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In basketball, a technical foul (also informally known as a "T" or a "Tech") is any infraction of the rules penalized as a foul which does not involve physical contact during the course of play between opposing players on the court, or is a foul by a non-player. The most common technical foul is for unsportsmanlike conduct. Technical fouls can be assessed against players, bench personnel, the entire team (often called a bench technical), or even the crowd. These fouls, and their penalties, are more serious than a personal foul, but not necessarily as serious as a flagrant foul (an ejectable offense in leagues below the NBA, and potentially so in the NBA).
Technical fouls are handled slightly differently under international rules than under the rules used by the various competitions in the United States. First, illegal contact between players on the court is always a personal foul under international rules, whereas in the USA, such contact is, with some exceptions, a technical foul when the game clock is not running and/or when the ball is dead. Second, in FIBA play, players foul out after five total fouls, technical and personal combined (since January 1, 2014, up to one technical can be included towards the total; two technicals in a game results in ejection). The latter rule is similar to that in college, high school, and middle school basketball in the United States. However, in leagues that play 48-minute games such as the NBA, and in some leagues such as the WNBA, players are allowed six personal fouls before being disqualified, and technical fouls assessed against them do not count toward this total. However, unsportsmanlike technicals in the NBA carry a fine, its severity depending on the number of technicals the player has already obtained, and players are suspended for varying amounts of time after accumulating fifteen technicals in the regular season or seven in the playoffs.
In most American competitions, ejection of the offender, that of the player, coach, or otherwise, is the penalty for being assessed two technical fouls in a game, if charged directly to him/her (some technicals committed by a player are charged to the team only). In addition, any single flagrant technical foul, or a disqualifying foul in FIBA, incurs ejection. FIBA rules do not provide for ejection for any number of non-flagrant technicals against a player; however, two technicals on a coach or a third technical on the bench results in his/her ejection.
Many infractions can result in the calling of a technical foul. One of the most common is the use of profane language toward an official or another player. This can be called on either players who are currently active in the play of the game, or seated on a team's bench. It can also be assessed to a coach or another person associated with the team in an official capacity such as a trainer or an equipment manager. Additionally, coaches or players can be assessed a technical foul for disputing an official's call too vehemently, whether or not profanity is involved. This verbal unsporting technical foul may be assessed regardless of whether the ball is dead or alive.
Other offenses can result in technical fouls, such as:
Violations of the rules for delaying the game (in the NBA, NCAA, and NFHS) usually incur a team warning for a first offense, followed by a team technical, or sometimes a player technical, if the same team delays a second time, to include:
and more technical issues, such as:
Until 2001, the NBA also had a unique rule, the illegal defense, which was designed to stop defenders from dropping back into a zone and thus preventing drives to the basket. The penalty, after a warning, was a technical foul charged to the offending team and one shot for the offense, except that if the first violation occurred within 24 seconds of the end of a period, the technical was assessed without warning.
Beginning with the 2001–02 season, the NBA changed the illegal defense rule to the "defensive 3-second rule," which prohibits a defender from being in the shooting lane for three seconds, unless guarding an opponent within arm's reach (or the man with the ball, regardless of distance). The penalty is the same as it was for an illegal defense, except that no warning is issued. The WNBA implemented this rule in 2013.
Additionally, home teams can be assessed technical fouls resulting from their partisans' misconduct for excessive use of artificial noise, the playing of music by their band, or for dangerous offenses such as throwing items (particularly ice or coins) onto the court.
Usually a fight or lesser altercation between players results in a "double technical", in which a technical foul is issued to both players involved. If any player leaves the team bench during a fight, he can be charged with a technical foul and ejected, as can any coach that does so without the beckoning of an official. Rules against fighting vary from high school to college to the (W)NBA, but all levels penalize severely for such conduct, to include suspensions and (in the [W]NBA) heavy fines. NFHS and NCAA require the automatic ejection of bench personnel leaving the team area during a fight, whether or not these players actually participate in the fight.
In college basketball, NFHS, and lower divisions, the penalty for technical fouls has increased over the years. Initially, the opposing team was awarded one free throw. This later increased to one free throw and possession of the ball. For a while, "bench technicals" assessed on a non-active player, assistant coach, or anyone else on the team bench were considered more serious and resulted in the award of two shots. (Coaches have their own technical fouls, although they may be ejected and/or suspended if they have a mix of technicals totaling two or three fouls, depending on seriousness.)
