What Does Bonus Mean in Basketball?

The rules to NBA basketball states that each team is allowed no more than four fouls per quarter. When the team commits a fifth foul in a quarter the other team is given a bonus, or a free throw attempt.

A bonus in reference to basketball is the chance to make a free throw and score additional points because a player on the other team fouled you.

The NBA has specific guidelines they follow pertaining to bonus free throws. 

The bonus shot is allowed when the fifth foul occurs within one quarter of the game. The NBA includes defensive fouls and loose-ball fouls in their determination of what constitutes a free throw eligible foul play.

If one of the teams commits as many as ten fouls in one half of the game the other team is gifted with a double bonus. A double bonus means that whenever a player is fouled that player will automatically get two free throw shots for every foul committed. These regulations are designed to reduce a teams’ desire to foul out other players so the game is fair for all.

During the last two minutes of the game teams are allowed to commit only one foul. If they commit two then the other team automatically gets a free throw.

Whenever a game goes into overtime or enters an extra session the number of fouls against each team is set back to zero. The teams are allowed three fouls during this period, and when they commit the fourth the other team gets a free throw attempt.

NCAA College Game Bonuses

The rules are slightly different for the NCAA college games when it comes to fouls and bonuses. In these games each team is allowed on 6 fouls per half. In NBA the teams get 8 fouls per half because they get 4 fouls per quarter.

If a non-shooting foul was committed the opposing team will be rewarded as many as two bonus points. To make these points the fouled player will shoot a free throw, and if they make the “basket” they get an opportunity to shoot another free throw.

FIBA Rules Regulating Bonuses

The FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rules are very similar to the NBA rules concerning bonus points and free throws as a result of a foul. NCAA women’s basketball follows the guidelines of FIBA.

FIBA allows each team four fouls per quarter. In the event that there is a fifth foul then the other team is awarded a free throw for the fifth foul, and for each additional foul that occurs before the clock runs out on that quarter.

FIBA only allows bonuses to be used in response to defensive fouls. For the purpose of counting the fouls overtime play is counted in with the fourth quarter. So, a team can only make four fouls in the fourth quarter and once those four have been committed they will get no more even if the length of the game is extended by an overtime period.

High School Basketball and Bonuses

For the most part the high school regulations regarding bonus points are the same as the rules used by the NCAA. Each team is allowed six fouls per half and when they reach the seventh foul the other team is given a bonus opportunity.

what does bonus mean in basketball

Bonuses: Good or Bad?

The idea of a bonus for a team player that has had a foul committed against them was established as a type of penalty. If there were no consequences to a foul then the team that was in the lead close to the end of the game would be able to commit one foul right after another to run the time out on the clock and keep the other team from scoring.

A bonus free throw is a method of providing a consequence for un-sportsman like behavior during a game. The bonus is awarded on defensive fouls because the most frequent fouls are when the defensive team is trying to stop a member of the other team from making a goal.

When you see a player on your team get fouled it can make you angry. You know that your player might have made a game changing shot if the other team had not fouled them. The bonus shots that a team has the opportunity to make when the other team is excessively committing defensive fouls soothes feelings, and it gives the shooting team another opportunity to possibly get some of the points the foul took away from them.

Stopping to allow a player to attempt a free throw because of excessive fouls does still impact the game. It lengthens the time of the game. It also takes away some of the momentum the teams have going. If a team is quickly moving down their5 side of the court, and quickly taking the ball away from the other team, setting them up to have a free throw will slow them down and break up the momentum they have established.

Bonus Fouls

A bonus foul can only be committed by a defensive player. Fouls committed by offensive players do not count in the foul numbers that lead up to the possible free throw.


Holding occurs when the player grabs the opponent and holds them to stop them from being able to move forward. Holding can be called even if the opponent was not in possession of the ball.

Illegal Pick Screens

When a player is setting a screen or a pick up they must remain in a set position. If they fail to maintain that position then they commit a foul.

Hand Check

Sometimes players will keep putting their hands on the offensive player to impede their progress. When this occurs, it is called a hand check.

Reaching In

This foul looks a lot like a holding foul. The defensive player is usually touching the arm of the shooter. This foul is largely determined by what the referee witnesses.


This foul occurs when an opponent trips another player using their leg or foot to throw the other player off balance.


This is called a foul when a player deliberately swings their elbow out to cause it to hit another player.


Blocking occurs when the defensive player invades the space of the offensive player, or when the defensive player is in the charge circle of the offensive player.

Flagrant Fouls

These fouls are called when the player acts in a violent manner that could cause harm to another player. These can result in the player being removed from the game.

Final Thought

Bonus points are given to penalize a team that is not playing fairly.