What Is A Flagrant Foul In Basketball? Ultimate Guide

Basketball is a contact sport, which means contact between players is inevitable and acceptable to some degree. But when this becomes excessive, a player could be penalized for flagrant fouls.

This is one of the severe fouls in basketball, and it can cost the player and his team dearly.

If flagrant fouls are one of the worst in this sport, you’ll want to avoid them altogether carefully. The first step is knowing what it is and what it entails. So, what is a flagrant foul in basketball?

A flagrant foul refers to any player’s unnecessary and/or excessive contact with his opponent. Depending on the severity of the flagrant foul committed, the referee will determine whether it will be classified as flagrant 1 or 2. The penalty for this are free throws or an ejection.  

What is a Flagrant Foul in Basketball?

Player dunking while fouled

Suppose a player has been called out for a flagrant foul. In that case, it means that he has made any contact against another player from the opposing team that the referee considers either unnecessary, excessive, or both.

But why is a flagrant foul one of the worst fouls in basketball that it’s even heavily penalized? Whether intentional or a result of recklessness on the part of the offending player, the effect can be devastating to the offended opponent, leaving him injured for weeks or even longer.  

Because of the danger, it poses to other players, it’s just right and fair that a player guilty of flagrant foul is heavily penalized. The officials can even kick him out of the game, impose fines, or suspend him as a punishment.

On the other hand, because it comes with severe penalties and can potentially ruin a player’s reputation, referees should carefully review the actions of the player involved to correctly determine whether it qualifies for a flagrant foul. Referees are then given instant access to replay to take a closer, more careful review of the scenario.

What are Some Examples of a Flagrant Foul?

Let’s look at a few examples of flagrant fouls in basketball to understand it better. The first common scenario is a player from the defense hip checking a player from the offense who’s driving the ball to the basket.

For reference, hip checking has been defined as an illegal action wherein a player thrusts his hips onto another player’s hips or lower abdominal region.

A player doing this will almost always be penalized for a flagrant foul. Hip checking is so bad that it puts the struck player at serious risk of developing injuries such as concussions, contusion on the pelvic bone, or fracture.

Another example is a player striking an opponent’s face with his elbow. If this excessive contact is dangerously intense, the impact on one’s facial area could be unimaginable. The player’s eyes, nose, or other areas on the face could be badly injured.

Two Types of Flagrant Fouls

There are two flagrant fouls in basketball: flagrant foul 1 and flagrant foul 2. What do referees classify as flagrant 1? And what do they look for to impose charges on a player guilty of flagrant foul 2?

Flagrant Foul 1

In flagrant foul 1, the referee has determined that the offending player has committed an unnecessary and illegal contact with an opponent. This illegal contact could be unintentional and simply a result of one’s recklessness in the court.

That’s why when a player receives one flagrant foul 1; he is not automatically pulled out from the game.

You can think of that as a warning to his first offense. Even so, the offended player will be awarded two free throws, and the incident will result in ball turnover. And just in case the offending player commits a flagrant foul 1 for the second time, he will be ejected from the game.

Flagrant Foul 2

Flagrant foul 2 is sometimes referred to as an intentional foul. This shows that this type of flagrant foul is more severe than the other. It is characterized by unnecessary, illegal, and excessive contact.

Indeed, if a contact becomes excessive, there’s a big chance that the offending player is doing it intentionally to injure the other team’s star player. That’s especially the case if the contact has been either preceded with winding up or proceeded with follow-through after the contact.

Referees will never overlook and tolerate this dirty tactic. The guilty player will be automatically kicked out from the game as a punishment. In addition, the offended player will get two free throws, and his team will take possession of the ball afterward.

Rules on Flagrant Fouls in Different Leagues

Injured basketball player

Various leagues implement similar rules on flagrant fouls. We’ll discuss each of them in a bit.


To be given access to instant replay, referees should make a flagrant foul call upon the offending player. Based on this replay, they will review the conduct with various considerations.

