What Is a Technical Foul in Basketball? A Complete Overview


An outdoor basketball hoop.

There are a lot of fouls in the game of basketball and they generally involve some sort of contact between two players. For the most part, this isn’t the case with technical fouls. Technical fouls can also be called on any team member — including coaches and those on the bench.

So, what is a technical foul in basketball?

A technical foul is any foul that involves unsportsmanlike conduct, including violations made by players or coaches on the bench. Technical fouls include excessive timeouts, delay of games, too many players, illegal use of the basket ring, conduct that’s detrimental to the game, fighting, and more.

Since technical fouls are some of the most misunderstood, yet necessary, fouls in basketball, they often come with quite a bit of controversy when called — especially since referees can call them whenever they want. Understanding them is essential to avoid them in a game.

Don’t worry, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about technical fouls, including the different types of technical fouls, the rules across different leagues, the penalties for technical fouls, the potential fines and suspensions, and how they differ from other fouls.

Types of Technical Fouls in Basketball

Technical fouls come in many different forms and there are a variety of reasons why a referee might call one. Since the penalty is the same no matter what type of technical foul is called, players must avoid them at all times — otherwise, it could change the outcome of the game.

Referees are allowed to call a technical whenever they feel it’s necessary, but they generally call them for excessive timeout usage, delay of game, too many players on the court, illegal use of the basket ring, unsportsmanlike conduct, and whenever a fight breaks out.

Let’s take a closer look at the rules for each type of technical foul below:

Excessive Timeouts

NBA teams are allowed seven (7) timeouts during regulation play, each of which is 75 seconds long. Timeouts are essential in clutch moments of the game when the coach needs to draw up a play, when the opponent is on a devastating run, or when players are in dire need of a break.

Although teams can call more than seven timeouts in a game, doing so results in that team being assessed a technical foul. The team calling the excessive timeout is given the 75-second break, but they give up a free throw and possession to the opponent.

If the excessive timeout technical foul is called before normal free throw attempts, players aren’t allowed to line up under the basket for all free throws. If the technical foul is assessed before a jump ball, possession is automatically awarded to the opponent at the spot of interruption.

Delay of Game

To maintain the flow of a basketball game, the NBA and its referees hand out technical fouls when a team — players or coaches — hinders the advancement of live play. This type of technical foul is called a delay of game and it’s necessary to preserve the integrity of the game.

There are nine instances spelled out in the Official NBA Rulebook that warrant a delay of game:

  1. When a player prevents the ball from being in-bounded in a timely manner.
  2. When a player interferes with the ball after a made field goal or free throw.
  3. When a player doesn’t immediately pass the ball to a referee after a violation or foul.
  4. When a player touches the ball before it’s thrown in.
  5. When a defender crosses the boundary line at the throw-in spot before the offensive player throws the ball in.
  6. When a team prevents a play from commencing, for whatever reason.
  7. When a coach, player, or trainer interferes with the ball after it crosses the boundary line.
  8. When a free throw shooter walks outside of the three-point line in-between free throws.
  9. When a player enters the game with his shirt untucked.

The first offense for a delay of game is always a warning. The second offense results in a technical foul, which awards the opponent a free throw attempt and possession of the ball.

If assessed to the defense, the shot clock either stays the same or is reset to 14 seconds — whichever is greater. If assessed to the defense while the opponent is advancing the ball upcourt, the opponent is given a new 8-second count to advance the ball.

Number of Players

People playing basketball on an outdoor court.

NBA teams are allowed five players on the court at any given time. While it doesn’t matter who those players are or what positions they play, it’s important they don’t exceed the allowed five players. Anything less than or more than five results in a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul.

In the event a team has six or more, or four or fewer, players on the court when the play starts, the opposing team is awarded a technical free throw and possession of the ball. If the opposing team made a field goal before the foul, they can either accept the field goal or nullify the play and start over.

Basket Ring, Backboard, or Support

Some of the most exciting plays occur under or near the basket, including dunks and blocks. Although things can get very physical and competitive in this area of the court, players must avoid any illegal use of the basket ring, backboard, and/or support. Doing so results in a technical foul being assessed.

