What is a Loose Ball Foul & Does it Result in Free Throws?

Have you ever been watching a basketball game on TV when an official calls a loose ball foul? If you are new to the game of basketball, the loose ball foul rule can be difficult to fully understand. Some folks even consider the loose ball foul rule to be the most misunderstood part of the game.

Curious about what a loose ball foul is? Learn why a loose ball foul can result in a turnover. Also, find out if free throws are awarded when a loose ball foul is called.

What is a Loose Ball Foul?

A loose ball foul is different from other types of fouls in basketball because it is called when neither team has possession of the ball. The majority of the time, loose ball fouls are called when the ball is in the air and opposing players are boxing each other out for the rebound. It’s important for the referee to call a loose ball foul in some situations to prevent a fight from breaking out.

A loose ball foul counts against that player’s number of personal fouls and also the number of team fouls. Though there’s a great deal of confusion and misinformation about this point, a loose ball foul is a type of personal foul, not a technical foul.

Most of the time, loose ball fouls simply result in a turnover. For example, if an offensive player is charged with a loose ball foul, the team that was on defense is awarded possession of the ball. If a defensive player commits a loose ball foul, the offense retains possession and gets to inbound the ball from the sideline.

Here are a few common examples of a loose ball foul:

  • A player’s second free throw attempt bounces off the rim. While the ball is still in the air, two players are vying for prime rebounding position when one player pulls the arm of the other player. This is a loose ball foul on the one that pulled the arm.
  • Let’s say that the point guard (or any offensive player) is dribbling up the floor and a defender knocks the ball loose. The ball is rolling on the court and two players sprint to try and gain possession. One of the players pushes the other player out of the way to better his chances of getting the ball. That’s a loose ball foul on the player who pushed the other player. This could also be called a technical foul by the referee depending on the severity of the push.
  • An offensive player is trying to receive a pass from his teammate, but the defensive player pulls his arm down so he can’t get the ball. This is a loose ball foul.

When a Loose Ball Foul Results in Free Throws

The only time a loose ball foul results in free throws is when the fouling team is over its team fouls limit. This means that it’s a penalty situation and will result in either a one-and-one (high school and college) or a two free throws scenario (NBA).

If a loose ball foul is called against the defensive team while a successful field goal attempt is made, that player will be awarded one free throw and the chance for a three-point or four-point play.

If a loose ball foul is called on a defender on a successful free throw attempt, the shooter is awarded another free throw attempt.

Tips for Drawing a Loose Ball Foul

Here’s the best way to draw a loose ball foul:

  • Make every effort to get to the ball first
  • If you have the ball first, turn away from the defender so that your backside is facing them; this may make the defender commit a foul
  • Even if you and the other player both have your hands on the ball, hold tightly to the ball and turn your body away from them. This will give you the leverage that is needed to make it look like a foul
  • Remember, it’s your job to sell the foul call. This means that if the other player contacts you at all, grunt loudly and fall back. Watch some old clips of Dennis Rodman, who was a master at this

Tips to Avoid Causing a Loose Ball Foul

The ideal strategy to avoid getting a loose ball foul called on you is to avoid physical contact with the other player that is going for the ball. At times, this is impossible. However, try to focus on gaining possession of the ball and not impeding the other player’s attempt at the ball.

If the other player beats you to the ball, simply try to grab the ball from him without touching him. This will result in a jump ball call from the referee. 

When going for a loose ball, avoid punching, pushing, or shoving the other player. The last thing your team needs is a flagrant foul called on you for unsportsmanlike conduct. Toughness on the court is admirable, but be respectful at all times.

Bonus Tip: When diving for a loose ball, keep in mind that sliding with the ball in your possession could result in a traveling violation. It’s best to not leave your feet unless it is absolutely necessary.

Other Common Foul Types in Basketball

There are a large number of different types of fouls in basketball. Here is a quick list for your reference and convenience:

Shooting Foul

One of the most common fouls in the game is the shooting foul. This happens when a defensive player illegally bumps, hacks, or illegally contacts the offensive player during the act of shooting. Each time this occurs, the shooter is awarded two free throw attempts (only one if he made the shot).

Reach-In Foul

This is another foul that is called on defensive players. It happens when a defender is trying to steal the ball and ends up making contact with the ball handler. The defender tries to knock the ball away but ends up slapping the arm of the offensive player instead. 

The penalty counts against the player’s personal fouls and the number of team fouls. However, free throws are only awarded if the offending team is over the limit.

Over the Back Foul

This type of foul is only called when two or more players are going for a rebound. An over-the-back foul can be called on an offensive or defensive player. Here’s how it works:

  • Let’s say that an offensive player does a great job of blocking out the defensive player while a shot is in the air and is in a good position to grab the rebound
  • The defensive player jumps over the offensive player’s back and grabs the ball 
  • An over the back foul can be called on the defensive player and the offensive team will either retain possession or shoot free throws if they’re in the bonus

Blocking Foul

This type of foul is called on defensive players. It occurs when the defender impedes the offensive player from driving to the basket. The defensive player fails to get their feet set and this results in the blocking foul being called. The penalty for blocking results in free throws but only if the offensive team is in the bonus.

Charging Foul

The charging foul goes hand in hand with the blocking foul. The only difference is a charging foul can only be called on the offensive player. A charge is called when the offensive player drives to the hoop but runs over the defender, who has already established position and has his feet set. 

When a charge is called, the offensive team loses possession. If the offensive team is over their foul limit, the defender who took the charge will be awarded free throws. Taking a charge shows a large amount of grit and can swing the momentum in that team’s favor.

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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with basketball for over 30 years as a player, coach, and bettor. He has a degree in Sports Psychology and enjoys following both the NBA and College Basketball on a nightly basis.