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Basketball Infringements (Fouls)

By Pat Lee, updated January 2024

Basic Basketball Rules Series

Welcome to the Basic Basketball Rules series of articles, where we will focus on the basic concepts of Basketball.

Part 1: Basketball Basic Rules
Part 2: Basketball Offense and Defense Rules
Part 3: Basketball Infringements aka Basketball Fouls << You are here

Part 3: Basketball Infringements

In Part 3, we will introduce the basic types of Basketball infringements, or also known as Fouls.

What is a Basketball Foul?

In basketball, a foul occurs when a player violates the rules by making illegal physical contact with an opponent. Common fouls include pushing, tripping, or excessively aggressive defensive maneuvers. 

When a foul is committed, the opposing team is awarded free throws or possession of the ball, depending on the specific circumstances and the number of team fouls accumulated.

Each player is allotted a certain number of fouls. During competition, a player can amass up to 5 personal fouls (FIBA rules) before they are disqualified from the game (also known as fouling out).

Basketball Foul Rules

A foul can be called by a referee if/when:

1. Illegal contact results in a foul

When a basketball player commits illegal physical contact against an opposing player, the referees will call a personal foul. Most player fouls involve contact that impedes an opposing player’s gameplay. A personal foul is an infraction that violates the rules of the game. Players can incur personal fouls by pushing, blocking, or striking another player in the act of shooting. 

Shooting fouls result in free throw attempts for the fouled player. If a defender fouls a shooter attempting a 2 point shot, the shooter will receive 2 free throws. If a shooter is fouled during a 3 point shot attempt, they will receive 3 free throws. If the player makes the shot they were attempting at the time of illegal contact, the basket could also count (depending on the discretion of the referee), and the shooter will receive 1 free throw. Each successfully made free throw counts for 1 point.

2. Offensive foul committed by the offensive team

An offensive foul is a personal foul that offensive players commit when their team possesses the ball. The most common offensive fouls relate to the concept of charging. Charging is when an offensive player with the ball makes contact with a defensive player who has planted their feet in a locked position (not moving). This foul is most commonly committed when the offensive player is attempting to score a basket in an aggressive fashion over defensive players who are already well established underneath the basket.

Additional basketball foul rules:

3. Each team is allotted a certain number of fouls

In competition play, each team can only amass a total set number of personal fouls per playing period (halves or quarters). Once a team surpasses this allotment, they go “into the bonus,” which means the officials will award the opposing team with free throws for every additional foul that a player commits in that quarter of play. Offensive fouls however to not count towards the calculation of the number of team fouls.

Please check with your respective game referee/officials what the number of team fouls a team can amass to as this could be different from competition to competition.

4. Technical fouls

Certain rule violations result in technical fouls. A technical foul is a penalty for violating the game’s administrative rules. Officials at their discretion could assess technical fouls for instances of fighting, verbal abuse or rough physical play that is not in the spirit of competition. Technical fouls result in a free throw and a change of possession. If a player or coach receives 2 technical fouls in the same game, the referee will be able to eject them from the game.