What Is a Flagrant Foul in Basketball? A Complete Guide


A professional basketball player in gold and red gets fouled during a shot.

Basketball referees have their hands full with the number of fouls they call on a game-by-game basis. With that said, there’s one type of foul that’s more controversial than most — the flagrant foul. It not only sparks a lot of debate and angst among players and coaches but the fans as well.

So, what is a flagrant foul in basketball?

A flagrant foul is any contact against an opponent that’s deemed unnecessary or excessive by a referee. Depending on the ruling, the referee can call a Flagrant Foul 1, Flagrant Foul 2, or downgrade the foul to a common or technical foul. The opponent is rewarded two free throws and possession.

Due to the extreme penalties for flagrant fouls, referees are allowed to use instant replay to review them. While this allows them to get the call right, it’s often what leads to widespread controversy — especially since referees aren’t perfect and can be wrong.

To ensure there’s no confusion about what a flagrant foul is, how referees determine the type of flagrant foul, what the penalties are, how to avoid getting called for a flagrant foul, and how they differ from other types of fouls, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know below.

NBA Flagrant Foul Rules

Flagrant fouls aren’t as common as some of the other fouls in basketball, but you do see them from time to time. The rules officials follow when considering a flagrant foul are straightforward when compared to a technical foul, though flagrant fouls are often more of a judgment call.

In order to be considered a flagrant foul, there must be physical contact during the play and the official must deem that contact as unnecessary, excessive, or both. Should they feel it’s worthy, the officials must then determine whether it meets the criteria for a Flagrant 1 or Flagrant 2.

Until recently, officials were only allowed to review the play for consistency if the contact was originally called a flagrant foul on the floor. Today, officials are allowed to review any play when considering a flagrant foul, no matter what the original call was on the floor.

What Is a Flagrant 1 in Basketball?

A Flagrant 1, also known as a Flagrant Foul Penalty 1 in the NBA Official Rulebook, is the lesser of two evils. In order for contact to be deemed a Flagrant 1, the official must determine that the contact committed by a player to their opponent is unnecessary, but not excessive.

What Is a Flagrant 2 in Basketball?

A Flagrant 2, also known as a Flagrant Foul Penalty 2 in the NBA Official Rulebook, is the greater of two evils. In order for the official to call a Flagrant 2, they must determine that the contact committed by a player against the opponent is both unnecessary and excessive.

Flagrant Foul Penalty

Flagrant fouls result in quite harsh penalties, which is why you don’t see them too often. With that said, the penalty for a Flagrant 1 differs from that of a Flagrant 2. Although they both result in two free throws and a loss of possession, a Flagrant 2 also results in an automatic ejection.

While a Flagrant 1 doesn’t result in an ejection, a player that commits two Flagrant 1 fouls in the same game receives an automatic ejection. In addition to those penalties, flagrant fouls are subject to further fines handed down by the commissioner after careful review of the play.

What Do Officials Look for with Flagrant Fouls?

A referee officiates a high school basketball game.

When an official feels that contact was unnecessary or excessive, they immediately review the play for a closer look. During that review, they determine whether it was a Flagrant 1, Flagrant 2, technical, or common foul. They’re allowed to upgrade or downgrade the original call on the floor.

Unnecessary contact is anything that’s not deemed a ‘basketball play’ or ‘basketball motion.’ Excessive contact is any contact that’s intended to harm or injure the opponent. While there’s no room for either, unnecessary contact is generally an accident and excessive is usually on purpose.

In addition to determining what type of foul it is, officials must determine whether or not other players committed unsportsmanlike conduct before, during, or after the play. This ensures that everyone involved receives the proper penalty.

Different Ways to Earn a Flagrant Foul

There are three instances where contact generally results in the official calling a flagrant foul — winding up before the contact, contact with a swinging motion, and following through after contact. Committing any of the three generally earns you a flagrant foul.

For example, if you have possession of the ball and are trying to create space between you and your opponent before or after your dribble, it’ll likely be a flagrant foul if you swing your elbow and make contact with your opponent — especially if contact is made around the face.

Another great example of a typical flagrant foul is when a player is trying to defend a player driving towards the basket. As they jump up for a layup, you hip-check them while they’re in mid-air, causing them to fall awkwardly to the ground. That will earn you a flagrant foul.

Flagrant Foul vs Technical Foul

Flagrant fouls and technical fouls are two types of fouls that no coach ever wants to see their team commit. Not only do they bring harsh penalties, fines, and even suspensions, but they’re often poor decisions made by players, coaches, and trainers.

As we learned above, a flagrant foul is any contact between two players that’s deemed unnecessary, excessive, or both. On the other hand, a technical foul is unsportsmanlike conduct or violations that generally don’t involve contact — unless a fight breaks out.

Flagrant fouls can only be called on two players in live-action, while technical fouls can be called on players on the court, players on the bench, coaches, or trainers.

Another difference is the penalty for both. A flagrant foul results in two free throws and loss of possession, while a technical foul results in one free throw and loss of possession. While a Flagrant Foul 2 or two Flagrant Foul 1s result in an ejection, it takes two technicals for an ejection.

Both technical fouls and flagrant fouls are subject to fines and possible suspensions once the commissioner has an opportunity to review the play.

Different Types of Fouls in Basketball

There are a variety of fouls that are much more common than flagrant and technical fouls. Some are called on the offense, while others are called on the defense. Let’s take a quick look at some of the other fouls an official might call in a basketball game:

  • Personal Fouls – a foul against a specific player is known as a personal foul. Players are only allowed five personal fouls per game. Being called for a sixth personal foul results in a disqualification. These can be called on offensive and defensive players.
  • Team Fouls – a personal foul that’s called on the defense is also counted as a team foul. Teams are only allowed four team fouls per quarter. Being called for a fifth team foul puts the opponent in a ‘bonus,’ which awards them two free throws regardless of the type of foul.
  • Shooting Fouls – if a defensive player fouls an offensive player while in the act of shooting (whether it be a layup, mid-range shot, or three-point shot), the offensive player is awarded two or three free throws (depending on the type of shot that was attempted).
  • Violations – although they don’t result in any free throws and technically aren’t a foul, there are a variety of violations that result in a loss of possession or stoppage of play. Some examples include a double dribble, carry, kicked ball, and a 3-second violation.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth breakdown of the different types of fouls in basketball, you can learn more here. There’s a lot to keep in mind, but understanding the rules is essential to avoiding putting your team in a difficult position.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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