Are You Allowed to Touch a Basketball With Your Legs?

Intentionally kicking the ball stops play and gives the ball to the other team.
i Jason Szenes/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Kicking a basketball that's just out of arm's reach may seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but touching the ball with your foot has been illegal ever since James Naismath invented basketball in 1863. Intentionally touching the basketball with your foot will nearly always cause the referee to blow his whistle, but the penalty for kicking the ball is different when the clock is running or stopped. Despite the tactic being technically illegal, in some defensive situations intentionally kicking the ball can even be a good strategy for stopping an easy score.

Intentional Kick

    When the clock is running, purposefully striking the basketball with any part of your leg causes the referee to stop play and reward the ball to the opposing team. The offending player doesn't gain a personal foul, since an intentionally kicked ball constitutes a possession violation rather than a foul. The opposing team continues play by passing the ball inbounds from the sideline near where the violation happened, no closer to the baseline than the free-throw line extended.

Strategic Kick Ball

    Kicking away an opponent's pass is a good strategy anytime you think letting the ball through would result in a good shot. Although your opponents retain possession after the kickball, your team will have plenty of time to prepare on defense before they inbound the ball from the sideline.

Unintentional Kick

    Occasionally an opponent will throw a hard pass that bounces off your leg or foot, despite your best efforts to get out of the way. When a referee judges that a ball hit your leg unintentionally, then play continues as normal. Judging whether a kick was intentional or accidental can be tough for even the best basketball officials, so always continue playing after a ball strikes your foot until you hear the sound of the referee's whistle.

Dead Ball Kick

    The referee has another judgment call to make whenever a player intentionally kicks the basketball when the clock is stopped, such as during a timeout or immediately after a made shot. Showing off your soccer skills by gently directing an out-of-play ball to the appropriate official will probably get a free pass, but a kick that's hard, in the wrong direction or accompanied by an emotional outburst may result in penalties. If the official deems that your kick constitutes unsportsmanlike behavior, then you'll receive a technical foul and the other team's best player will take one free-throw shot. A hard kick that strikes a spectator, official or fellow player can even result in two technical fouls for the opposing team and an early escort to the showers for the errant ball striker.

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