There are three main instances where an NBA official calls a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul for illegal use of the basket ring, backboard, or support, including:

  1. An offensive player that hangs on the basket ring, net, backboard, or support for an extended amount of time during the game.
  2. A defensive player that uses the basket ring, net, backboard, or support to gain or maintain height.
  3. A defensive player that uses the basket ring, net, backboard, or support to successfully touch a ball in the air.

The only real exception to this is when an offensive or defensive player hangs on the basket rim, net backboard, or support to avoid injury to themselves or to another player. In this case, the official uses their judgment to nullify the technical that would’ve been called.

If a defensive player ends up touching the ball while using the basket rim, net, backboard, or support for assistance, the offensive player’s shot is awarded (similar to goaltending) and a technical foul is assessed.

Conduct

To maintain the integrity of the game and ensure a clean basketball game from start to finish, NBA officials are allowed to assess a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct at any time. They do not need to issue a warning before handing out these types of technical fouls.

Examples of unsportsmanlike conduct that’s worthy of a technical foul, according to the Official NBA Rulebook, include:

  • Disrespecting an official
  • Making unnecessary physical contact with an official
  • Overt actions that express your disdain with a call or missed call
  • Using profanity
  • A coach that enters the court without the okay from an official
  • Any unnatural physical act to an opponent without physical contact
  • Taunting an opponent
  • Eye guarding, which is placing your hand over a player’s eye
  • Deliberately throwing the ball or another object at a player intentionally
  • Throwing or kicking the ball into the stands intentionally

Although NBA officials are directed to avoid calling technicals as much as possible, they are also directed to call them without hesitation when necessary. When called, the opposing team is awarded a free throw and possession of the ball. If called before or after a shooting foul, the technical free throw is shot first.

Fighting

Much like any other sport, fighting is deeply prohibited in the game of basketball. There’s no room for it and it isn’t taken lightly by the officials and executives. Whether the play is live or dead, a technical foul is called if a player, coach, or trainer is involved in a fight.

The penalty for a fighting technical foul is different in that no free throws are awarded. Instead, anyone involved in the fight is immediately ejected and won’t return to the game. If the foul is called on the defensive team, the offensive team is rewarded possession. If it’s called when neither team has the ball, play resumes with a jump ball.

NBA Technical Foul Fines

Technical fouls, along with flagrant fouls, are the only types of fouls that generally end in a fine, especially if a player, coach, or trainer is called for multiple technical fouls in a season.

According to the Official NBA Rulebook, here’s a look at the progressive fines for technicals in the regular season:

# of TechnicalsFine
1-5$2,000 each
6-10$3,000 each
11-15$4,000 each
16$5,000 + 1-game suspension
Each Additional$5,000
Each Two Additional$5,000 + 1-game suspension

Here’s a look at the progressive fines for technical fouls during the playoffs:

# of TechnicalsFine
1-2$2,000 each
3-4$3,000 each
5-6$4,000 each
7$5,000 + 1-game suspension
Each Additional$5,000
Each Additional Two$5,000 + 1-game suspension

There’s also an additional fine for ejections. Players, coaches, and trainers are assessed a $2,000 fine for their first ejection and $2,000 (plus whatever they were fined previously) for each additional ejection. For example, their second ejection is a $4,000 fine and their third is $6,000.

Two technical fouls in the same game automatically lead to an ejection. In addition to the fines listed above, the commissioner may fine players, coaches, or trainers up to $50,000 at their sole discretion.

What Do Officials Look for with Technical Fouls?

For an official to call a technical foul, they need to ensure there was an excessive timeout, too many or too few players on the court, a delay of game, illegal use of the basket ring, support, backboard, or net, unsportsmanlike conduct, or fighting.

While they have the right to call a technical foul whenever they feel necessary, they generally hold off on calling a technical until the violation or conduct is excessive — which is when they call it without hesitation.

What Happens When a Technical Foul Is Called?

When the official feels a player’s, coach’s, or trainer’s conduct is worth a technical foul, they blow the whistle and throw their hands up in the form of a ‘T.’ This signals to the scorekeeper’s table that a technical foul has been called. They also say the number of the player it’s called on.

After it’s called, the opposing team sends one player — someone that’s on the court at the time of the call — to the free-throw line. None of the other players, both on defense and offense, are allowed to line up, leaving the free throw shooter all by himself at the free-throw line.

