Basketball Penalties

There are 3 main categories of Penalties in Basketball. When a foul is committed or a rule broken, the referee blows the whistle, play stops immediately, and the penalty is assessed.

Personal Foul Penalties

Personal Foul While on defense, players are trying to get possession of the ball (a steal) and block the offense from shooting.  They can do this by staying close to the offensive player and waving their arms, but players CANNOT physically touch each other or “reach” into the player’s personal space. Different variations of a personal foul are Reaching in, Hand Check, Holding, Elbowing. Simply put: Direct physical contact = personal foul.  

Personal Foul


College players are allowed 4 personal fouls each game. If a player commits a 5th personal foul, they must leave the game and cannot return. (NBA players foul out after the 6th personal foul) Personal fouls also count toward the team’s total foul count.  When Team Fouls reach a certain number (NBA: The 5th  foul per quarter.  NCAA: 7th foul per half) it’s Bonus time. In the Bonus, each foul results in at least 1 free throw shot.

Shooting Foul If the personal foul occurs while the offensive player is shooting the ball, the penalty always results in a free throw for the fouled player. If the original shot was made, the player gets 1 free throw shot. If the original shot was missed, the player gets 2 free throw shots.

Flagrant/Technical A certain amount of “unintentional” personal fouling is expected in basketball, however the referee can make a judgement call if he thinks a player caused intentional harm in the foul. This elevated personal foul results in automatic  free-throw shots for the fouled player and  the fouled player’s team keeps possession of the ball after the free throw shots.

Charge  When an offensive player runs into a defender who has established position (2 feet firmly set before contact), a charge is called.

Block  If a player uses his body to prevent a player from moving down court without established position (2 feet firmly set before contact).

Basketball Foul

Extra Point: Flopping Very dramatic acting. If a defender illegally blocks a player, he may pretend to fall down in an effort to make the referee think the offensive player committed a charge instead. There isn’t a penalty for flopping, but the intent is to influence the referee.

Ball Handling Penalties

Double Dribble A player must continue to dribble the ball. If the player picks up his dribble, he must pass or shoot. If he begins to dribble again, whistle blows!

Travel (also called Walk) A player takes more than 1 ½ steps without dribbling the ball, or a player quits dribbling and moves the pivot foot.

Back-Court As the offense bring the ball down the court, and  the ball crosses the half court line, it cannot be passed back across the half court line.

These penalties are very frustrating, as these skills are considered fundamental. Usually when a player commits one of these errors he looks like this….

Time Penalties

There are many time rules in basketball. A few of the are listed below. When you notice the referee swinging his arm out like pendulum, he is counting these time rules. These penalties result in loss of possession.

3 second rule A player cannot stand in the foul lane more than 3 seconds at a time

5 second possession If a ball handler stops dribbling the ball, he must pass within 5 seconds.

10 seconds in the Back-court When bringing the ball down the court, the offense must get past half court within 10 seconds.

5 seconds inbound The offense has 5 seconds to pass the ball in-bounds when starting play.

Inbound Play


Category: Basketball