Today, high school basketball (NFHS in the United States) provides for two free throws and possession of the ball at the division line opposite the scorer's table, regardless of circumstances, for a technical foul. International basketball provides a similar penalty. College basketball awards two shots, with the ball then put in play at the point of interruption (POI), the spot and circumstances where play was stopped for the technical. In the NBA and WNBA, the penalty remains one free throw for the opposing team, with play resuming from the point of interruption. The shot clock is reset to 14 seconds if it read less than such at the time of the foul. The team awarded the foul shots for a technical may select the player(s) to shoot them (this rule differs slightly from level to level and internationally), as opposed to personal fouls, where the player fouled, unless injured, must shoot his own foul shots.
In the NBA, any player or coach who accumulates 16 unsportsmanlike technical fouls during the regular season will be suspended for one game. For every two additional technical fouls received during that regular season, the player or coach will be automatically suspended for an additional game. Penalties for technical fouls are even higher for playoffs games. Players and coaches will be fined for every technical foul they receive. Those who accumulate 7 technical fouls will be suspended for one game. For every two additional technical fouls received, the player or coach will be automatically suspended for an additional game. No technical foul for administrative purposes counts towards ejection or suspension. Such reasons include excessive time-outs, defensive three seconds, scratched player dressing and playing, excessive personal fouls because team is out of players, shattering backboards.
One of the most famous technical fouls ever assessed was called on Chris Webber of the University of Michigan late in the 1993 NCAA championship game. Down by two points to North Carolina with only seconds remaining, Webber called a time-out when Michigan had none left. The resulting excessive time-out technical foul, for which North Carolina guard Donald Williams made both foul shots, ended any hopes Michigan had of claiming the championship.
In what has been called the greatest game ever played, Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics, the Suns found themselves one point down with one second left in double overtime, no time-outs remaining and possession of the ball under their defensive basket after a John Havlicek bucket. Faced with the near-impossibility of sinking an 80-foot desperation shot, Suns guard Paul Westphal hit upon an unusual solution. He intentionally called a time-out the Suns did not have. While this gave the Celtics a free throw, which Jo Jo White successfully converted to increase the lead to two, it gave the Suns possession at halfcourt, and enabled Gar Heard to sink an 18-footer as time expired to force a third overtime. NBA rules were changed the following year to prevent a repeat occurrence.
An instance where many technical fouls could have been called, but were not (instead, the game was abandoned, a remedy available to the officials when too many players would have or have been disqualified or ejected for the game to continue, or when a team continually commits technical fouls in order to make a travesty of proceedings), was the Pacers–Pistons brawl involving players and spectators on November 19, 2004, in an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. Ron Artest of the Pacers and Ben Wallace of the Pistons began scuffling after Artest fouled Wallace hard. This escalated into a brawl where players from both teams became involved, and grew worse after Artest retreated to the scorer's table and was hit by a cup thrown by a spectator. Artest and several teammates and opponents then ran into the stands and fought with fans. Had technical fouls been formally assessed, the result would likely have been the ejection of both teams' entire squads. In the end, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games, including Artest for the remainder of the season.
In a 2007 game against the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio's Tim Duncan was charged a technical foul by referee Joe Crawford for laughing at him while sitting on the bench ("gesturing in such a manner as to indicate resentment," as indicated above). As he had already picked up a technical foul on the previous play, also while sitting on the bench, this led to his ejection. Upon further review it was determined that this technical foul was inconsistent with the league's game management, and NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Crawford for the rest of the season. Duncan was fined $25,000 for the incident.
The most technical fouls ever charged to a team in a single professional game is 6 (all in the second half), to Aris Thessaloniki in a game against Olympiacos of the Greek A1 League on February 10, 2008.
Rasheed Wallace holds the record for the most technical fouls received during one season in the NBA. In the 2000-01 season, he received 41 technical fouls in 80 regular season and postseason games played. Wallace also holds the all-time mark for most technical fouls by a player in a career with 317, a record previously held by Dennis Rodman.
Los Angeles Lakers' Robert Sacre fouled out of a February 5, 2014 match against the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the Lakers only carrying eight players, and two injured and another fouled out, the Lakers were down to four eligible players with 3:32 remaining in the fourth period. Under NBA Rule 3-I-a, Sacre remained in the game and was assessed with a technical foul.