In the event a player, coach, or trainer is handed two technical fouls in the same game, they are automatically ejected from the game and can’t return. After the game, fines and potential suspensions are handed down by the league after review.

Technical Foul vs Flagrant Foul

Technical fouls and flagrant fouls are two of the most penalized fouls in the game of basketball. The main difference between a technical foul and a flagrant foul is the fact that flagrant fouls involve unnecessary and/or excessive contact by one player to another during live action.

As we learned above, technical fouls generally don’t involve contact, except for a fighting technical foul. For the most part, flagrant fouls occur near the rim when the offense is trying to score a bucket. Technical fouls usually occur away from the ball.

The other difference between the two is the penalty assessed. Technical fouls result in the opposing team gaining possession and a free throw. A flagrant foul results in the opposing team taking two free throws, while also gaining possession of the ball. A Flagrant Foul 2 also results in the ejection of the player committing the foul.

High School Basketball Technical Foul Rule

For the most part, the rules surrounding technical fouls are the same for high school basketball players. The main difference here is the penalty. Instead of the opposing team being awarded one free throw, high school teams are awarded two free throw shots and possession of the ball.

College Basketball Technical Foul Rule

A view of a college basketball court.

The rules surrounding technical fouls for college basketball players are much different than that of the NBA and high school. While it’s called for many of the same reasons, college basketball rules break down technical fouls into one of three categories, which determine the penalty.

  • Class A Technical Fouls – the most common type of technical foul in college ball, Class A fouls are called for any act that’s deemed unsportsmanlike by the official. It results in two free throws by the opposing team and a loss of possession. Class A technicals also count towards the team’s foul count.
  • Class B Technical Fouls – this category of technical fouls includes any conduct that’s deemed illegal without any physical contact taking place. It results in one free throw by the opposing team and a loss of possession. Class B technicals don’t count towards the team’s foul count.
  • Administrative Technical Foul – this type of technical foul is generally called as a result of insufficient equipment, ineligible player on the court, incorrect scorebook, or excessive timeout. It results in one free throw and loss of possession, but won’t count towards the team’s foul count.

These rules are true with both men’s and women’s college basketball. It’s much rarer to see a Class B or Administrative technical foul, but you do see it from time to time.

WNBA Technical Foul Rule

The technical foul rules in the WNBA are identical to that of the NBA. They are called for the same reasons, result in one free throw by the opposing team, and result in a loss of possession. The league generally fines the individual that committed the foul and they’re ejected when committing two technicals in the same game.

Different Types of Fouls in Basketball

We’ve mentioned technical fouls and flagrant fouls in basketball, but those are only two of the many different types of fouls that are called in a game. They’re two of the rarer fouls and you won’t see them often. With that said, here’s a look at some of the other fouls in basketball:

  • Personal Foul – fouls against a specific player, whether it be on offense or defense. Each player is allowed five personal fouls in a game, but the sixth results in disqualification.
  • Team Foul – a personal foul that’s committed by the defense is known as a team foul. Each team is allowed five team fouls before putting the opposing team in the bonus.
  • Shooting Foul – when the defense fouls the offense in the act of shooting, a shooting foul is called. This sends the offensive player to the line for two or three free throws.

If you’d like to learn more about the different types of fouls in basketball, check out our in-depth article here.

Technical Foul Career Leaders

Throughout history, there have been some players more prone to being assessed a technical foul, either due to their conduct or quick temper. It’s not that these players are bad or don’t respect the game, but it certainly shows how often they put their team in a tough spot.

Here’s a list of the NBA’s technical foul career leaders, according to YardBarker:

  • Karl Malone – 332 technical fouls
  • Charles Barkley – 329 technical fouls
  • Rasheed Wallace – 317 technical fouls
  • Gary Payton – 250 technical fouls
  • Dennis Rodman – 212 technical fouls
  • Dirk Nowitzki – 192 technical fouls
  • Anthony Mason – 192 technical fouls
  • Russell Westbrook – 182 technical fouls (and counting)
  • Dwight Howard – 178 technical fouls (and counting)
  • Kevin Garnett – 172 technical fouls

Although Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Rasheed Wallace are in a league of their own when it comes to technical fouls, it’s clear that Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard are climbing up this list. You also have to take into account the 156 by Carmelo Anthony, 137 by DeMarcus Cousins, and 131 by Draymond Green — all of whom are active players.

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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