This is a saying from a famous NBA player, but I don't understand what he really means:

"When people are used to you doing something, they want you to stay in that lane."

Could somebody help me to explain the meaning?

  • What do the two halves mean?
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 24, 2017 at 11:34
  • 1
    It means people want you to keep doing that something. "Stay in lane" is used as a metaphor for established behavior. Apr 24, 2017 at 12:04
  • I have over the years gotten the impression that "lane" has a specific meaning in basketball, though I don't know enough about the game to say what that is.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 25, 2018 at 1:36
  • The "lane" in basketball is the rectangular area extending from the free-throw line to the inbounds/out-of-bounds line under the basket. Prior to a free throw, players on the two teams line up on both sides of the lane. However, the admonition to "stay in your lane" doesn't apply to basketball because remaining in the lane for 3 seconds or longer is a violation of the rules that leads to that leads to a loss of possession of the ball (offensive 3-second rule) or a technical foul (defensive 3-second rule). The answers by Gary and by Josh Friedlander identify the correct meaning of the phrase.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 25, 2018 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


The phrase is using a driving metaphor.

On a road there are lanes. To stay in lane means you do not move to the left or right to switch lanes, but you keep going straight. Abstractly the meaning can apply to anything and simply means keep doing what you have been doing.

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The phrase seems to be gaining momentum in pop culture, and is almost being used a synonym for stay in your comfort zone, for instance, the NME recently reported:

The 1975 urged fans and fellow stars not to “stay in your lane” during their acceptance speech at this evening’s BRIT Awards 2017.

The band took home Best British Group, beating Bastille, Biffy Clyro, Radiohead and Little Mix.

Accepting the award, frontman Matty Healy said... “And I just want to say… people in pop music and in the broader public consciousness are told to stay in your lane… [but] if you have a platform, don’t [stay in your lane].”

The meaning seems to be somewhat open to interpretation however, for instance the phrase is used to convey an altogether different meaning at thinkadvisor.com

These days, people often use the phrase “staying in your own lane” to mean minding your own business: don't tell me what to do, how to live my life, or how to raise my child.

So what does it mean in the context of your quotation?

People tend not to like change. This is the context of the quotation, as suggested by:

When people are used to you doing something they want you to stay in that lane.

The NBA player was referring to the idea that people expect you to behave how you always have done. For a professional sports person this could mean any number of things, people expect them to: -

  • Play for the same team.
  • Maintain the same levels of performance they enjoyed at their peak.
  • Keep the same views regarding the sport.
  • Keep playing the sport and not move on to other things.

Without additional context it's hard to pinpoint the precise meaning.

The general meaning however is that when people are used to you behaving in a certain way, they often do not like to see you act differently, or act 'out of the box'. They want you to keep doing what you have always done (keep going straight, heading in the same direction).


Remaining with the basketball context, it means that everyone—teammates, coaches, the opposing team, even the fans—expect you to play the same style : as a defensive power or an offensive scorer. Implied is that it is sometimes effective to play in a different, and unexpected way.


To add to Gary's great answer, "stay in your lane" more specifically refers to focusing on one's particular field of expertise. The "lane" referenced is not one in regular roads (which contain multiple cars), but that used by racers (in swimming, running, motor racing, etc.), which contain only one participant each.

enter image description here

Thus to stray from this lane would be to go away from one's assigned space. Though in real life, unlike in athletics, this can sometimes be a good thing.

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