Is Basketball A Contact Sport?

The game of basketball has evolved significantly since its humble beginnings in 1891. Dr James Naismith created a game that was more about skill than physicality, but rules have changed, players have evolved, and it is hardly the same game as before.

Is basketball a contact sport? Modern basketball is a contact sport. Players are constantly making contact with not only opposition, but even their own teammates in certain scenarios. Even though it does not have as much contact as some other sports, it is still a very physical game.

Toning Down The Amount Of Contact

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the game of basketball at all levels started becoming a very physical game overall. Players were getting hit harder and harder on offense and defense, and referees were hesitant to call too much. Some people enjoyed watching this type of basketball, while others felt like it was turning into more of a game centered around who had the strongest team.

Since then, cleaning up the game is a priority. Defenses can’t put as much physical pressure on offensive players without running the risk of fouls called. The goal is to clean up the game and make it safer for the offense. Signficant issues are reduced due to these rule changes, and scores have gone up as a result.

Why Is Basketball Considered Limited Contact?

The definition of a contact sport is a bit vague, which is why some people feel like basketball is extremely physical, while others feel like it is limited. No, it is not a matter of toughness, as plenty of basketball players are as tough as any other athletes in the world.

The physicality of basketball is indeed a bit different than the sports that require physical contact and allow it to happen. For the most part, basketball has incidental physical contact, as there are no rules in place to reward physical play. In fact, the more physical play becomes, the more likely a player receives a foul and eventually, is kicked out of the game.

Proper contact sports reward contact. Think about sports such as football, rugby, wrestling, boxing, and more. The majority of athletes are going to take a lot more hits and risk injury in these sports compared to basketball.

Physical Play Inside

The most physical action in basketball happens inside the paint, as plenty of battles go on throughout the game. Not only is it the closest part to the basket, but this is where people are jockeying for position to get rebounds.

One of the biggest frustrations for post players is just how much more contact is allowed inside compared to outside. For players who are on the perimeter, they can barely get touched and still get a foul called. On the inside, it is a lot more physical. Post players take hits to their body when bringing in rebounds and going up for shots.

Officials let physical play go for the most part inside, but if someone is gaining a clear advantage while abusing the rules, they will make a call. Watch any basketball game and focus on the post play, and there will be some questionable moves that certainly appear like fouls on paper.

Protecting Shooters

Post-play is physical, but the perimeter can be physical as well. A lot of leagues have cleaned up the physicality on the perimeter, protecting the shooters more and more, so they do not risk injury.

Players are unable to grab and hold their opposition as much on the perimeter. That leads to a foul, and it can cause a lot of frustration overall. There is also a huge focus on allowing shooters to land when they jump up for a shot, as this incidental contact can sprain an ankle or do even more damage. A lot of players have started picking up fouls by strategically jumping and landing in a way to draw fouls this way.

Size Disparity In Basketball

It is pretty common for bigger players to feel like they are dealt a tough hand when it comes to taking physical contact in basketball. That is because their body does not move nearly as much when they take a hit compared to smaller players. This fools referees at times, and therefore, they do not make any foul call.

Love it or hate it, one tactic that a lot of basketball players use is faking a reaction if they take a hit. It is more of an exaggeration than anything, and it sells the foul to the referee. Sometimes they buy it, but other times they look the other way.

Ideally, every basketball player should be getting the same type of calls if fouled. It does not always work that way, which is why players will sell foul calls from time to time. 

Basketball Used To Be More Physical

Basketball contact was at its peak in the eyes of many during the 1980s and 1990s. This is when athletes really started to get stronger and more physical in general, and some of the physicality led to rule changes. It was the most evident in the NBA, but across all levels of the sport, it was clear that the game was becoming almost too physical.

Basketball is designed to be a relatively free-flowing game, and players were becoming a bit too physical by disrupting the game more than anything. Instead of playing actual basketball, it became more of a wrestling and pushing match, which hurt the overall product. Players need to make a play on the ball instead of trying to take people out with their legs or their body.

The Future Of Contact In Basketball

Basketball is always going to be a physical sport full of contact to a certain degree. They can attempt to clean it up and make it safe for players as much as they would like, but at the end of the day, it just makes sense to provide a safe game for players. 

Some contact is always going to occur, but major contact will lead to fouls, technicals, and even suspensions. Do not expect a game free of any bumps or bruises, but major contact does not exist.

Chris Davis

I'm Chris, the guy behind BasketballJoy. I've played basketball for 20+ years and have been a full-time coach since 2017. On this website, I share everything I know about the most beautiful sport in the world - Basketball.

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