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What does inactive mean in the NBA?

Collective agreements between players and the National Basketball Association ensure that a certain protocol is followed when it comes to matters of players contracts. Some topics, such as inactivity, draw particular attention and can sometimes be complicated to understand.
What does inactive mean in the NBA? An inactive list in the NBA names players that are not eligible to play a particular game. A player could be inactive for the whole season, or a certain match, depending on the decision of the coaching staff and medical team.

There are rare exceptions when teams come out to face a game without any inactive players. In the following article, we will have a look at the topic of inactivity in more detail as well as the reasons behind it.

Inactivity Explained in Layman’s Terms

A list of inactive players was created during the 2005–2006 season. Previously, players were listed as injured regardless of whether they were actually injured or not. Players from this list cannot appear in matches for at least five games.

There can be a maximum of 17 players on an active team roster, and a minimum of eight active players must be available for each game. There can be no more than two players in the inactive team list; it can be reduced to zero for up to two weeks, and additional, temporarily inactive positions can be added with league approval in difficult cases. The inactive roster may be changed up to 60 minutes before tip off by informing the official game secretary.

A player can be inactive for just one game, or as we have already mentioned above, for consecutive matches. Players sent to the NBA Development League are normally counted towards the list of inactive teams. Though individual teams are required to have a minimum of 13 (12 active and one inactive) players, the NBA guarantees a league average of at least 14 players per team. The league will collect money from teams that do not meet minimum roster requirements.

It should be noted that any player who is listed on a team’s inactive list, is rolled over to the active list in the following season.

Why Are Players Listed in the Inactive List?

There are numerous reasons why NBA players are listed in the inactive list for particular games. Let’s have a look at some of them.


This is the most obvious reason why a player could miss an NBA game and be listed as an inactive player. Because the NBA season is so protracted and 82 games are held, quite a lot of players get injuries. The injury might be so grave, but a coach may decide to rest a player and he will still be on the roster, but unlikely to feature for the match. Injuries make up the most part of players who do not participate in NBA games.


This one is sometimes attributed to injuries as well, but we can talk about it separately. Following the coronavirus pandemic, which affected almost every sport, coronavirus protocol was adopted. Players who tested positive for the virus, or are in close contact with other athletes, are listed in inactive status and cannot participate in matches until they recover. Some teams had problems with filling the roster fully because of the virus.

Because of the coronavirus, getting vaccines became mandatory. Some states and teams do not allow players who are not vaccinated fully to participate in matches. This was a case with Kyrie Irvin who missed the majority of regular-season matches because of his refusal to get a vaccine.

Coach’s Decision

This is individual for every team and every coach. The latter can decide not to include a player in the list for various reasons. It could be either not being ready for a game, disciplinary action or simply rest. The player however can still attend the game with his team. Compared to the first 2 reasons, this is not so frequent in the NBA and the majority of coaches turn to this once in a blue moon.

G League

Youngsters, recent draft picks or players who have just arrived in the NBA roster, could be sent to play in the NBA Development League which is also known as the G League. Here players get more practice and the time to play with weaker teams. The following athletes are also listed as inactive ones and unless the coach recalls them, they remain in the G League. The latter is a perfect opportunity to prove oneself and later return to the initial team.


The suspension normally includes players who fail to meet anti-drug protocol or are not allowed to play because of disciplinary reasons. A lot of players were included in the inactive list for a long time and they even missed the whole season. Normally such things are infrequent in the NBA. 

Notable Players to be Listed Inactive

Throughout the history of the NBA, a lot of players, even the most prominent ones, were on the inactive list. For example, New York City center Joakim Noah served a suspension for a drug violation but still did not play in the 2017-18 season. Even though Noah was available for two games, the Knicks did not have plans to include the Frenchman in their game roster.

Another major example even though he was suspended for the massive brawl is Ron Artest. He served an 86 match suspension and was inactive for the majority of matches. The same can be said about Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, both of whom participated in the same brawl.