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Is it Illegal to Fake a Free Throw in Basketball?

The short answer is yes – it is against the rules to fake a free throw attempt in competitive basketball leagues like the NBA. But let‘s take a deeper look at why fakes are prohibited and what constitutes a free throw fake.

What Exactly is a Free Throw?

Before diving into the rules, we should define what a free throw is in basketball. A free throw is an unopposed foul shot awarded to a player after the opposing team commits a personal, technical, unsportsmanlike, or disqualifying foul.

The player gets to shoot from the free throw line which is situated 15 feet from the basket. Defenders have to stay outside the lane area and cannot interfere with the shooter.

Here are some key facts about free throws in basketball:

  • Each made free throw is worth one point.

  • Players typically shoot free throws in two-shot sets. Common scenarios are:

    • Two shots for a shooting (field goal) foul

    • One shot for a technical foul

    • Two shots for an unsportsmanlike or disqualifying foul

  • The shooter must release the ball within 10 seconds of receiving it.

  • Players outside the lane area cannot enter until the ball hits the rim.

  • The shooter cannot cross the free throw line extended (an imaginary line running sideline to sideline through the front of the rim) until the shot ends.

  • Missing the first free throw of a two-shot set allows the shooter a second attempt.

  • A missed free throw becomes a live ball that either team can rebound once it hits the rim.

Free throws are one of the highest percentage shots in basketball, with NBA players typically making between 75-90% of attempts. They provide exciting moments late in close games, and teams try to drive and draw fouls to earn trips to the line.

Defining a Fake Free Throw Attempt

Now that we understand what a free throw is, what constitutes a "fake" free throw attempt?

A fake free throw involves the shooter attempting to deceive the defense through actions like:

  • Pump fakes – The shooter acts as if releasing the ball but does not let go, bringing it back down instead.

  • Hesitations – The shooter pauses or hesitates during their routine, often while looking at the rim, before continuing the attempt.

  • Shot fakes – The shooter lifts the ball as if to release but keeps holding it.

  • Exaggerated motions – Overemphasized movements meant to fake out the defense.

These types of acts try to manipulate the defenders and gain an advantage for the shooting team. However, they directly contradict the purpose of a free throw as an unimpeded shot.

Why Fake Free Throws are Illegal in the NBA

The NBA rulebook specifically outlaws players from faking free throw attempts. Section I-f of Rule No. 9 states:

"The free throw shooter shall not purposely fake a free throw attempt.

PENALTY: This is a violation by the shooter on all free throw attempts and a double violation should not be called if an opponent violates any free throw rules."

The penalty for a fake free throw is a turnover with the ball awarded to the opposing team at the nearest spot. But why does the NBA prohibit fake free throws?

To Maintain Integrity

Fake attempts contradict the purpose of free throws as unguarded shots. The NBA wants to preserve the integrity of this set shot opportunity.

To Avoid Confusion

Fakes could confuse defenders who may wrongly think the ball has been released. This can lead to premature lane violations.

To Promote Good Sportsmanship

Trickery and deception conflict with basketball‘s spirit of fairness. While allowed on field goals, it should not give an advantage on free throws.

To Uphold Competitive Balance

If legal, fakes could favor players who sell them well. Banning them promotes balance regardless of acting ability.

The bottom line – the NBA wants transparent free throw routines taken in the spirit of an unimpeded shot, not distorted by fake attempts to deceive.

Examples of Fake Free Throws in the NBA

While not a frequent occurrence, NBA officials have whistled players over the years for attempting to fake free throws:

  • Chris Paul – In January 2021, Paul was called for a free throw fake against the Denver Nuggets. He hesitated while looking at the rim before shooting.

  • Kevin Love – Love got cited for a fake free throw in 2019 after he pump faked before taking the actual attempt.

  • James Wiseman – The Warriors rookie center was whistled in 2021 for a blatant pump fake before shooting his free throws.

  • Steve Nash – The two-time MVP was once assessed a violation for pausing his routine and glancing at the rim before shooting.

So while rare, officials do enforce this rule if a shooter tries an obvious fake on their free throw attempt. Each fake causes a turnover due to the violation.

What About Pump Fakes on Field Goals?

Pump fakes and shot fakes are completely legal on standard field goal attempts taken from the floor.

For example, a shooter can use a head fake or a sweeping ball fake on a jump shot to try and get the defender in the air. These fakes help players drive past or draw fouls on over-eager defenders.

The key distinction is that rules only prohibit fakes on free throws to preserve their integrity as unguarded set shots. Any type of fake is permitted by players on regular field goal attempts.

NCAA, High School, and Youth Rules on Fake Free Throws

The prohibition on fake free throw tries extends beyond the NBA to all major competitive leagues:

  • The NCAA rulebook outlaws fake attempts with a turnover penalty.

  • U.S. high school basketball rules ban deception on free throws per the NFHS rulebook.

  • Top youth leagues like AAU follow similar rules to reinforce proper free throw mechanics.

While enforcement tends to be more relaxed at lower levels, the standard principle remains constant – no fake attempts permitted on free throws.

Strategies to Legally Draw Fouls on Free Throws

If fakes are prohibited, what techniques can players employ to legally coax extra fouls on free throws?

  • Head and shoulder fakes – Subtle dips or turns before shooting can throw off defenders.

  • Taking time – Slow routines tempt impatient defenders to foul early.

  • Long rebounds – Intentionally missing long can lead to offensive rebound fouls.

  • Quick release – Fast, sweeping motion makes it hard to contest without fouling.

Using these methods, players bait extra free throws through craftiness but proper technique. Outright fakes remain barred at the line.

Notable Moments of Free Throw Deception in Basketball History

While fake free throw attempts have been rare during gameplay, some memorable cases of players exaggerating fouls have occurred:

  • Bob Cousy‘s Dipper Flop – The 1950‘s Celtics star wildly flung himself to the floor to embellish contact and earn free throws. But he did not fake on the actual attempts.

  • Wilt Chamberlain‘s Dipper Swoon – Frustrated by constant fouling, Chamberlain pretending to faint from contact before making his free throws.

  • Jerry West‘s Miracle Recovery – In the 1969 Finals, West dramatically collapsed after a collision before heroically returning to sink key free throws.

  • Reggie Miller‘s Signature Stumble – Miller perfected the flailing three-point foul draw, though never deceived on the subsequent free throws.

While these moments involved frenzied acting to advertise fouls, active faking at the free throw line has been far more limited in actual games.

Key Takeaways on Fake Free Throws

Let‘s review the main things to know about why fake free throw attempts are prohibited across competitive basketball:

  • Fakes are illegal – Pump fakes, shot fakes, hesitations and exaggerated motions are barred on free throws.

  • Turnover penalty – The violation results in a turnover each time a shooter fakes.

  • Field goal fakes allowed – Players can use pump fakes on regular shots from the floor.

  • Preserve integrity – Rules aim to maintain the authenticity of free throws as unguarded shots.

  • Avoid deception – No shooter should gain an advantage based on acting at the line.

  • Consistent standard – Fakes are outlawed across the NBA, NCAA, high school and top youth leagues.

While flopping to draw fouls has a long history, actual fake attempts on free throws are banned to preserve fairness and shooting integrity in the sport of basketball.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.