What Is Reaching In Basketball?

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Newcomers to basketball may be wondering – what is a reach-in foul in basketball?

If you are confused about the concept of “reaching-in”, then you aren’t alone. Reach-ins are sometimes legal and sometimes not, which can drive basketball newbies crazy!

In this post, I will talk about what reaching-in is, when it is considered a foul, and cover everything else that you should know about it.

What Is The Reach-In Foul In Basketball?

First things first, the reach-in foul is not formally defined by any basketball rules (including NBA rules). Fans and journalists commonly use the terms “reach-in” or “reaching in” when defenders come in illegal contact with an opponent in possession of the ball.

The so-called reach-in foul occurs when a defending player reaches toward the orange in an attempt to steal the ball but instead illegally contacts the ball handler.

The act of reaching in by itself is not considered a foul in any rulebook, be it NBA or FIBA rulebooks. However, depending on the circumstances, it may indeed be a foul. 

We’ll have to take a look at the NBA rulebook to understand when it is and when it is not an offense.

NBA’s definition of illegal contact - The Reach-In Foul Rule

Illegal contact is defined by Rule 12B (Personal Foul) of the NBA 2019-2020 rulebook.

Rule 12B Section I point (a) of the NBA rulebook states that holding, pushing, charging into, or preventing the progress of an opponent by bending the body into a position that is not normal or extending a hand, arm, leg, or knee is not allowed.

Defending players who are guarding an opponent in possession of the ball are not allowed to initiate contact with him as well. Touching forearms, hands, or body checks are not allowed. 

There are some exceptions to this, however, defined under Section I point (b) subpoint (a). For example, incidental contact with an offensive player’s hand is not a reach-in foul if it doesn’t affect the player’s speed, direction, balance, or rhythm.

Rule 12B Section I point (c) also defines that if the actions of a player against an opponent cause illegal contact with another opponent, the very first player is to be charged a personal foul.

Finally, point (e) states that contacting the hand of an offensive player while that part of the hand touches the ball is legal. And this is exactly where the vast majority of reach-in fouls occur.

In the section “Comments on the rules”, it is also defined that the hand is considered part of the ball when it contacts the ball. Touching that part of the hand is therefore considered legal.

What are the penalties for “reaching in”?

If illegal contact with the hand of an offensive player occurs: 

  • The offensive player gets a personal foul.
  • If the illegal contact was caused by the defender, the offended team is charged with a team foul.
  • No team fouls are called if one member of each team has a personal foul or if the foul was committed against an offensive player.

After a reach-in foul is called, the offended team is typically awarded a ball-out-of-bounds. But depending on the circumstances, the offended team may be awarded up to three free throws as well.

How Is A Reach-In Foul Signaled By The Referee?

A reach-in foul is signaled by the referee extending one arm with the hand closed in a fist and the other arm across the chest.

This signal indicates that the defensive player has reached in and made contact with the offensive player, resulting in a foul.

Frequently Asked Questions

Finally, in this section, I’ll give answers to some FAQs to give you a better idea of when reaching in is legal and when it is a foul.

This is indeed allowed as long as you:

– Only touch the ball.
– Touch the opponent’s hand only in the area that is contacting the ball. For example, if just the fingertips of a player are contacting the ball, then only hitting their fingertips will be considered legal.
Do not touch the opponent.

If you meet these three conditions, then touching the ball is legal, and no reach-in foul will be called against you. This is how you can legally steal the ball.

As long as you only touch the ball or the part of the ball handler’s hand that touches the ball, you are allowed to do this.

No, Rule 10 Section IV point (a) states that “a player shall not kick the ball or strike it with a fist

Slapping or otherwise contacting the hand of a player in possession of the ball is only legal in two cases:

When that part of the player’s hand touches the ball. For example, if only the fingertips touch the ball, then touching the offensive player’s hand anywhere else is a reach-in foul.

When the hand contact is incidental – that is, if the ball handler isn’t slowed down and doesn’t lose his balance or rhythm as a result of the hand contact.

The 4th Quarter

In the end, reaching in basketball may be called as a foul if any illegal contact occurs between the defender and the ball handler. This explanation obviously omits a lot of details, but you get the point.

Reaching in can lead to free throws for the other team if done improperly, but they give you the best chances to steal the ball from your opponent and turn defense into offense in the blink of an eye.

I suggest that you go read the NBA rulebook on your own too. I’ve only covered the most important details – there are plenty of other things in the rulebook that might be useful for you.

Justin D. Johnson
Justin D. Johnson
Justin is a PhD student at Stanford University and has been a basketball youth coach for over ten years. He is passionate about sports, cinema, astronomy, and sharing knowledge.