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What is the NBA rule on technical fouls?

Nothing frustrates a neutral sports fan than having a great player ejected from a game for a minor infraction. Whether watching on TV or in person it can ruin a good game, the NBA is no different and this season has seen several stars ejected for technical fouls.

What is the NBA rule on technical fouls? Technical fouls are called for things that happen away from standard basketball play. In the NBA 2 technical fouls will get you ejected from the game, 16 technical fouls will see you suspended in the regular seasons and 7 will get you a suspension in the playoffs. The NBA rule on assessing technical fouls is nuanced. We explore more in this article.

There is alot to dig into with technical fouls, first we are going to explore some of the rules that define what they are.

What happens when you get a technical foul?

When an NBA player gets a technical foul the opposition would usually be awarded a free throw attempt and the opportunity to inbound the ball for the next possession. If an NBA player is assessed with a second technical foul they will be ejected from the game. This has happened a fair bit to star players in 2023-24, notably with Giannis Antetokoumpo being ejected against Detroit after making a highlight coast to coast dunk.

Star player ejections have been a source of frustration for NBA fans in 2023

How does the NBA define a technical foul?

The NBA rulebook doesn’t specifically define a technical foul. Instead it lays out when a referee can and cannot assess a technical foul on a player and what the consequences are.

There are six situations in which an NBA referee can assess a technical foul, importantly the NBA rules state that a technical foul cannot be assessed for contact while the ball is live. This is one of the main defining points of a technical foul, in that it is different to a personal foul, that would be assessed for any illegal contact made while the ball is live. All technical fouls in the NBA attract 1 free throw attempt and loss of possession.

The six situations in which an NBA ref can assess a technical foul are; Excessive Timeouts, Delay-of-Game, Number of Players, Basket Ring, Backboard or Support, Conduct and Fighting Fouls

They are laid out in Rule 12 of the NBA Rule Book and we have summarized them below.

Excessive timeouts will incur a technical foul in an NBA game If one is requested after the team has used them all up for that period of play. The time out will be granted however the opposition will be given a free throw attempt and the ball. The technical will be awarded against the team’s bench, known as a ‘bench technical’.

Delaying the game could be assessed as a technical foul in the following situations;

  • Preventing the ball from being promptly put into play.
  • Interfering with the ball after a successful field goal or free throw.
  • Failing to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official when a personal foul or violation is assessed.
  • Touching the ball before the throw-in has been released.
  • A defender crossing the boundary line within the designated throw-in spot prior to the ball being released on a throw-in.
  • A team preventing play from commencing at any time.
  • Any player, coach or trainer interfering with a ball which has crossed the boundary line.
  • A free throw shooter venturing fully beyond the three-point line between attempts.
  • A player entering the game when beckoned by an official with his shirt untucked

NBA rules state that any first offense will be a warning, with a technical foul assessed for each offense after that. If a team’s play is deemed to be repeated so frequently they become “a travesty” then the coach is notified he is being held responsible.

There is an exception that in the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter or in an Overtime period, offenses involving a defender crossing the boundary line when an offensive player is inbounding the ball are immediately assessed as a technical. This is to ensure defenders can’t hamper an inbounds pass once a play has been executed when the game is on the line.

Having too many players on the court attracts a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul. Like a regular technical foul, this attracts 1 free throw and loss of possession.

An offensive player who deliberately hangs on his basket ring, net, backboard or support during the game shall be assessed a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul. A defensive player who deliberately gains or maintains height or hangs on his opponent’s basket ring, net, backboard or support shall be assessed a non-unsportsmanlike technical If he touches the ball during a field goal attempt, points shall be awarded consistent with the type of shot, this is known as a goal tend. There is an exception that allows players to hang in order to prevent an injury to themselves or other players, with no technical foul assessed.

Technical fouls will be assessed on players, coaches or trainers for fighting.  No free throws will be attempted. The participants will be ejected immediately, unlike most contact this rule applies whether play is in progress or the ball is dead. A fine not exceeding $50,000 and/or suspension may be imposed upon such person(s) by the Commissioner at his sole discretion.

Technical fouls assessed for conduct are one of the most complex in the NBA rule book. We have included the full text below.

