Are NBA Players Allowed to Swear? Answered!


Profanity, sometimes it is a way for players to express themselves on the court and make them feel better temporarily when they make an error is. F***, S***, Wtf are all used in basketball and are accepted. But is swearing allowed during an actual basketball game.

Is swearing allowed in basketball? No, the rule books state that no player may use profanity, swearing, cussing, or blaspheme words towards an official, player, or spectator directly or indirectly. This includes the NBA, FIBA, NCAA, and High School basketball

You may be thinking to yourself I hear players swearing all the time during basketball games and nothing is ever done. There are consequences for swearing during a basketball game, this could cost your team a technical foul and at the professional level even cost you money.

NBA Players Cursing

Basketball players in the NBA have always expressed themselves on the court, from flashy dunks, hairstyles, and tattoos. Players love attention, but sometimes they draw negative attention to themselves, such as swearing. Cussing so loud for everybody to hear. F*** this, F*** that, F*** You, F*** Him. A beautiful display of words if you ask me. It’s the norm during an NBA basketball game so it seems.

When a game is being broadcasted to millions of people there is a delay that the broadcast crew instills for good reason, when moments of profanity or inappropriate conduct is displayed during the game, the crew has enough time due to the delay to cut to another shot or mute the cuss words in question. This happens often, and sometimes the production crew isn’t able to do so right away and you can actually hear the swearing.

Black and white image with a referee holding and orange ball.

Are NBA players allowed to swear?

It is up to the referee to monitor and give a technical foul for every player that says the F*** word or words like it. Although as fans we oftentimes hear a player use profanity or mouth the inappropriate words in question, but no technical foul as this is really up to the discretion of the ref to penalize the player.

Some refs just don’t notice and refuse to give out technical fouls because of unsportsmanlike conduct because the cuss words were not directed at anyone and I agree. Can you imagine for every time a player missed a shot and swore a technical was given. This would stretch the basketball game out a couple of hours and 100 extra points. It just isn’t realistic, basketball players are human and as long it’s not at anyone or very loudly I can see the refs just ignoring it.

NBA Rule Book & Profanity

According to the rule book in the NBA you are not allowed to swear on the court or at the referees as this would result in a technical foul. Much like the traveling rule in the NBA, this is based on the official discretion. Players travel a lot and no call is made just like I am sure you hear many cuss words a player will make towards other players and teammates or when they make an error. Neither is a call made.

I will add that I am sure you hear players swearing towards the official after the call is made. They start to walk away using profanity towards the referee. How players get away with this is beyond me.

RULE NO. 12: Fouls and Penalties

Section V—Conduct

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 the permission of an official
  6. A deliberately-thrown elbow or any unnatural physical act towards an opponent with no contact involved
  7. Taunting

Fines in the NBA for Swearing?

It doesn’t happen too often but it does happen. From players to coaches and owners all have gone on record and swore which resulted in a fine. Any type of technical foul is $2000 dollars and up, so in the case of a cuss word on the court a player may be issued one. Here’s what the chart looks like if you felt like expressing yourself to the refs. During the NBA playoffs, players may be fined if heard swearing on live TV even if it’s directed at nobody. The officials will be more inclined to take action when broadcasted live on TV in front of millions of people.

On February 11, 2021, Trey Young and the Atlanta Hawks were up against the Dallas Mavericks, at the end of the game Young was extremely upset about a no-call that he walked directly up the referees and cussed at him. This resulted in a $20,000 fine. The play in question looked accidental, usually, when a player gets this angry it’s a collective of things that happened during the game that makes the player lose it on the referee. I am assuming this was reviewed by the head office and this is the reason why it was $20,000.


Players also have been fined during post-game interviews for swearing, this is usually the result of frustration, yet again by the officials. Seems like a common theme for players. Swearing during live TV will result in some hefty fines, just ask Russell Westbrook. During a post-game interview, Westbrook was asked about his stat line and said he didn’t give a F***, We lost.


Even Owners get in on the action, Mark Cuban has been fined more times than I can count. Seems like every time he swears he makes more money. Some of us don’t even make $30,000 in a year.


NBA Fines go to Charity

When a player, coach, or owner does violate the unsportsmanlike rule or decides to use his right of freedom speech after a game and it results in a fine. The proceeds go to a charity of the NBA’s choosing. This is an agreement between the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA.

FIBA Rules when it comes to Swearing

FIBA is no different, you are not allowed to swear on the court in general or at the officials. Again it is up to the refs to hear you swear if they are not distracted by the many other things they are listening and paying attention to during the game.

FIBA Rule 36.3.1. 

A technical foul is a player non-contact foul of a behavioral nature including, but not limited to:

  • Disrespectfully communicating with the officials, the commissioner, the table officials, or the opponents.

  • Using language or gestures likely to offend or incite the spectators.

NCAA Rules when it comes to swearing

If you take a look at the NCAA rule book it is as follows:

Section 3. CLASS A Unsporting Technical Infractions

Art. 1. A player or substitute committing an unsportsmanlike act including, but
not limited to, the following:

b. Using profanity or vulgarity; taunting, baiting or ridiculing another player or
bench personnel; or pointing a finger at or making obscene gestures toward
another player or bench personnel

Junior High and High School Basketball

As per the rules of Jr. high and high school basketball, it is a technical foul to swear at the referees or towards them. It also is a technical foul to swear on the court in general.

For example, you pass the ball to a teammate and you throw it way over their head. It ends up out of bounds, and you yell out S**t. The refs can give you a technical for cussing, seems petty but allowing players to swear on the court can open up a whole lot of inappropriate language. 

Not a good look when there are parents and families that are attending the game in support of high school sports. This can lead to spectators getting carried away also. If nothing is being done to control the language on the court then you could imagine that may think it’s also ok to yell cuss words towards the players from the opposing team.

Like an aggressive basketball game with a lot of hard fouls if the referees don’t control the game it can get out of hand quickly.

Swearing Compilation

If you watched the 2020 NBA Disney Bubble because there were no fans, you could now hear the conversations the players would have with the refs. I think the refs had to adjust to this because now they had no choice but to address a lot of the complaints due to how quiet it was instead of the twenty-thousand screaming fans that drowned out a lot of the player’s complaints.

The Bubble got so bad with profanity that the players had to be warned by the NBA as families were sitting courtside with children and loved ones, having to hear it. Fines were issued without warning. Here is a compilation of the arguments and cussing in the NBA Bubble. Viewer discretion is advised due to vulgar language, don’t worry it’s not too bad…

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