What is Goaltending in Basketball?

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When watching a basketball game, fans love to see highlight-reel plays. Rim-rattling dunks, above-the-rim feats, and gritty defensive possessions often draw the cheers of the crowd. Speaking of above-the-rim exploits, not all high-fly acts are worthy of applause; sometimes, they can be deflating too! For instance, if a goaltending is called, the defender gives up an automatic field goal to the opponent. With that being said, what is goaltending in basketball?

What Does Goaltending Mean in Basketball_What Does Goaltending Mean in Basketball?

Goaltending is a violation that happens when a player obstructs the ball or the goal while a shot has a reasonable chance of going in. Goaltending frequently occurs when a defender blocks the ball while it is in a downward flight.

However, in the NBA, it is an automatic goaltending if the ball is swatted after hitting the backboard regardless of whether the shot has a chance to go in or not.

All competition levels of basketball have a goaltending rule in place. It is enforced in the NBA, NCAA, AAU, FIBA, and WNBA competitions. Granted, you probably won’t see a goaltending violation in grade school leagues, but beginning in high school, athletes often show flashes of extraordinary athleticism. Sometimes, overflowing eagerness could lead to ill-timed block attempts and goaltending infractions.

International or FIBA goaltending rules are similar to the NBA. However, the main difference is that FIBA considers the ball live after hitting the rim. That means you can tap or veer the ball away from the basket to prevent a soft roll as soon as the ball touches the rim.

Goaltending is not limited to defensive players; offensive players can commit goaltending infractions, too. (This is called offensive goaltending.) Offensive goaltending is common when offensive players hang on to the rim to help the ball enter the net. If the ball enters the hoop as a result of offensive goaltending, the offensive team receives no points, and the goaltender’s team loses possession of the ball.

Examples of Goaltending in BasketballExamples of Goaltending in Basketball

1. Jermaine O’Neal goaltends James Harden’s game-winner

The basic rule of goaltending is to never touch the ball when it’s making its way down the rim. It doesn’t matter if it has a chance to go in or not. Jermaine O’Neal found out the hard way as he touched James Harden’s three at the buzzer. The Beard was awarded three points that led to a narrow escape by the Rockets.

2. LeBron’s Chasedown Goaltend

James rarely mistimes plays like his patented chasedowns, but this time around, he was a split second too late. The ball was clearly making its way through the net for the score so it shouldn’t be touched or it’s a goaltend.

3. Isaiah Thomas Goaltend

IT had a total of 61 blocks in 550 career NBA games. This one could have been No. 62. But as you can see, the Randy Foye layup touched the backboard first before Thomas got a hand on it. That’s goaltending.

4. Andrew Wiggins’ offensive goaltending

If there is a video that clearly shows what offensive goaltending is, this is the one. Wiggins literally gave Karl Anthony Towns’ shot a hand even though it is still above the cylinder. The Wiggins shot does not count and the possession is awarded to Portland.

5. Basket Interference or Goaltending?

Basket interference and goaltending are two different but related violations. It’s clear that Dwight Howard committed something, but is it one or the other? This play is actually a basket interference. If you want to know why, please read the sections below.

A Quick History of the Goaltending RuleA Quick History of the Goaltending Rule

The goaltending rule history was brief, but a substantial turning point for basketball. It was first enforced in the NCAA back in 1944 because of George Mikan. Mikan, considered the first true big man of the sport, was blocking every shot at the rim. Before the 6-foot-10 Mikan habitually swats every shot attempt by hijacking the rim, no one thought it was physically impossible. 

Another big man by the name of Bob Kurland also made a living swatting shots as they approach the rim. This exploit made it almost impossible for teams to score. After the NCAA put its foot down, the NBA and other basketball leagues quickly followed suit. 

Bill Russell, the legendary basketball player, was said to have shaped the ban on offensive goaltending. Russell was a superb rebounder and leaper that he could get to the ball first and steer it to the basket for easy points.

Still, even with goaltending rules enforced, it didn’t completely stop Kurland, Mikan, and Russell from winning. Kurland won two Olympic gold medals and two NCAA championships, while Mikan was the face of the NBA in the 50s by becoming a five-time champion. Russell won 11 titles for the Boston Celtics, a record that still stands today.

In the long run, it turned out to be an excellent move to ban goaltending in the NBA, defensive or otherwise. Wilt Chamberlain entered the league in 1959 and was physically more imposing and gifted than Mikan. 