  1. An official may assess a technical foul, without prior warning, at any time.  A technical foul(s) may be assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game. The technical foul must be charged to an individual. A technical foul cannot be assessed for physical contact when the ball is alive.
    1. EXCEPTION: Fighting fouls and/or taunting with physical contact.
  2. A maximum of two technical fouls for unsportsmanlike acts may be assessed any player, coach, trainer, or other team bench person. Any of these offenders may be ejected for committing only one unsportsmanlike act, and they must be ejected for committing two unsportsmanlike acts.
  3. A technical foul called for (1) delay of game, (2) coaches box violations, (3) defensive 3-seconds, (4) having a team total of less or more than five players when the ball becomes alive, (5) a player hanging on the basket ring or backboard, (6) participation in the game when not on team’s active list, or (7) shattering the backboard or making the rim unplayable during the game (Comments On the Rules—G) is not considered an act of unsportsmanlike conduct.
  4. A technical foul shall be assessed for unsportsmanlike tactics such as:
    1. Disrespectfully addressing an official
    2. Physically contacting an official
    3. Overt actions indicating resentment to a call or no-call
    4. Use of profanity
    5. A coach entering onto the court without permission of an official
    6. A deliberately-thrown elbow or any unnatural physical act towards an opponent with no contact involved
    7. Taunting
  5. Cursing or blaspheming an official shall not be considered the only cause for imposing technical foul. Running tirades, continuous criticism or griping may be sufficient cause to assess a technical. Excessive misconduct shall result in ejection from the game.
  6. Assessment of a technical foul shall be avoided whenever and wherever possible; but, when necessary they are to be assessed without delay or procrastination.  Once a player has been ejected or the game is over, technical fouls cannot be assessed regardless of the provocation. Any additional unsportsmanlike conduct shall be reported by e-mail immediately to the League Office.
  7. If a technical foul is assessed to a team following a personal foul on the same team, the free throw attempt for the technical foul shall be administered first.
  8. The ball shall be awarded to the team which had possession at the time the technical foul was assessed, whether the free throw attempt is successful or not.  Play shall be resumed by a throw-in nearest the spot where play was interrupted.
    1. EXCEPTION: Rule 12A—Section I and Rule 12A—Section III.
  9. Anyone guilty of illegal contact which occurs during a dead ball may be assessed (1) a technical foul, if the contact is deemed to be unsportsmanlike in nature, or (2) a flagrant foul, if unnecessary and/or excessive contact occurs.
  10. Free throws awarded for a technical foul must be attempted by a player in the game when the technical foul is
    1. If a substitute has been beckoned into the game or has been recognized by the officials as being in the game prior to a technical foul being assessed, he is eligible to attempt the free throw(s).
    2. If the technical foul is assessed before the opening tap, any player listed in the scorebook as a starter is eligible to attempt the free throw(s).
    3. If a technical foul is assessed before the starting lineup is indicated, any player on the squad may attempt the free throw(s).
  11. A technical foul, unsportsmanlike act or flagrant foul must be called for a participant to be ejected.
    1. EXCEPTION: Rule 12A—Section V—l—4
  12. A player, coach, trainer, or other team bench person must be ejected for:
    1. A punching foul
    2. A fighting foul
    3. Technical foul for an attempted punch or swing with no contact or a thrown elbow toward an opponent above shoulder level with no contact
    4. Deliberately entering the stands other than as a continuance of play
    5. Flagrant foul penalty (2)
    6. Second flagrant foul penalty (1)
    7. Participation in the game when not on team’s active list
  13. Eye guarding (placing a hand in front of the opponent’s eyes when guarding from the rear) a player who does not have possession of the ball is illegal and an unsportsmanlike technical shall be assessed.
  14. A free throw attempt is awarded when one technical foul is assessed.
  15. No free throw attempts are awarded when a double technical foul is assessed.  Technical fouls assessed to opposing teams during the same dead ball and prior to the administering of any free throw attempt for the first technical foul, shall be interpreted as a double technical foul.
  16. The deliberate act of throwing the ball or any object at an official by a player, coach, trainer, or other team bench person is a technical foul and violators are subject to ejection from the game.
  17. Punching fouls, although recorded as both personal and team fouls, are unsportsmanlike acts.  The player will be ejected immediately.
  18. Any player who throws or kicks the ball directly into the stands with force, regardless of the reason or where it lands, will be assessed a technical foul and ejected.  All other instances where the ball ends up in the stands will subject the player to a possible technical foul and ejection.

NBA Technical Foul Fines & Suspensions

We have included the official guide for NBA technical foul fines & suspensions. This is up to date as of the 2023-24 NBA season.

Draymond Green was suspended after receiving 7 technicals in the 2016 playoffs. It is widely believed this cost the 73-9 Warriors the NBA title.

Who has the most Technical Fouls in NBA history?

Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone has received the most technical fouls in NBA history. He has 332 and is closely followed by Charles Barkley (329) and Rasheed Wallace (317). Malone was known for his longevity and played a massive 1,476 Regular season NBA games. This means he picked up a technical foul every 4.6 games. This is eclipsed by Sir Charles who only played 1,073 NBA games, picking up a technical foul every 3.2 games!

Russell Westbrook leads active NBA players in Technical fouls with 185 and counting a far cry from the numbers put up by Malone, Barkley and Wallace. By contrast Lebron James, who has always made a point of not getting involved in “extra curricular activities” because he is too important to his team has only received 70 technical fouls in 1435 regular season games (and counting). That’s just 1 technical every 20 games!