According to NBA rules,

The hand is considered 'part of the ball' when it is in contact with the ball and contact with a players hand when it is in contact with the ball is not a foul.

Now I have a question regarding a slight variation of this situation. Here O represents an offensive player and D a defensive player.

What if D hits the ball out of the O's hand(s) and D makes contact with O's hand(s) on the follow-through? So that when the contact with O's hand(s) is made, O's hands are no longer in contact with ball, but only because D just knocked the ball out of contact.

The specific situation I'm picturing is one where O is holding the ball with two hands, but toward the bottom of the ball, leaving enough of the ball above his hands so that when D hits the ball through O's hands, by the time D's hand hits O's hands, the ball has been pushed completely below O's hands. Hence O's hands are not in contact with the ball at the exact moment of hand-to-hands contact.

I don't require only the NBA ruling on this situation, but would like to know which league(s), if any, would rule differently here.


5 Answers 5


I can see this going two ways:

  1. Incidental Contact (see below)
  2. Official's Decision

Rule 2, Section III - Elastic Power states, in part:

The officials shall have the power to make decisions on any point not specifically covered in the rules.

It appears that your scenario is not specifically covered in the rules. This kind of decision would become a judgment call. It appears that there are two ways officials can make such a decision.

  • The official considers it incidental contact.
  • The official considers it illegal contact as the ball is no longer in O's hand and calls a foul on D.

Incidental Contact

The mere fact that contact occurs does not necessarily constitute a foul. Contact which is incidental to an effort by a player to play an opponent, reach a loose ball, or perform normal defensive or offensive movements, should not be considered illegal. If, however, a player attempts to play an opponent from a position where he has no reasonable chance to perform without making contact with his opponent, the responsibility is on the player in this position.

  • 1
    Would whoever downvoted please upspeak as to why? Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 1:15
  • This is not as authoritative an answer as I'd hoped for, but I will probably award you the 100 bounty points since it's the best answer and at least cites the rules. Thanks. Commented Oct 27, 2012 at 14:04

In my experience this is a very unlikely situation in professional basketball as three hands (with outstretched fingers) will simply not fit on the ball surface :)

But putting that aside and assuming the hypothetical scenario that it did actually happen in exactly the way OP puts it. In the heat of the action this call will almost certainly be based on how the referee saw it; in other words even if there was no possession at the precise time of contact, the referee might not be able to see that detail, and depending on the reaction of the offensive player, it might be a foul call.

That being said, I have seen/experienced many occasions where the ball gets knocked out of possession with contact and the referee still doesn't call, probably because he simply couldn't catch that detail.

Long story short: it will most likely be a tough call for the ref, no matter how you cut it.

  • What exactly is the extent of your experience with professional basketball? Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 12:37
  • And while you're probably right about the fact that NBA hands are so large that this might be impossible, the situation happened to me in a pickup game. I was the defender and the offensive player called a foul. It wasn't clear to me if it SHOULD be. I'm much more interested in what the call should be than what it would be. Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 12:39
  • I played basketball in high school, and gave up playing later on due to a shoulder injury (not sure if I would have made it as an athlete, but that's beside the point). I have been following basketball for a very long time, both on TV and live so every once in a while you see situations such as the one you mentioned, with the benefit of seeing the situation from many different angles. Also ref.ed a couple of times since then but What I am really trying to say here is this; put yourself in the ref's shoes. More often than not this situation would be hard to see in its entirety.
    – posdef
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 14:16
  • In a casual game, general rule is the offense calls the fouls, as you probably know yourself, and you can choose to argue against it. Whether or not it makes a difference is besides the point.
    – posdef
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 14:18
  • 1
    Fine, I wish you the best of luck finding a better, more useful answer.
    – posdef
    Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 10:59

Hi there was just trying to check out the hand is part of the ball argument which I hold to although could not find specific definitions to proves this within th FIBA rules me living in england this is what we are goverened by I did find this though.


Rule Six - Fouls (Page 37 of 80)

33.11 Contacting an opponent with the hand(s) and/or arm(s) The touching of an opponent with a hand(s) is, in itself, not necessarily a foul. The officials shall decide whe ther the player who caused the contact has gained an advantage. If contact caused by a player in any way restricts the freedom of movement of an opponent, such contact is a foul. Illegal use of the hand(s) or extended arm(s) occurs when the defensive playe r is in a guarding position and his hand(s) or arm(s) is placed upon and remains in contact with an opponent with or without the ball, to impede his progress.

Therefore it would seem it would be a referees decision to decided weather your contact to the players hand after knocking the ball through his hands impeding his ability to regather the ball or movement up the court or if it was incidental, I would hope it would be a no call.

  • That's really poorly-worded. The entire purpose of playing defense is to restrict the freedom of movement of opponents!
    – Tom Mercer
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 2:09

As I have been looking for details and clarification to the hand being part of the ball, specifically at the high school level, I came across a few things I'd like to share. First off, is the 2017-18 NFHS Basketball Rules Book (Most recent version I could find online)

Rule 10, Section 7, ART. 2 . . . A player shall not contact an opponent with his/her hand unless such contact is only with the opponent’s hand while it is on the ball and is incidental to an attempt to play the ball.

And also, I realize this YouTube clip is from the NBA but it was a good visual for me so I wanted to share. Overall, I don't know how I feel about this rule, seems unjust in some situations but I understand that there can not be a rule that perfectly covers every situation in the game. I feel like it mostly comes down to the refs to make good judgement calls because they can not always perfectly tell if only the hand on the ball was hit and/or if it was incidental. Or if there are no refs, it comes down to the players being honest and fair.


Once O's hands aren't in contact with the ball, it's incidental contact, because they've lost possession, and they're not even contacting the ball. Basically, it is never a foul to strike/hit/slap another player's hand(s) in basketball, except in the most egregious circumstances where you're grabbing or flailing at their hands off-ball. In almost every case it's going to be either hand part of the ball -- no foul, or hand away from ball -- incidental contact.

The notable exceptions are, in FIBA only, when dribbling, they call slaps at the dribbling hand fouls, and in all basketball, when you slap or hold the off-hand from coming to the ball to gather/shoot. But the latter is a "pro trick" Kobe mentions in a famous video, though it's more of a "pin" or hold at the elbow, not so much the slap of the off-hand itself. And it's not any old off-hand, but specifically the dominant hand as off-hand, when the player dribbles with their non-dominant hand, to exploit their tendency to come back to the dominant hand to gather/shoot.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.