What Is a Loose Ball Foul?

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What is a loose ball foul? Basketball is an intense, chaotic, and enthralling game. So much that if you blink an eye, you can lose track of what is happening on the floor.

It also happens that the referee calls a loose ball foul, but you have no idea what, how, or why it transpired.

What Is a Loose Ball Foul?

A loose ball foul in basketball is committed when neither team has possession of the ball. The players attempt to gain possession by aggressive actions, such as grabbing or pushing other players. It is counted as a personal foul for the offending player and is added to the offending team’s total foul count.

Men playing outdoor basketball game

Loose ball fouls are very common during a match, as they can occur any time the ball is “loose” on the court. It is one of the most controversial foul calls in the NBA. Mainly because it largely depends on the discretion of the referee to decide if a foul took place or let the game carry on.

To help to gain a better understanding of the situations when a loose ball foul can be called, here are a few examples:

Loose Ball Fouls Example

A loose ball is quite common during a match just like carrying a ball while moving that is related to a traveling violation. However, it is not more than a couple of seconds that a ball is free and not in possession of a player. Despite the short window of time and due to the intensity of the game, quite a few loose ball fouls can occur during a game.

Here are some examples when the foul may take place:

  • A player takes a shot, but the ball does not go through the basket but bounces off the rim. The players jostle to catch the ball since whoever recovers the ball gets to shoot a rebound. A loose ball foul is called depending on the severity of contact.
  • A player passes the ball to their teammate but an opposing player deflects it, a loose ball will ensue. Each team tries to gain access to the ball by shoving or grabbing the opponents, resulting in a loose ball foul.
  • An offensive player loses the ball’s possession because of a bad dribble or a defender knocking the ball out of their hands, creating a loose ball. As the players attempt to dive for the ball, they hustle each other, causing the referee to announce a loose ball foul.

What Is the Penalty for a Loose Ball Foul?

The penalty for a loose ball foul is not too serious. It counts as a personal foul against the offending player and a team foul for the offending team. However, there are harsher penalties if it turns into a flagrant or technical foul.

When a team has crossed the limit in terms of the number of fouls it can commit, the opposing team gets automatic free throws. Thus, loose ball fouls in late-game situations can cause a team to lose a match if the score is tight.

Do You Shoot Free Throws on a Loose Ball Foul?

The answer to this depends on the number of fouls already committed by each team.

Men playing indoor basketball game

If a player commits a loose ball foul and their team is in a penalty situation or “in the bonus”, then the play who was fouled will be granted free throws. Otherwise, there is no penalty awarded to the fouled player.

According to the NBA rules, they give two free throw attempts. In the NCAA, they give one guaranteed free throw and a second attempt if they make the first.

Does Recovering a Loose Ball Count as a Steal?

Stealing in basketball refers to the deceptively simple move. It involves swiping the ball away from an opposing player while they are dribbling, grabbing the ball from the air during a lob pass, or swatting the ball from the opposing player, so your teammate can grab it.

Whether recovering a loose ball counts as a steal or not depends on who recovers the ball:

  • If an offensive player loses the ball while dribbling but recovers it immediately, they are not rewarded with a steal.
  • If a player on defense recovers a loose ball from the offense, it counts as a steal for them.

When it comes to a loose ball, the steal can often occur simply because the player on defense was at the right place at the right time. They did not have to force the player on offense into making a turnover to steal the ball.

Potential Hazards of a Loose Ball Foul?

Basketball is a contact sport where every second of ball possession counts. Consequently, the players have a greater risk of injuries as they try to recover a loose ball through aggressive contact. These include fighting, pushing the opposing players out of the way, and restraining opposing players to stop them from gaining possession of the ball, and so on.

Following are the potential risks posed by a loose ball:

  • The struggle to get to a loose ball can get very heated as the players jump, dive, or dash, which increases the chances of injuries. Loose ball fouls are necessary to stop the players before they seriously hurt others.
  • Since loose ball fouls are rarely clear-cut and depend on the referee’s discretion, the players or the coaches can get into intense arguments with the referee, resulting in a technical foul.
  • Loose ball fouls can turn into flagrant fouls when the players make excessive, unnecessary contact. Moreover, a loose ball foul can also be assessed as a flagrant fall if the contact is made to the head.

Types of Fouls in Basketball

The game of basket has different types of foul committed by the players or coaches:

Men playing basketball inside the court
  • There are two types of flagrant fouls; flagrant 1 and flagrant 2. Flagrant 1 occurs when a player executes unnecessary contact against an opposing team player. The opponent awards a free throw and ball possession.
  • Flagrant 2 refers to fouls involving excessive, unnecessary contact. This foul can potentially injure the other player and carry harsher penalties, including fines, immediate ejection, and suspension.
  • Technical fouls call for violating the game’s administrative rules. Both players and coaches can carry out these violations. The penalty of a technical foul is free throw and ball possession for the other team. Two technical fouls received by the same player or coach result in the ejection of the player or coach.
    • Moreover, players who routinely commit technical fouls can face suspension.
  • Personal foul refers to any foul committed by an individual player. These fouls call when a player violates the game’s rules, including pushing, striking, or blocking an opposing player in the act of shooting.
  • Team fouls are the accumulation of all the personal fouls of the players on one team. Each team allots a fixed number of fouls for a quarter of play. When a team exceeds its allotment of fouls, every additional foul results in a free throw to the opposite team.
  • Offensive foul is a form of personal foul committed by the offensive players while the ball is their team’s possession. Offensive fouls are not as common as defensive fouls.
  • Defensive fouls call when a player from the defense side uses extreme force to stop the offense.
  • Loose ball fouls.

Related Questions

Is Loose Ball Foul Turnover?

As mentioned above, a loose ball foul can occur during shot attempts, passes, or turnovers in the game. Anytime an offensive player loses possession of the ball, and it winds up in the hands of the defensive team, it counts as a turnover.

What Is Illegal Contact in Basketball?

Illegal contact occurs in basketball when a player makes contact with a player from the opposing team in a way that stops them from finishing a play. Illegal contact called on a player is a personal foul and a team foul.


As the names suggest, fouls that take place when the ball is free on the court or in the air are known as loose ball fouls. Loose ball fouls commit when a player physically and aggressively contacts an opposing player to prevent them from reaching or getting the ball.

They are probably the most controversial fouls called during a basketball game, as they are rarely straightforward; it all depends on the referee’s disposition.

Moreover, avoid being aggressive on the court when this foul occurs, so you can’t have a warning and get red cards that will result from removing you from the game and possible suspension.

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.