NBA / Jun 9, 2010 / 9:00 am

The NBA’s Foul Trouble Dilemma

Ron Artest, Dime #21

Whatever happened to the days when officials would swallow their whistle?

In the 1980’s, when Boston squared off against L.A., Kurt Rambis was getting clotheslined by Kevin McHale, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was flinging elbows at Larry Bird‘s face, and that was just part of the game. But it seems like ever since Ron Artest and Paul Pierce got tangled up in the opening seconds of the 2010 Lakers/Celtics series, the officials have decided to call every little flop and touch foul. The NBA needs to worry less about protecting their players and more about them actually playing.

In Game 1, there was a total of 67 personal fouls called. In Game 2 it was 58. Fouls will always be a part of the game, but a grand total of 125 combined in just two games is way too many. (The refs called 47 fouls in Game 3, so maybe they got the message and have eased back.) The problems with constant fouling is constant stoppages in the game, the rhythm of the game is thrown off, and as fans we all would like to see the best players on the biggest stage actually play the game. Unfortunately, in these NBA Finals we have been subjected to watching top players sit on the bench too often. As a result, after every game the losing team’s fans immediately start blaming the officials for the loss before anything else. And the numbers back them up.

The NBA markets their league as one of individual superstars, so most people buy tickets or tune in so they can see their one favorite player on the court — not to see him sitting on the bench.

“I’ve been against fouling out, the rule,” ABC/ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy said following Game 1. “I don’t like the idea. If you say the NBA won’t change to a ‘no-foul-out’ rule, well, let’s at least give them an extra foul. Because no one came here to watch who’s in foul trouble. They’d like to see the Lakers’ best, the Celtics’ best, and … I think it’s one of the problems with basketball in general.”

I completely agree. Now, in a perfect world no player would ever foul out. While we all know this is not the case, with the current rules somebody is bound to be in foul trouble. But that shouldn’t disqualify him from the game.

“In football they don’t say three holding calls and you’re out,” Van Gundy added. “In baseball they don’t say two errors and you’re out. I just think it’s bizarre that we would want our best players to be sitting out.

“Especially because I think it would take a lot of burden off of the officials, too. Because if they make a poor call now it can really have an impact on the game, but if there were more fouls, at least that one foul wouldn’t dramatically change things … Ray Allen‘s two [early] fouls dramatically altered the course of (Game 1). I’m not saying the outcome of that game, but the course of the game.”

Is the league is going to begin calling massive touch fouls and flops simply because they don’t want a particular outcome (i.e. Tim Donaghy)? Or is the game becoming more and more difficult to officiate, because players are continually getting faster and stronger?

I hope it’s the second scenario, and if that’s the case, then maybe the league should take Van Gundy’s advice and look to tweak their rules. I would much rather see Kobe and KG competing for a ring and not for minutes.

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  • The Journeyman

    I don’t mind the fouling out part…but I don’t like the technical one

    I say if you reach certain levels of technicals you should just be fined.

    But to have them play all scared all the time is ridiculous!

  • http://www.designbydesmond.com My Favorite Superhero

    I agree to an extent….I mean everyone should be able to play good defense without fouling…

    The refs have made some bogus touch foul calls and that needs to be eliminated…everyone has played ball where you keep playing if it’s just a smack on the wrist…

  • The Journeyman

    Actually I wanna say … I can’t stand those calls like Rondo got on Kobe by grazing his elbow when CLEARLY the shot was not affected.

    stupid calls!

  • karizmatic

    On the surface I agree with this argument. But my fear is that if the foul out rule was lifted or even if players were allowed to have more fouls, it would actually result in more fouls being called in the duration of a game, lengthening games and making the game a long procession to the freethrow line. In addition isn’t that just one of the quirks of basketball? Isn’t it part of being a good basketball player to be able to play the game without getting in foul trouble? I don’t know I agree with a lot of the arguments but at the same time I think it might have some unintended consequences that might not be good for the game.

  • cru_thik305

    if no one ever fouled out, then the entire game would just be a “hack-a-shaq” or “hack-a-whoever”

  • mark

    well stop crying lakers won game three,celtic fans the refs control the tempo of the game,like mark jackson said you cant call a foul on your terms,the refs are all cheating,because every year the same refs call the game,since the game is already slowed,might as well put a fourth ref out there

  • Brown

    I think offensive fouls shouldn’t count as personal fouls, only defensive fouls. It might take some of the flopping out of the game and encourage more players to attack the rim.


