Picture this: Your team is down 2 points with the ball in hand — a final play is called, but your most dependable finisher is out of the floor with six fouls, so you end up not getting the final basket and losing the game.
As much as we hate to admit it, fouls can affect the outcome of games. Fouls are necessary calls that maintain in-game order and proper decorum inside the court. Without these calls, games could be too physical and harbor too much tension that can lead to all-out brawls.
Among all the fouls that can be called, nothing holds more gravity than a flagrant foul. What is a flagrant foul in basketball? Let’s dive deep into this.
What is Considered a Flagrant Foul in Basketball?
In the basketball world, there are two major rulebooks — NBA and FIBA. While the game’s backbone remains the same, these two rulebooks defer in terminologies and, more importantly, what constitutes a foul.
In the NBA, a flagrant foul is called for excessive or unnecessary physical contact with an opponent. The league has established specific criteria to determine whether a foul falls under the category of flagrant, taking into account the following factors:
- Excessive Contact: Flagrant fouls typically involve contact beyond the accepted level of physicality in basketball, such as hitting, striking, or pushing an opponent.
- Intent: If a player’s actions are deemed to be deliberate or with malicious intent to harm an opponent, it can be considered a flagrant foul.
- Potential for Injury: If the contact has the potential to cause significant harm or injury, it may be called a flagrant foul.
- Context: The situation or context of the foul can also play a role in determining its classification. Examples of this are flagrant fouls born out of late-game citations or retaliation from a previous play.
On the other hand, the International Basketball Federation or FIBA has a different term for flagrant fouls — unsportsmanlike fouls. Unsportsmanlike fouls follow the same concept as flagrant fouls in the NBA, but the criteria vary a little. For a foul to be categorized as unsportsmanlike, they have to meet one of the following conditions:
1. A player makes contact without the intent of going for the ball
2. The contact is excessive
3. Unnecessary contact is made to stop basketball play
4. A player makes contact from the back or laterally to prevent the opponent from making a free basket in a clear path
5. If the foul is made without the ball being in play and it is within the last 2 minutes of the game, including overtime
Example of Flagrant Foul
As a general rule of thumb, a flagrant foul is called when a player commits an obvious hostile action on their opponent. Although there has been a rise in flagrant fouls the past season, there are only about 20 flagrant fouls called each season.
Here are some recent and popular examples of flagrant fouls in the NBA:
Draymond Green on Domantas Sabonis
The 2023 playoffs had its moments and one of those happened in Game 2 of the Golden State Warriors’ and the Sacramento Kings’ first-round matchup. The two teams were in a tight matchup with the usual Playoff hostilities in play. However, things got controversially out of hand when Draymond Green inadvertently (or not) stepped on Domantas Sabonis. Draymond’s ejection and one-game suspension sparked a worldwide debate — especially with Green’s reputation as a player.
Nikola Jokic on Markieff Morris
Here’s the thing: Markieff Morris is a known instigator and physical player, while Nikola Jokic — all 7-feet Serbian of him — was never known to shy away from conflict. So, when these two got entangled in a regular season game, things quickly escalated. After committing a seemingly unnecessary physical foul to deny Jokic the fastbreak, the Serbian retaliated by shoving Morris’ back. Jokic was immediately ejected from the game and was given a one-game suspension.
Ron Artest on James Harden
Perhaps one of the most popular examples of a flagrant foul happened back in 2012 during a regular season matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the OKC Thunder. Metta World Peace drives and finishes the basket, and out of nowhere, elbows James Harden’s neck. The foul was an automatic Flagrant 2 and resulted in an ejection, a seven-game suspension, and a concussion on James Harden.
Kevin McHale on Kurt Rambis
It was the 1984 Finals during the glory days of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Kurt Rambis runs the floor to complete a fastbreak when Kevin McHale comes out of nowhere and clotheslines Kurt Rambis right in the neck. The Flagrant Foul system was only introduced by the NBA back in 1990 to combat the increasing hostilities of the league. Before Flagrant Fouls, severe and unsportsmanlike behavior was only classified as regular fouls — such is the case for the infamous McHale-Rambis incident.
What Happens to the Player Who Commits a Flagrant Foul?
The two types of Flagrant Fouls in the NBA will result in different penalties. Conventional rules dictate that a player who commits a Flagrant 1 most likely won’t get ejected from the game. However, if this player commits at least another Flagrant 1 within the same game, the player will be ejected from the game. This is the reason why NBA coaches usually sit out or limit the playing time of a player who has gotten a Flagrant 1 already. Outright suspensions are not likely for players who committed a Flagrant 1, but things can change if that player gets another foul.
On the other hand, players who get a Flagrant 2 are automatically ejected from the game. However, a Flagrant 2 will also most likely result in a suspension, depending on the severity of the action. Incidents involving a Flagrant 2 are taken seriously in the NBA, so disciplinary actions are deliberated by the NBA Commissioner and his consultants. This can be as simple as a one-game suspension or as severe as being banned from the league.
Penalty for Getting Too Many Flagrant Foul
In the NBA, Flagrant Fouls have corresponding points that can accumulate and result in further penalties such as suspension.
A Flagrant 1 merits 1 point while each Flagrant 2 merits 2 points. A player who reaches at least 3 points anytime during the season will automatically get a one-game suspension. The count will not reset until the post-season so if a player who has exceeded 3 points already gets another flagrant during the season, he will get another suspension.
Flagrant Foul vs. Technical Foul: Difference
A lot of people confuse Flagrant Fouls and Technical Fouls because of their similar nature. In hindsight, Techs are called for misconduct or unwarranted behavior during dead-ball or off-ball situations. This includes taunting, delaying the game, flopping, and — the crowd favorite — arguing with the referee. Techs often result in free throws plus ball possession in favor of the other team.
On the other hand, you could say that Flagrant Fouls are what Techs are trying to prevent. Technical Fouls are called in order to keep things in order both inside and outside the court.
The main difference between the two is the physicality of the foul. Flagrant fouls are called for physical incidents that are violent in nature, whereas technical fouls are called for procedural violations relating to conduct during the game.
Wrapping Things Up: What Happens if You Get a Flagrant Foul?
In the NBA, Flagrant fouls are classified into two – Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2. Both fouls are called for overly physical actions during the game, such as punching, shoving, and kicking. The key difference between the two is severity and intent, where fouls that were deliberately made to harm other players are called for Flagrant 2.
A Flagrant 1 will get you 1 point that can be accumulated throughout the season. Once you get three points, you automatically get suspended. On the other hand, a Flagrant 2 call automatically ejects a player and opens up the discussion for further penalties such as fines and suspensions.
The system of Flagrant Fouls was created in order to penalize and discourage violent physical play in the court. At the end of the day, people enjoy basketball for the amazing things that the players can do on the court and Flagrant fouls are there to protect the sanctity of the game we all love.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.