What is Goaltending in Basketball?

Goaltending in basketball occurs when a player stifles a goal attempt. However, many people do not know about it. In fact, you won’t see the referees in youth leagues making this call. Shocking, right? Well, it won’t be in a few minutes.

Both offensive and defensive players can commit this offense, but it is more prevalent in the former. The NCAA, WNBA, and NBA all follow this rule. You've probably seen the call being made on TV, but how exactly can a player commit this offense? What exactly is it? How is it punishable?

What is Goaltending in Basketball?

A player commits goaltending when they interfere with a field goal or free throw attempt that is already moving downwards into the basket. 

For an offense to count as goaltending, the player needs to have intercepted the ball while still above the rim. 

Also, it must not be in the invisible cylinder (If it is, then it is basket interference, but more on that later). If you did not know, the invisible cylinder is the space directly upwards of the rim.

In some instances, a referee can call this violation if the player interferes with the ball after it has touched the backboard.

Here is a video compilation of goaltending.

Goaltending Penalties: What Are They?

The penalty for defensive goaltending is straightforward but painful for the offender. 

If a defensive player commits this violation, the offensive team receives points depending on the location of the goal attempt.

For instance, if the offensive player makes the attempt within the 3-point line, then they receive 2 points. Alternatively, if they make the attempt outside the 3-point line, they get 3 points. 

The penalty for a goaltending violation from a free throw attempt is a bit more complicated. The offended team receives 1 point, and the offender gets a technical foul.

The shooter of the ball still receives credit for the points in the box score. They also receive credits for making a field goal. You’ll love this information if you are a fantasy basketball player.

Also, note that the penalties for goaltending still apply if another player fouls the shooter. This means that the referee can still call for a violation if you foul the offensive player and your teammate interferes with the ball heading downwards into the net.

However, the penalty involves the offended team receiving the appropriate points and a free throw. Also, an official can call for goaltending before or after the foul call.

Defensive goaltending can be called even after the buzzer. For instance, it still counts as an offense if you attempt a shot right before the shot clock expires and an opposing player commits a goaltending violation.

Jermaine O'Neal, of the Phoenix Suns, had a similar experience versus the Houston Rockets in 2013. He received a goaltending violation, and the Rockets were awarded three points leading to their victory of 101-98. You can watch that play here.

Why Goaltending Exists

When you think about it, it does sound unfair that simply guarding the ball is an offense. However, if experience has shown us anything, this rule is essential in basketball.

Goaltending is important because it gives all players an equal chance at basketball and allows viewers to enjoy the sport. 

As basketball gained popularity, more athletic and taller players joined the game. These taller players could easily affect the outcome of any match (can you see why youth leagues don't experience goaltending?).


Think about it; imagine how simple and unfair a basketball game would be if a 6’10” defensive player could just strike down all goal attempts. 

You don't even have to imagine. Players like George Mikan and Bob Kurland were why this rule had to come into play. 

These players were 6'10, and all they had to do was stand by the rim and block all the shots their opponents made. This made it difficult for shorter offensive players to score.

This was why goaltending had to come into play. The NCCA initiated the rule in 1944, then other leagues saw its benefits and later followed suit.

If this rule wasn’t in place, anyone could easily predict the outcome of a match by looking at the height of the players. With such predictable outcomes, fans would have lost interest, and basketball would not be what it is today. 

How Goaltending Differs from Basket Interference

If you are an avid fan of basketball, you might be wondering what makes goaltending different from basket interference.

To be honest, the difference isn’t that much. If you check the official NBA website for the rulebook, you'll find a section called "RULE NO. 11: Basket Interference – Goaltending.”

However, don’t let this confuse you. These terms still have subtle differences.

To understand how these two violations differ, you need to account for the backboard, rim, net, and invisible cylinder. 

Goaltending demands that the player blocks the ball while it is heading downwards. It also requires the ball to be above the rim and outside the invisible cylinder.