First, they will need to determine whether the foul falls under the criteria of flagrant foul 1 or 2. They could also decide if the conduct can be classified as an ordinary foul instead or downgraded to a technical foul. Second, the referees should also find out whether any other players displayed unsportsmanlike conduct immediately preceding or proceeding with the foul.

Whether the review concludes that a flagrant 1 or 2 has been committed, the fouled player will be awarded two free throws, and his team will gain possession of the ball. In flagrant foul 2, the offending player is automatically ejected from the game. The same penalty is imposed if the foul has been classified as flagrant foul 1 that happened twice in a single game.


Under Rule No. 12 (Fouls and Penalties), Section IV of the WNBA rulebook, flagrant fouls are classified as either flagrant foul 1 or flagrant foul 2. If either of the two has been committed, the fouled player’s team will gain possession of the ball. This ball turnover shall occur on the court’s side of the free-throw line extended.

In addition, the fouled player will be awarded two free throws. However, if she’s injured, as a rule on flagrant foul 1 stipulates, the coach is allowed to select one among the participating four players in the game to do the free throws on her behalf. The injured player is not allowed to return to the game as well.

On the other hand, if the foul has been classified as flagrant foul 2, the coach may select anyone among the team to do the free throws on behalf of the injured player, whether or not the player is part of the remaining four in the game. After the free throws, the injured player is allowed to return to the game.

If the offending player has committed either a flagrant foul 2 or two flagrant foul 1 in the same game, she will be ejected from the game.


FIBA doesn’t mention flagrant fouls in their rulebook. But they use different terms for fouls of the same nature. For example, FIBA’s unsportsmanlike foul can be used in place of flagrant foul 1. The league’s disqualifying foul, on the other hand, is similar to flagrant foul 2.

An offending player who commits two unsportsmanlike fouls or one unsportsmanlike and one technical foul in the same game will be automatically ejected. Meanwhile, one disqualifying foul called upon a player will result in his immediate ejection from the game.

These fouls result in two free throws awarded to the offended team and a throw-in.


The NCAA men’s basketball uses the terms flagrant foul 1 and flagrant foul 2, while the women’s basketball uses the terms unsportsmanlike foul and disqualifying foul in place of flagrant fouls 1 and 2, respectively.

Even so, the rules are overall the same. The only difference is that, in men’s basketball, a foul can only be considered flagrant when committed during a live ball scenario. In women’s basketball, unsportsmanlike fouls involve unnecessary contact during dead-ball situations.

All these fouls result in two free throws awarded to the offended team and a throw-in. If the foul is classified as flagrant 2 in men’s basketball or disqualifying in women’s basketball, the offending player will be automatically ejected from the game.

High School

The NFHS rulebook calls a flagrant foul a contact that is so extreme that it poses a danger to the offended player of getting seriously injured. If a player commits a flagrant personal or technical foul, he will be immediately ejected from the game. In addition, two free throws will be awarded to the offended player and a throw-in for his team.

Dirtiest Players in NBA History

Two men fighting over a basketball

Some NBA players are highly talented, but their aggressive conduct on the hardcourt has cost them dearly. Names such as Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, Karl Malone, and John Brisker all ring a bell when it comes to the dirtiest players in the history of the NBA.

Bruce Bowen

In his first year as one of the San Antonio Spurs’ professional players, Bruce Bowen kicked Wally Szczerbiak in the face. He was fined $7,500 because of the incident.

Ron Artest

This notorious dirty player almost decapitated James Harden during one of their games back in 2012. Because of that, the league suspended him for one week.

Karl Malone

If soldiers have guns, Karl Malone has two sharp elbows that never get a rest when running on the hardcourt. Somewhere in 1991, one of these landed on Isaiah Thomas’ head, who was severely injured that his head had to receive over 40 stitches!

John Brisker

This war freak can’t seem to get out of trouble. If you’re already alive in the 1970s, you’ll remember Brisker as the guy constantly picking fights on the hardcourt. And he shocked spectators on one occasion when he took a gun on the courtside!


Basketball is a beautiful sport overall if everyone plays by the rules. It’s fitting that leagues don’t give a place for aggressive players who create a dangerous environment on the court.

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