What is Reaching in Basketball?


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Despite being one of the most enjoyable sports in the world, even the most fervent basketball fan could admit the rules can be quite confusing.


If you were to sit down and watch three different games of basketball from three different sporting leagues, you would be forgiven for thinking they were different sports.


The rules on everything from traveling to three-point shooting to fouling seem to change from league to league. The problem is that it can change from game to game, too!


This can lead to many questions, including what is reaching in basketball?


Reaching has become a common part of modern basketball parlance, and it is vital that you understand the topic in full.


What is a reach-in foul in basketball?


The first thing you need to know is that reach-in fouls are a thing.


This is something that has become increasingly prevalent in the modern game as the sport has become more fast-paced and physical.


Reaching in is not an illegal move, but if you do it wrong then it does become a foul.


However, the fact that the rule can be so needlessly confusing is sure to drive most basketball fans to utter distraction!


So, looking for an easy way to understand the otherwise confusing reach-in foul? That isn’t easy, but we will try to break down the rule for your own easier understanding below.


Where can I read the rule?


See, this is part of the problem. Reaching in is NOT a rule that is formally defined by any major basketball league – even in the NBA.


So, you won’t find a “legal” definition for the rule which plays a big role in why it is so needlessly confusing.


Most people will use the term “reach-in” when they mean that someone has illegally fouled an opponent who was in possession of the ball.


The most common reason for a reach-in event to happen is when a player is trying to steal the ball from the player who is in possession of the ball.


If you reach in to try and grab the ball and you either steal it unfairly or you slap the opponent, it will be called as an illegal foul and will lead to either a resumption of play from the sideline or, if the team has a bonus, a free shot at the free throw line.


The confusing discussion around contact


The main problem that comes from the rule is that most people have no true concept of what illegal contact actually means.


In the NBA, illegal contact is often seen as the act of stopping an opponent from progressing by bending the body, extending the hand, arm, knee, or leg in a way that is unnatural and otherwise not allowed.


You must almost not make contact with the actual player when you are reaching in to win the ball.


So, you must reach in without any kind of extended or bent arm or body movement.


At the same time, you must reach in and win the ball without making contact with the ball handler. Easy, right?


However, every basketball fan has seen obvious reach-ins not called, and obviously legal plays called as fouls.


For one, we have to remember that the referees can make as many mistakes as the players; in a sport as fast as basketball, mistakes happen on all sides.


It should be noted, though, that contact can happen and not be a foul if you make contact and it does not impact on their speed, direction, balance, or ability to continue.


So, you could reach in and slap the ball away whilst hitting the player. So long as you don’t knock them excessively off-course, this should not be a foul (referee dependent, of course).


Why do reach-in fouls take place?


Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Most of the time, it can come from a player simply being too eager to try and win the ball back.


However, most of the time it will come from the hand of an offensive player contacting with the hand that is touching the ball.


This is usually deemed to be legal, but it is often hard for a referee to make the call properly due to the speed of the play and the minuscule difference between fair and illegal.


Touching parts of the hand which are touching the ball is normally legal, then.


The vast majority of called fouls, then, usually stem from someone mis-timing this crucial part of reaching in.


What happens on a reach-in foul?


A few things can happen with this kind of foul, and most of the time it will mean that the offensive player is given a personal foul.


However, if the illegal contact is caused by the defender, then the offended team will be given a team foul instead.


You will then be given an out-of-bounds pass to bring back into the play. However, you might be given up to three individual free throws to take.


It depends on when the foul happens, and what the situation was.


You should therefore look to understand this as it can be down to the situation in the game to determine the punishment. It also depends on what the opponent was doing in the first place.


If you reach in and block someone who is shooting, then it is going to be a free throw.


If you reach in and block someone who is shooting a three-point, shot, though, they could get multiple free throws depending on whether or not the shot went in.


So, should I not touch the ball?


You need to remember that you can go for the ball and win it as forcefully as you like so long as you only touch the ball.


You can only touch the opponents’ hand that is connected to the ball; if they only have the ball in their fingertips, then you can only touch the fingertips, nothing else.


So long as you don’t hit your opponents’ body or bend your own body in any way that a referee might deem to be illegal, you should be fine!


If you would like to learn more about reach-in fouls, make sure you visit this site so you can get the full details on this specific term.


Another term most basketball fans aren’t familiar with is carrying. If you’re not sure what a carry is, make sure you check out this review of carrying so you don’t make this mistake next time you’re on the court.

  1. You explained this very well to the point where I actually understand it. The rules can definiltely be confusing at times and it does goes so fast that sometimes it’s hard to tell if it was a foul or not.

    Thanks for this article and for bringing some clarity to the rules of the game.


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