Then, as the 60s was about to end, a rookie named Lew Alcindor was drafted and would have made life miserable for anyone if goaltending was allowed. Then there were Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon, all athletic bigs that would have taken advantage of goaltending if it remained legal.

The goaltending rule negates the inherent advantage of tall players. If goaltending rules weren’t set in place, basketball would have lost its fans because of the ease with which taller players could frequently block shots.

How is Goaltending Called and Penalized_How is Goaltending Called and Penalized?

The thing about goaltending is that it’s often a bang-bang play. That means, sometimes, it is not always easy to see if the ball is on its way down, touched the glass first, and so on. Professional referees often get this call right primarily because of experience.

How is goaltending basically called? Well, if the ref decides that it’s defensive goaltending, the shot attempt automatically counts, and the chance of possession continues. If it’s offensive goaltending, the field goal will not count, and the ball possession is awarded to the other team.

How is Goaltending Called and Penalized

If the shooter is fouled, defensive goaltending penalties still apply. A goaltending violation occurs when a teammate fouls the shooter, and you block the shot while the ball is falling.

The opposing team receives points for the field goal attempt and a free throw. The timing of the call is irrelevant. Goaltending can still be reviewed after a foul call is called.

Sounds easy enough? Not really. Goaltending calls are hotly debated and often a source of dispute. An alley-oop pass that looks like a shot is one example. If the offensive player catches or tips it in, the referee must determine whether the intent was to pass or shoot, making the call subjective on the part of the referee.

Goaltending vs. Basketball Interference Goaltending vs. Basketball Interference 

The basket interference vs. goaltending talk is paved with complexity and confusion. It carries the same penalties so it ultimately doesn’t matter, but for people who do not like to leave any trace of doubt, it’s puzzling.

How so? Well, consider the meaning of basket interference. Basket interference occurs if the ball is above the cylinder and a player touches any part of the ball, rim, or backboard. Here is where the confusion lies: If the ball is over the cylinder and swatted away, is it goaltending or basket interference? 

It depends on the situation. Remember that goaltending mainly involves the trajectory of the ball, if it has a chance of going in. It could still be considered goaltending if a shot was taken and the ball was in its downward flight over the cylinder. Basket interference occurs when the ball bounces off the rim, is in the air above the cylinder, and is subsequently swatted away.

In short, goaltending is called if the ball is on its way down or if touches the backboard first. Basket interference happens when the ball is adobe the cylinder and someone taps it away. Again, these rules are a little confusing, but since the penalties for these infractions are practically the same, then it won’t matter which call is made.

Wrapping Things Up: What is Goaltending in Basketball?

Basketball is a game with gazillions of rules to follow and violations to watch out for. Many of these infractions are set to negate certain natural advantages of players, such as being long and tall. One of these violations is called goaltending.

Goaltending is an infraction that occurs when a player, offensive or defensive, touches the ball on its way down. Goaltending is also called if the ball is tipped, swatted, or touched after it makes contact with the backboard. In the latter scenario, it wouldn’t matter if the ball is on its downward flight to the rim.

The penalty for every defensive goaltending is that the shot automatically counts for the offense. Conversely, if it’s offensive goaltending, the made basket is waved off, and the ball possession goes to the defensive team.

The NBA goaltending rule history is a rather interesting one. The league only followed the 1944 NCAA ban on defensive goaltending after George Mikan and Bob Kurland played defense by waiting at the rim to block shots. The NCAA then disallowed offensive goaltending because of Bill Russell. Russell often leaps to the ball first on a teammate’s shot and steers the ball into the rim for a score.

As seasons went by, the NBA also enforced a violation called basketball interference. Basket interference is when the ball is still above the imaginary cylinder and swatted away loose. The penalty for basket interference is the same as goaltending, but it sometimes breeds confusion among fans. As a rule of thumb in the basket interference vs. goaltending scenario, the latter depends on the ball’s downward flight, while basket interference is mainly about touching the ball while it’s above the cylinder.

To wrap up this article centered around the question, “What is goaltending in basketball?”, aren’t you glad as a basketball fan that this rule existed? After all, what excitement is there in watching Tacko Ball or Hasheem Thabeet play goalie instead of real basketball? 

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

You might also be interested in our posts about:

What is a Basketball Foul?

> What is a Crossover in Basketball?

> What is a Slasher in Basketball?

> What is Cherry Picking in Baskeball?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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