    Phil Jackson, please free Ron-Ron, fit him in the triangle better, if not this year, next year. Not only is Ron a defensive stopper, but he is also an offensive threat. Let up on your leash phil, let Ron play. He is running around scared because he doesn’t know what to do.

  • sh!tfaced

    Just gonna carry over the SMACK comm…

    Laker fans, Celtic fans, haters, nuthuggers, bandwagoners
    – whine, cry, bitch, moan & complain all you want…

    But the way they’re calling it, like it or not, they obviously want this to go all the way – THE FULL SEVEN GAMES.

    League’s gonna squeeze every hot stinkin’ drip of cum for all our cocks’ worth and maximize profit from us fans/suckers out there. We all know it and can’t/won’t do shit about it – maybe we want to, but, gotta admit we all want that GAME 7…

  • Blue

    how ’bout for every foul after the 6th on a particular player, the other team gets two free throws and the ball back? just like in the last two minutes for an off the ball foul. it eliminates the ‘hack-a-shaq’ and keeps the player in the game.

  • Taj

    Its obvious that none of these reffs have never played the game and have no concept of game flow, and letting the players play.

    The bad calls/non calls are going both ways and at the worst times. In 3 games we’ve seen Kobe, Ray Allen & PP all sit with foul trouble!! That’s not right!! Let these guys play! Its becoming more and more apparent that the officials are trying to determine the outcomes of each games and not allowing the players to do so!

  • Sporty-j

    I dont agree with this article for the simple fact that each sport is different and comparing basketball to football and baseball is like comparing apples to oranges. Its called playing smart defense and it would take away from the strategy of the game if you were trying to get the others team best player in foul trouble. Thats Y theres a limit and thats what makes the sport so exciting. If Kobe commits 6 fouls i want his a$$ out of the game because he should have used better judgement and i dont want to watch excessive fouling and the player gets to stay in the game because than u would have nothing to look forward to and not only would it take away from the excitement of the game. Dont bail these coaches out who make millions of dollars to strategize against what they would do if this or that happens because there is nothing like seeing what a coach would do in a chess match if his key player like Jordan was to foul out. This is not the WNBA and lets not mess the game up as if its broken like COLLEGE FOOTBALL. Van Gundy is just lazy and would probably make the game boring if he was the commissioner. This rule has been along for a long time and since the greats were playing and we are going to have some bad officiating every now and than and these guys are not perfect and they dont get to see every replay like us so they are not going to get every single call right and im sure they do the best job that they can…

  • Taj

    Futhermore.. I believe you should have a foul out rule but the referees need to let the players play more and call less fouls. These are grown men, that train 9 months out of the year, we can let a bump or the ticky tack stuff go!

  • patrick

    I was going to go on a bit of a tirade about how the rules just need to largely (albeit intelligently) revert back to at least the late 90’s. I am not talking about the Jordan rules or even the mid 90’s Knicks style. I am talking about swallowing your whistle when someone flops, letting post players play, and just the general physicality of this contact sport.

    But to be honest I like post 6. If offensive fouls didn’t count against your personal foul total, in much the same way the defense doesn’t get to shoot free throws after a charge, the competitiveness/manliness that is lacking in the current NBA game could come back.

    No one wants to see a center take a charge on a point guard, so figure it out.

    Oh yeah, and fix the replay rule so that if it is an obvious foul that sends the ball out of bounds the call can’t be over turned.

  • Heckler

    there is NO law that says a coach has to take a pleyer out of the game because they pick up early fouls.

    coaches think its written in stone that if a player has 2 fouls in the 1st quarter, he must come out of the game.

    you CANNOT blame refs for that.

  • haslem

    I love the intro to this article. It’s too true, I wish we didn’t call so many fouls didn’t consider EVERYTHING a flagrant and people should only get T’d up if they disrespect a ref (celebrating after a huge play should be acceptable).

    as far as the foul calls thing I agree with what others said no foul out would lead to more fouls you know every lay up make em earn it at the line…It just makes basketball sense. But I agree make it 7

  • Soul Brova 1

    it’s been like this for years, they grew up playing with a set number of fouls allowed no need to change it now. the NBA needs to crack down on superstar calls during the regular season because now in the playoffs and finals when they are guarding each other are you not going to give Kobe the call he been getting all year? the same with Pierce and Ray Ray. that is where the problem lies…this series has been like ok Kobe your turn , Ray you’re next. Paul game 4 is yours. all players follow the same rules if people come to see Kobe and he gets in foul trouble that’s on him…you can’t change the rules the players have to change and adapt. every time an announcer says “if we were in the other guy’s gym that would have been a foul” it is clear that the NBA officiating is suspect. a foul is suppoesed to be a foul in LA, Boston, NY, NJ wherever and at any point in a game…1st qtr, 2nd qtr, 3rd qtr, 4th qtr….up 20, down 20, tie score. by calling everything fair you will actually see more competitive basketball and who you rtrue stars really are.

