Contact sports, as their name implies, involve regular physical contact between participants.
We’re not just talking about accidental touch here; we’re talking about how contact is necessary to play the sport properly.
This means that contact between players occurs frequently since it is required by the rules of the sport.
Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players each attempt to score points by shooting a ball through a hoop.
It is a physically demanding and fast-paced game that requires players to constantly be on the move and make quick decisions.
But is basketball a contact sport?
Well, the answer to the aforementioned question is both yes and no.
Basketball is a sport that does involve some level of physical contact, as players occasionally bump into each other as a result of specific on-court actions such as screening, or where a player is trying to physically prevent an opponent from converting a rebound. However, basketball is not as heavily focused on contact as other sports like football, hockey, or rugby.
Read on for a closer look at the ways in which basketball can be considered a contact sport, as well as some of the ways in which it is different from other contact sports.
Physical contact in basketball
It is common for players to come into physical contact with one another during a game of basketball.
This can include things like:
- Dribbling past an opponent; or
- or positioning oneself for a rebound.
However, the rules of basketball do place some limits on physical contact.
Players are not allowed to push, shove, or trip their opponents, and they can be called for a basketball foul if they make excessive contact.
The role of referees
Referees play a crucial role in enforcing the rules of basketball and regulating physical contact between players.
They are responsible for calling fouls and determining whether contact was appropriate or excessive.
The rules of basketball do allow for some physical contact, but players must keep an eye out for fouls that could result in penalties or disqualification.
For instance, “illegal hand use” or reaching in is typically termed as a a personal foul.
Similar to holding, this is when a player uses their hands in a fashion that referees deem illegal, typically in the form of touching a shooter’s arm or hand when they attempt to release the ball, or touching them after an attempted steal.
Types of contact allowed in the game of basketball
Above board contact within basketball games can occur in a variety of ways.
Let’s now look at some of these in turn.
1. Boxing out for a rebound
“Boxing out” is the purposeful use of your body to keep opposing players from attempting to retrieve the rebound when a shot misses the basket.
When in the process of boxing, you are not allowed to stretch your limbs in preparation for an elbow or a punch.
Instead, the rules of the game legally permit you to place your body between the other player and the basket in order to be in the greatest position to rebound the ball.
More so, without extending your arms, you can also use your body to “push away” an opponent.
Boxing out is quite an effective technique for retrieving possession of the ball within this sport, because it prevents opponents from getting a second chance to shoot and allows a player to start a counter-attack that could result in a basket at the other end of the court.
It also works in the opposite context as well, as players use it as a strategy to increase their chances of getting offensive rebounds too.
2. Tracking offensive players
Another type of physical contact allowed in basketball concerns the act of tracking offensive players.
If you’ve watched your fair share of basketball games before, you’ll no doubt have witnessed a forward or point guard making a darting run into space, only for a player from the other team to follow his movement by subtly holding on to his jersey before letting it go.
This happens quite often within games, and a referee will generally not call a foul on such behavior.
Although, it must be noted that if a player intentionally uses his hands to grab their opponent and impede or stop them from advancing with or without the ball [LINK], then a personal foul will be awarded.
3. Setting screens
Another form of contact allowed in basketball is the act of setting opposition screens.
Here’s a good quote that aptly describes what this process involves:
“A ball screen is an offensive basketball play in which a non ball-handling offensive player screens a defender by placing their body between the defender and a teammate. This creates space for teammates to catch or distribute passes, attack the hoop, or shoot a jump shot.”Source – Masterclass
This type of contact – when used intelligently – can create fantastic attacking opportunities that result in baskets scored.
If you’re able to position your body in front of a defender and therefore create enough space for your team mate to take a shot unopposed, then they’ll likely have a greater chance of converting that opportunity.
Check out some visual examples of how to set successful screens in the video below:
However, it must be noted that if a player fails to maintain a set position while setting a screen or pick, then the referee will stop the play for a foul.
Screens must therefore be performed in a standstill manner.
Comparison to other contact sports
While basketball does involve some physical contact, it is not as heavily focused on contact as other sports like football, hockey, or rugby.
These sports often involve players intentionally colliding with one another or making contact in order to gain an advantage.
In contrast, basketball players are expected to avoid excessive physical contact and rely more on their skills, agility, and strategy to succeed.
Heavy or excessive use of physical contact in basketball can result in instant disqualification or harsh penalties for the players.
You only have to take a look at the case against Memphis Grizzlies player Dillion Brooks – who was suspended for a flagrant foul on Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton that left the latter with a broken arm – to see the consequences of going overboard with physical touch.
In summary, basketball is a sport that involves some physical contact, but it is not considered a full-contact sport like football or hockey.
Players are expected to follow the rules and avoid excessive contact in order to keep the game fair and safe for all participants.
Should you wish to expand your knowledge on some of basketball’s most important concepts, have a look through some of the other articles on our blog, such as:
- Whether height matters in basketball;
- If you’re allowed to jump on a free throw shot in basketball;
- Whether basketball is played at the Olympic Games; and
- If basketball games can end in a tie;