What Is A Loose Ball Foul? With Examples

When there is a loose ball on the court and players are trying to take possession of it we often see a foul called even though no one really had control of the ball. As spectators, we tend to question the call as it did not look like a foul. So what is the rule you ask?

What is a loose ball foul? In basketball, a loose ball foul is when the ball is free for any team to recover for their possession. This can be after an erratic rebound from a shot and one player from each team aggressively goes for the ball, while in the process the player(s) commits a foul.

Loose ball fouls are common fouls in basketball, which can baffle most of us. There are a few examples of loose balls that take place in certain situations. Many of us question why the foul gets called during these plays? but remember it just has to look like a foul.

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Loose Ball Fouls Examples

The first example of a loose ball foul would be after a shot is attempted the ball hits the rim and players are trying to grab the rebound only to have the ball exit the key area creating a loose ball. Players then run after it jockeying for position to recover the ball. Depending on the contact Refs are quick to call a foul.

Another example of a loose ball foul is when the point guard dribbles the ball up the court and the defender manages to poke it loose. As the ball is now free players attempt to dive at it to gain possession. Depending on the ref they may let it play out or call a foul, Sometimes when diving for the ball it can result in a travel violation due to the sliding and rolling around on the ground.

A 3rd example is 50/50 balls thrown down the court where two players, from different teams, jump for the ball, any sort of contact is awarded a foul against the defense. In my opinion, this should be considered a loose ball while each player has an equal opportunity to gain possession while the ball is in the air.


NBA Loose Ball Rules Reference?

Here is a rule breakdown according to the Rule Book on the official NBA website. It is important to note that not all league rules are the same, and not all referees are alike.

Section VIII—Loose Ball Fouls

  1. A personal foul, which is neither a punching or flagrant, committed while there is no team control shall be administered in the following manner:
    1. Offending team is charged with a team foul
    2. Offending player is charged with a personal foul
    3. Offended team will be awarded possession on the sideline, nearest the spot where play was interrupted but no nearer the baseline than the foul line extended, if no penalty exists
    4. Offended player is awarded one free throw attempt plus a penalty free throw attempt if the offending team is in a penalty situation
  2. If a “loose ball” foul called against the defensive team is then followed by a successful field goal, one free throw attempt will be awarded to the offended player, allowing for the three point or four point play. This interpretation applies:
    1. Regardless of which offensive player is fouled
    2. Whether or not the penalty situation The ball can never be awarded to the scoring team out-of-bounds following a personal foul which occurs on the same play
  3. If a “loose ball” foul called against the defensive team is followed by a successful free throw, one free throw will be awarded to the offended player whether or not the penalty is in effect.
  4. If a “loose ball” foul called against the offensive team is then followed by a successful field goal attempt by the same offensive player, no points may be scored.


A loose ball foul can be a difficult call to make, generally, when the ball is loose and is available for any team to recover, it can initiate a lot of contact in the fight for the ball. I have seen a lot of terrible loose ball foul calls which can go either way so why not just let the players play through it.

Basketball in generall is one of the hardest sports to officiate, this may be a hard call to make especially when the game is on the line that it is better to not make the call at all. While bodies hit the ground from diving it can get extremely physical and heated.

Another part of the loose ball foul which the referee may be completely in the wrong is when two players are fighting for the loose ball, and it is touched by one of the players and ends up going out of bounds. The amount of time I have seen the call made to the wrong team blows my mind. Exactly why my point is and always will be it just has to appear that it went off the player in question.

These calls, in the long run, are not important though as I believe in the long run It goes both ways, in the end, the law of averages stays consistent so to speak.


How To Protect A Loose Ball And Draw A Foul?

A good tip to recover the loose ball and draw a foul is when you recover the ball regardless of how many hands are on it at the same time. You want to turn with the ball so that you have the defender on your backside. This really works when both you and player grab the ball at the same time, by turning the body you are getting leverage while making it look like a foul by having the player on your backside which now appears as if they are reaching in.


Loose Ball Fouls Q & A?

Does A Loose Ball Count As A Steal?

This will depend on how the ball became loose, if a player was dribbling the ball and the defender poked it out of the player’s hand and it became loose while the player is able to recover then yes. But from a shot no, tied up for a jump ball then no. Even if the player pokes the ball loose and their teammate recovers the ball it still counts as a steal for the player that pokes it.

Does The Shot Clock Reset?

Short answer No, the shot clock does not reset for the team that previous to the loose ball had possession. It will reset to the opposing team who gains new possession.

Do You Shoot Free-Throws On Loose Ball Fouls?

Yes, loose ball fouls will count towards team fouls which means if a team is in the bonus they will shoot free throws. But also No, if a player somehow manages to gain possession of the loose ball and creates an offensive foul shortly thereafter. No free throws on offensive fouls granted in any way.


I hope this helped you understand a little about loose ball fouls, just remember referees are all different in making their calls, what seems correct in one situation may not be in another.


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