  • shiptar

    referees are terrible in the Finals!!! the most important games of the season and the referees are fuckin’ blind!

  • Hucklebuck

    I don’t really agree with the blame being on the officiating.
    yes, the refs do have some impact in the game and they make questionable calls at times. those calls usually even out by the end of the game.

    why don’t they start looking at the players for this mess? the GREAT players everyone speaks of should be able to adapt to the way the calls are going. if they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be playing. GREAT players will find a way to adapt to that. refs are human so they will make dumb calls, but since everyone says its a players game, let the players play and all that cliche, let them ADAPT as all.
    if Rondo drives and flops and is able to get the call on Kobe, then why doesn’t Kobe just do the same on the other side of the floor? He has a height and strength advantage so he should score either way.

    people, stop crying, each team has 12-15 PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS. They can adapt.

  • JAY

    Amen. The refs are far to trigger happy. Ejections should be a part of the game but the refs need to swallow the whistles. Fans pay to watched the basketball stars… not these zebras make calls.

    I like Brown’s(#6) idea. Offensive fouls should count as personal fouls.

  • Joe’s Momma

    Right on the mark with the donaghy part. This is getting ridiculous. A foul can be called on virtually every play, on 9 of the 10 guys on the court, but it is selectively called. i dont get why some fouls are called and more blatant ones are ignored. and the replay of the ball going out on odom when clearly rondo fouled him is quite intriguing, how will they begin to police that? a nba version of the tuck rule coming?

  • Rick

    How about teaching players not to foul?

  • JAY

    I’d also like a other refs have the ability to overturn a foul call. If a ref on the other side of the court makes a foul call and the ref with the best angle says that there was no foul, he should be able to wipe the foul off the scorecard, and give the offensive team the ball to inbound. They overturn out of bounds calls. Why not for fouls??

    I remember one time in a game I blocked a dude near the basket and was called for a foul by the furthest ref from the play. The ref was nearly at mid-court. I looked at the baseline ref, laughed and told him, “I didn’t even touch him, you know that.” He responded, “I know, but he called it. Now line up.”


  • JAY

    @hucklebuck #18
    “refs are human so they will make dumb calls, but since everyone says its a players game, let the players play and all that cliche, let them ADAPT as all.”

    Let them adapt? So far in the Finals, what you’re asking these players to do is impossible. How can a player adapt if the refs are inconsistent?? Adapt to inconsistent rules??

    “people, stop crying, each team has 12-15 PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS. They can adapt.”
    The refs are professionals too… they can be consistent. By swallowing the fucking whistles.

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/703154723/the-soulchorea-project?pos=1 Kermit The Washington

    Look; fouling out in and of itself wouldn’t be such a bad rule, IF each and every call were legit. But when 50% (MINIMUM) of the calls are either forced or missed, then fouling out becomes a horrible rule. Is it your fault that the refs want to put their stamp on your game, and now you have to sit on the bench? Maybe in Dr. Naismith’s day, but definitely not in Stern’s day.

  • Lake Fan

    How about the Refs are fined for every bad call and every call that is reviewed and turned over? These fines should be paid directly to the players, which means every Lakers player’s income should be increased by a hundred thousand trillion. Boston…not so much. I’m estimating a hundred here and there.

  • JAY

    @Lake Fan: “which means every Lakers player’s income should be increased by . ”
    LMAoOOoo @ a hundred thousand trillion!! So funny.

    Kermit, you nailed it with your statement, “maybe in Dr. Naismith’s day, but definitely not in Stern’s day”.
    Some people here live in a basketball utopia. I know you put the word “minimum” beside your 50% estimate but that’s very generous.
    I remember hearing that this past year, there was one incident where a ref was disciplined for making a bad call. Can you imagine that?? ONE INCIDENT.

