I’m not what you would call a really big fan of basketball. There are just too many teams and too many games to keep track of and the season seems to go on forever. This is especially true when it comes to the pros. But when March Madness arrives and colleges from all across the country are trying to squeeze their way into the big dance, the air takes on something special. Besides the big name schools like Duke and North Carolina, there always seems to be the proverbial underdog small school to knock somebody off their pedestal. Besides that, filling out the brackets for your local bar or office pool is usually fun and to watch people pore over their picks and calculate where they stand is a good way to kill some time.
During the games, it’s fun to watch the coaches as they prowl the sidelines and try to get whatever advantage they can from the refs. Since basketball moves pretty quickly and the players often come into some kind of contact with each other there’s always the possibility that a foul might occur or some other type of violation like goaltending might arise. Many of these types of calls are pretty subjective and are left to the judgment of the refs. Naturally they don’t want to be the cause of team winning or losing and would rather let the players decide the game on the court but sometimes players and coaches get in their face and the result is what is known a “technical foul”.
Coach: “Hey ref, what kind of bull$%&* mother %$&*!#$ call was that?” You got money on the %$&*@#$ game or what? Get your head outta your ass and start calling them both ways you piece of %&$*!"
Okay, that might be a little extreme but it’s just one instance when the referee might make a “T” signal with his hands and call a technical foul on the out of control coach for unsportsmanlike conduct. Other instances where a “T” might be called include fighting or throwing or kicking the ball at another player or into the stands. These types of instances usually wind up with players from both sides being ejected from the game.
There are also more subtle ways to get T’d up. Having too many players on the court or calling a time out that you don’t have will get you there too. In rare instances, too much fan noise or fans throwing things onto the court will get the home team a technical foul.
So, what happens when a “T” is called?
In college basketball the opposing team is awarded two free throws and possession of the ball even if they didn’t have it when the call was made. This is also the case for games being played at an international level and during the Olympics.
At the professional level, the penalty is only one free throw and no change of possession. Besides the reasons I listed before, in the pro game a “T” might be called for something known as an “illegal defense.” This usually happens only after the teams has been warned a couple of times. At all levels, any player or coach who gets two technical fouls in one game is automatically ejected.
Here’s a couple of the more famous instances in recent history when technical fouls have had a huge impact on big games.
The year is 1993 and the Wolverines from the University of Michigan are battling it out against the Tar Heels of North Carolina in the NCAA finals. With time running down and Michigan down by two and with the possession of the ball, Chris Weber is under pressure from the defense and signals to the ref for a time out. The only problem was they didn’t have any left to burn and were assessed a technical foul. North Carolina sinks the free throws and gets the ball. Game, set, and match goes to the Tar Heels.
In possibly the greatest NBA game of all time, the Phoenix Suns found themselves in a nail biter against the Boston Celtics in the 1976 NBA Finals. With one second left on the clock in double overtime, the Suns were down one, had no time outs left and were eighty feet away from the basket. Instead of risking a “Hail Mary” buzzer beater, one their guards by name of Paul Westphal showed some creativity in the face of long odds. He intentionally called a time out they didn’t have and sure enough the Celtics were awarded the free throw. They sank it but here’s the catch. Since there was no change of possession, the Suns were awarded ball at mid-court rather than underneath their own basket. Now, one second in the NBA can seem like an eternity and sure enough, the Suns inbounded the ball and a player by the name of Garfield Heard buried an eighteen footer to send the game to triple overtime. The Celts probably would have been better off if they had intentionally missed the free throw as well since that would have burned up whatever time was left on the clock but this makes for a way better story.
Alas, there was no happy ending for the Phoenix Suns, they wound losing the game and the series but as a result of the intentional “T”, the NBA made some rule changes the following year to prevent that from happening again should the circumstance arise.