Is Basketball a Contact Sport? The Answer May Surprise You

Male basketball player goes for layup past defender.

If you’ve played or watched any level of basketball, you know just how physical the game can get. Players are constantly running into and making incidental contact with one another. Despite this, many don’t view basketball as a contact sport in the same way they would consider other sports.

So is basketball a contact sport?

Basketball is a contact sport but not in the same way as other sports such as football and rugby. Basketball is a physical game but much of the contact is discouraged by the rules that are in place. Due to this, many people consider basketball to be a non-contact or a limited-contact sport.

The jury is still out on whether basketball is a contact sport but I firmly believe that it is. By reading the rest of this article, I think you’ll come to agree that basketball is a contact sport and that physical play is part of the game.

Contact in Basketball

Male basketball player scores over defender.

In your typical basketball game, there’s all kinds of pushing and/or bumping on every play. You obviously can’t tackle somebody like in football or rugby, but there is contact in basketball. Knowing this…would you still consider basketball a contact sport?

I know NBA players would consider it a contact sport because many of them wear mouth guards. It’s not like contact is encouraged in basketball but it’s not outlawed. There are rules in place to prevent contact from getting too out of hand.

For example, you can’t make contact with a shooter as he lets go of the ball. You also can’t charge into people when you’re on offense. A charge would be defined as an offensive player running into a defensive player who has his feet set.

If a player runs into a defender whose feet aren’t set, then the defense is at fault.

In many ways, this encourages players to run into defenders if they know they won’t get their feet set in time. There are many examples of contact not being encouraged in basketball, with one being a moving screen.

Much like a defender trying to draw a charge, a player setting a screen needs to have his feet set. By now you’re getting the idea that contact isn’t prohibited in basketball but there are measures put in place to keep the contact under control.

Some other examples of prohibited contact include illegal use of hands or reaching in, elbowing, blocking, holding, hand checks, tripping and flagrant fouls.

If you’ve watched any professional basketball in recent years, you’ve probably noticed that players seem to be getting called for contact on just about every play.

Maybe this is to protect the players but it wasn’t always this way. Players in the “Jordan era” were constantly running at each other and fouls were rarely called compared to nowadays.

It was a much more physical game back then and it wasn’t for the faint of heart.

When to Foul in Basketball

There’s a lot of strategy that goes into making contact with the other team. If you have too many fouls, you’re going to have to be less aggressive because you don’t want to foul out. The opposite is also true.

If you don’t have as many fouls on you, you can play a more physical game. This is why players who quickly tally a couple of fouls go to the bench to sit out. This reduces the likelihood that they’ll foul out throughout the game.

The number of fouls you can tally depends on the league but in the NBA you’re allowed five fouls. On the sixth foul you “foul out” and cannot reenter the game. In high school and college basketball, you foul out on your fifth foul.

Players are only allowed so many fouls during a game for several different reasons. If players were allowed to commit unlimited files they could take advantage of weaker free-throw shooters on the other team.

This happened with Shaquille O’Neal. He was a terrible free-throw shooter and teams would routinely foul him on purpose to allow him to go to the free-throw line.

This phenomenon became known as “hack a Shaq”. Teams were much more willing to let a 7-foot 300-pound guy shoot from the free-throw line than allow him to get under the basket. In his career, Shaq had a 52.7% completion rate from the free-throw line.

On the flip side, you don’t want to foul shooters such as Stephan Curry or Steve Nash. In his career, Steve Nash shot 90.43% from the free-throw line. Curry is currently at 90.56% from the line.

It’s also a good idea not to foul hot shooters. And when I’m talking hot, I’m talking from the free-throw line. There’s never been anyone hotter from the line then Michael Williams in the 1993 season.

He holds the record for the most free-throws made in succession, which currently stands at 97.

It’s important to note that players are going to naturally build up fouls during a game, so you don’t want to go to crazy fouling the other team on purpose to set up advantageous situations.

You also don’t want to waste these fouls on your best players. So when a team wants to foul a particular player, it’s often a wise move to have a non-starter make contact.

To go along with player fouls, there are also team fouls. In the NBA a team is allowed five fouls per half. The sixth foul and on results in the other team earning two free-throws.

In the NBA, offensive fouls don’t count toward the limit, which resets each quarter. The fouls reset each half in college basketball.

The foul limit per half for each team in college basketball is six. On the seventh foul the other team is rewarded a one-and-one. A one-and-one consists of a player taking a free-throw, which if he makes, is rewarded with another free-throw.

After the 10th foul by the opposing team, two free-throws are rewarded instead.

Contact Based on Position in Basketball

Group of men play basketball in park.

Some positions are much more physically demanding than others. For example, players who play in or near the paint are more likely to draw or commit fouls than players who play on the perimeter.

Contact is naturally going to happen when players are trying to weave in-and-out of defenders, when defenders are trying to block shots, offensive players are trying to dunk the ball, etc. Let’s take a look at the physicality of each position.

Center in Basketball

The center is also known as the “five”. He is generally the tallest player on the team and plays close to the basket. This player is tasked with aggressively going after defensive and offensive rebounds and getting down low in the paint to make easy shots.

Throughout a game, centers are likely to draw fouls from trying to block shots and going for rebounds.

Power Forward in Basketball

The power forward also goes by the “four” and usually plays in the post or low blocks. This position focuses on scoring close to the basket and from midrange.

On defense, power forwards tend to guard players close to the basket and do their best to keep players in front of them. They also body-up players and aren’t afraid to take a charge. The position also lends itself to setting up screens and collecting rebounds.

Small Forward in Basketball

Also known as the “three” or “wing”, the small forward’s main focus is scoring points. With that said, small forwards are usually versatile players who can take on a number of roles.

Some small forwards prefer to initiate contact with the other team, trying to earn free-throws in the process. Others are staunch defenders who despite their lack of size, can defend against multiple positions. The position is also known for helping in the rebounding department.

Shooting Guard in Basketball

This position is also referred to as the “two”, “off guard” and/or “wing”. Shooting guards are known for being good defenders but they’re typically not as physical as the other positions because they rely on mid and long-range shots.

Point Guard in Basketball

The point guard is known as the “one” or “point”. Point guards are the primary ball handlers for their teams and the offense runs through them. These players are usually prolific scorers who are capable of dishing the ball to the open man.

The best point guards are quick and versatile and are masters of drawing defensive contact when shooting. Many people like to refer to them as the captain of the floor and compare them to quarterbacks in football.

Related Articles

Steven G.

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

Recent Posts