

Western Animation

Web Original

  • In the Kate Modern episode "Anything can happen on Halloween!", Gavin does this repeatedly. The bin in question is strapped to the head of Lee Phillips, work-experience boy and resident Butt Monkey.
    • Inverted in the animated segment of "Sinking In", when Lee attacks by launching balls of paper out of the bin on his head with explosive force.


  • There's an app for that.
    • Several, actually. Paper Toss, Catch It, and Toss It are all examples.
  • And a website: [1]