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What is the difference between team fouls and personal fouls?

The NBA is a fast-paced game played between some of the best athletes in the world: it’s bound to get physical. While physicality is common in contact sports like basketball, there has to be a line that needs to be drawn, to protect the players as well as the game being played. The NBA rulebook is full of things that constitute violations and fouls to keep the game clean.

What is the difference between team fouls and personal fouls? A personal foul refers to a foul committed by an individual player; in the NBA, each player can commit up to 6 personal fouls before they are removed from the game. A team foul is the sum of all fouls committed by the players on the team; while there is no limit to the total number of team fouls, at a certain threshold, teams face a penalty known as the bonus. Personal fouls are counted for the whole game, while team fouls are counted each quarter and are reset every quarter.

What is a personal foul?

A personal foul is a result of illegal physical contact between two players. It is important to note that not all contact is illegal; basketball is an inherently physical game featuring contact. But a level of contact that is considered illegal is ruled as a personal foul. Personal fouls are most commonly defensive fouls, a foul committed by a defensive player. General actions such as illegally pushing, hitting, holding, or blocking the offensive player, among other actions, are considered a defensive personal foul.

Offensive fouls, committed by an offensive player, are less common but still considered a personal foul. Once again, it refers to illegal physical contact by the offensive player. Fouls that are committed when neither team has possession of the ball are referred to as loose-ball fouls. Other fouls that count as personal fouls include flagrant fouls and technical fouls. A flagrant foul is awarded to a player that commits excessive illegal physical contact, intentionally or unintentionally. There are two levels of flagrant fouls, Flagrant I and Flagrant II; a Flagrant II foul will result in the player being ejected from the game. A technical foul refers to a non-contact action that is considered unsportsmanlike, such as using profanity or threatening the referee.

All of these fouls are considered personal fouls. A player can commit up to 6 personal fouls in the NBA, after which they will be removed from the game. Personal fouls are carried throughout the game, they aren’t reset. Committing 2 technical fouls, 2 Flagrant I fouls, or 1 Flagrant II fouls will also result in an ejection, regardless of the number of personal fouls. Committing a personal foul can result in free throws for the opposing team (if the offensive player is fouled during a shooting motion) or possession for the team who the foul is committed against. Flagrant fouls and technical fouls result in a free throw(s) and possession for the team that was fouled.

The personal foul rules do not change for overtime periods. No extra foul allowances are given, and personal fouls for each player are carried over from regulation, meaning that there is no reset.

What is a team foul?

A team foul is any personal foul committed by a player of that team, excluding offensive personal fouls. Simply put, Player 1 may have 3 personal fouls, while Player 2 has 4 personal fouls, one of them being an offensive personal foul. The number of team fouls would be 6: (3 personal fouls + (4 personal fouls – 1 offensive personal foul). Team fouls are collected every quarter in the NBA, and reset with the start of every new quarter. There is no limit to how many team fouls can be committed, but after exceeding a certain number, teams are penalized for every foul they commit, known as the bonus.

The bonus refers to a penalty against a team that has committed too many team fouls, which gives an advantage to the opposing team. In an NBA game, after a team has committed 5 team fouls in one quarter, each subsequent team foul results in two free throws for the fouled team who’s in the bonus, even if it is not a shooting foul. If a team has not yet committed 5 team fouls but has committed two fouls in the last two minutes of a quarter, each subsequent foul results in the opposing team being given a bonus. The team foul counter, and likewise the bonus, is reset at the start of every quarter. 

In overtime, the rules for team fouls and bonuses change slightly, due to the difference in length between an overtime period and a regulation quarter of basketball. In overtime, if a team commits 4 team fouls, each subsequent foul will award a bonus to the other team. Likewise, if a team commits 1 team foul in the last two minutes ,each subsequent team foul will award a bonus to the other team, regardless of how many team fouls they have had prior. The team with the bonus receives two free throws, as they do in normal regulation.

What other penalties are there in basketball?

While fouls are considered more egregious errors, more minor errors are referred to as violations. These are more rule-oriented, less subjective to a referee’s interpretation, and are often non-physical contact violations. The most common violations include traveling violations and time violations, and usually result in the opposing team receiving possession of the ball.

Many fans and players may criticize the way the NBA and its referees handle the rules; while there is debate regarding how necessary rule reform is, and certainly always room for improvement, there is no doubt that enforcing the rules has made the game a lot cleaner and safer. Most will agree that no one wants to watch a “hack fest”, or a game where the basketball is overruled by overboard physicality. A constant review of the rulebook and the application will almost certainly yield positive results for the league, the referees, the players, and the fans.