    It’s obvious to me that Donaghy did not act alone. No fucking way in hell does one guy act alone in a job that is like a fraternity. That conspiracy runs deep and I believe it runs all the way to the top (ie Stern).
    This series goes to seven games because Stern wants it to. The winners will alternate. That means it’s Boston’s turn in game 4. My guess is Gasol and/or Odom will be in foul trouble this time. Anybody want to bet??

  • JAY

    In regards to that one incident where a ref was discipline…. I bet he was disciplined because he didn’t do what he was told. He actually reffed the game fairly and Stern whipped him.

  • Cmon Mane

    Rey J…you should probably check your facts before just writing down a random number of fouls called…I’m fairly sure the most ever fouls called in a Finals game is 64…in 2006…and I’m 100% positive that there were 54 fouls called in Game 1…Not 67, not even close

  • ENEW

    The officiating being what is it is has already ruined the series.
    As most of you know by my posts I am a Celtic die hard. I don’t expect to see what happened in the 80’s on the court, or the physicalness of the 90’s but if you don’t have the best of the best on the court and their is foul trouble every game on questionable calls which are happening because of inconsistency you can’t possibly have the series you should have had. While 2 of the 3 games have been highly competitive having Kobe, Artest, Odom, KG, Allen and Pierce all in foul trouble on questionable calls is insane.

    The league needs to realize this is a VERY physical game at this time of the year and embrace it. Embrace the level of intensity, embrace how amazing the flow of the game is when officiated correctly and cut out this nonsense.

    Let the players play, I don’t want to even know the officials are there.

  • jnuh

    The more you let overly physical play into the game the more it turns into those retardedly boring and painful Heat / Knicks series of yesteryear.

    I’ll watch football if I want to see a bunch of sweaty bastards beating the crap out of each other.

    Basketball is amazing to watch because of the athleticism, not the fake tough guy routines.

    Fouls keep all that macho posturing in check.

  • JAY

    I actually enjoyed watching the old Heat/Knicks games. Reason was the gameplay was not stopped for some stupid touch foul.

    “Basketball is amazing to watch because of the athleticism, not the fake tough guy routines.”
    – So instead of the macho posturing, you would rather watch every single player whine and sulk like babies.

    “Fouls keep all that macho posturing in check.”
    – Fouls also keeps the stars on the bench. We, as fans, waited all year for the Finals and the refs are taking over. In 10 years, we won’t remember Kobe having a good game. We won’t remember this as a great series. It wil be the series that had 2000 whistles blown because the refs wanted to be the stars.


    bullshit. the officiating is bullshit. i would love to see at least one damn game where the refs swallow them whistles and let them play, just one fucking game.

  • Dragonyeuw

    I agree. Frankly the refs have too much power. Not only has there been a number of bad calls on BOTH sides that have impacted the game, but you can’t even criticize the refs post-game without being fined. And of course, don’t dare challenge them in-game or get T’ed up. They have too much power, and seemingly little accountability for the errors they make. What about the blown call in Game 2 at the end when the ball went off Garnett’s hands, but they called it out on Gasol?! This was AFTER reviewing the play. Where’s the accountability?

    Frankly, will we even know who the better team is in this series, when all the stars are spending half the game sitting on the bench with fouls, and the other half worrying more about not picking up ticky-tack fouls than playing their game?

  • Nyeme

    The game literally changed when the rules were changed to put the whistle in the ref’s mouths instead of letting the players be responsible. That little cylinder/semi-circle that if you are standing outside of as a defender automatically makes it a charge even if it’s not. DUMB!!! More players use that instead of contesting the shot, it forces the refs to make a call that wasn’t made an eera ago. Also bring back hand-checking and allowing hands in the back in the post.

    Those 2 rules changes will make the game dramatically different and the games will be more exciting.

  • nate

    You guys are blaming the wrong people. The officials are only doing their jobs according to the rules and standards set by the Association.

    If the NBA wasn’t filled with such stupid rules in the first place, you wouldn’t have the these issues with the referees.

    So you say they shouldn’t call that many fouls? Okay, well, what if a player takes a shot and misses because the defender hit his wrist, and then no foul was called? I bet you the fans of the shooting team will start to complain, as well as the team’s coach. Similar problems will start to emerge.

    You can’t make EVERYONE happy. That’s WHY we have referees! Duh.

  • stupid

    …how then would David Stern affect the game?