On the other hand, basket interference happens when an offensive or defensive player comes in contact with the ball or any part of the basket when the ball is on the rim

Basket interference also occurs when a player touches the ball within the invisible cylinder.

However, there is a grey area when the ball is just over the rim and within the invisible cylinder. In a case like this, the offense can be considered goaltending if the ball is within the cylinder. 

Alternatively, if the ball bounces off the rim, is above the rim, and within the cylinder, it is considered basket interference.

See how confusing these terms can get? Keep in mind that if defensive players touch a ball that is above the rim and heading down, then it is goaltending. Here is a video that further explains this concept.

Despite their differences, these two violations have the same penalties.

Goaltending vs. Block

A block is yet another term in basketball that gets mistaken for goaltending. Yes, the two might look similar from afar but are pretty different up close. The main factor that determines a block or goaltend is the defender's timing.

Factors that make a block legal include:

  • The ball must be in an upward trajectory
  • A block must occur before the ball touches the rim or backboard
  • A block may be legal in rare cases if the defender holds the ball against the backboard. However, the player must still do this block before the ball touches the backboard

Deciding between blocks and goaltends is not easy. Even the best players and the most seasoned referees get it wrong sometimes. 

It is very difficult for referees to make the right call without the correct floor positioning. In terms of goaltending, they must also decide if a shot would have gone in or not.

The significant difference between the two is the trajectory of the ball. If the defensive player hits the ball while moving upwards, it is a block. But, if the ball is in a downward flight, then it is goaltending. Also, remember that the ball has to be above the rim to be considered goaltending.

What Is Offensive Goaltending?

Offensive players can also be penalized for goaltending. Offensive goaltending happens fewer times and is less popular than defensive goaltending.

This violation occurs in two situations. First, when an offensive player drags the rim down to make the ball go into the net. Second, when an offensive player touches the ball or tries to dunk it while the ball is touching the rim or in the invisible cylinder.

The penalty for offensive goaltending violation does not warrant any points. Even if the offensive team scores, they do not get any points. Also, the offensive team loses possession.

If both teams commit this offense simultaneously, no one gets any points, and they have to gain possession by a jump ball.

Reason for Offensive Goaltending

Offensive goaltending was banned back in 1958. The main reason for making it a violation was Bill Russell. 

He was a college player with great height and jumping abilities. Due to his skills, he was able to predict the outcome of his teammate’s shots and easily direct them into the net.

If offensive goaltending was legal, Bill Russell might have made more than 21,000 rebounds in his career – crazy, right?

Goaltending in High School Basketball

Goaltending in high school basketball does occur. However, it is much lower compared to higher leagues. This is because the players have various builds, ages, and skills.

The rules for goaltending in high school are typically the same as those in the NCAA. However, there is one difference. 

In the NCAA, goaltending can occur when the ball is above the rim, and a player touches it after it has touched the backboard. But this is not considered goaltending in a high school match if the ball is still in an upward trajectory.

International Goaltending 

Basketball games under FIBA jurisdiction use rules that differ from American basketball. Goaltending is one of the many rules that make this distinction. 

Both sets of rules consider goaltending when a player touches during a downward flight. However, that’s where the similarities end. FIBA doesn’t count certain actions as violations.

For one, if the player sees that the ball might go in after it hits the rim, they can touch it. They can touch it regardless of if the ball is below, on, or above the rim.

Second, the player can touch the ball within the invisible cylinder and above the rim as long as the ball is still heading upwards.

These two rules also apply to free throws, but only the last shot. So, if a player has two free throws, these rules will only apply to the second shot.

Conclusion: Goaltending Basketball

Well, there you have it; all you need to know about goaltending. The violation only occurs when a player touches the ball when it is above the rim, outside the invisible cylinder, and heading in a downward trajectory.

However, certain leagues with different rule books have slightly different rules regarding goaltending.

Overall, goaltending can be annoying when it happens to you or your teammates. But, know that it is there for a good reason. It gives all players a fair chance and keeps the game interesting. 

Joshua Bast

My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast