A technical foul is, technically speaking, a difficult thing to define.
According to the NBA website, the gist of the matter comes down to two words: unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s a cumbersome term that can mean many things.
Taunting, staring at refs, excessive cursing and hard fouls all fall under technical fouls, more commonly known as techs. Whatever the infraction, techs result in a free throw and possession for the opposing team.
Despite the obvious drawbacks of technical fouls, some players just can’t get enough of them. From least to most, here are the 10 professional basketball players with the most technical fouls in NBA history, playoffs and regular season included.
The Most Technical Fouls in NBA History
10. Kevin Garnett
Seasons and Teams: 14 seasons Minnesota Timberwolves, 6 seasons Boston Celtics, 2 seasons Brooklyn Nets
Career Highlights: Hall of Famer, 1x NBA champion, 15x All-Star
Garnett’s trash talk is so legendary that every young center from the era has a Meeting Kevin Garnett story. When KG met fellow trash talker Joakim Noah, it changed the young Noah’s career path indefinitely. Every single season of KG’s career is filled with stories like that, and many of them are not nice at all.
9. Dwight Howard
Number: 178 (and counting)
Seasons and Teams: 8 seasons Orlando Magic, 3 seasons Houston Rockets, 3 seasons (2 stints) Los Angeles Lakers, 1 season with Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards
Career Highlights: 8x All-Star, 1x NBA Champion
Dwight Howard is the first active player to make the list and both are on the Lakers. Howard has profited from a topsy-turvy career. He was once superman but has lived long enough to become a league villain.
8. Russell Westbrook
Number: 183 (and counting)
Seasons and Teams: 11 seasons Oklahoma City Thunder, 1 season Washington Wizard, 1 season Houston Rockets, 1 season Los Angeles Lakers
Career Highlights: 9x All-Star
Russell Westbrook is one of the most divisive players in the league today and in league history. From his hard-nosed, high-intensity playing style to his off-the-court fashion, Westbrook is one eclectic and electric dude.
7. Anthony Mason
Seasons and Teams: 5 seasons New York Knicks, 3 seasons Charlotte Hornets, 2 seasons Milwaukee Bucks, 1 season Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets
Career Highlights: 1x All-Star
The late Anthony Mason averaged over 10 points and eight rebounds per game over a 13-year career in the NBA. He retired in 2003 as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
6. Dirk Nowitzki
Seasons and Teams: 21 seasons Dallas Mavericks
Career Highlights: 14x All-Star, 1x NBA Champion, 1x NBA Finals MVP
Though drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t make his NBA debut till 1999, and for the team the scorer would forever be associated with — Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks.
5. Dennis Rodman
Seasons and Teams: 7 seasons Detroit Pistons, 3 seasons Chicago Bulls, 2 seasons San Antonio Spurs, 1 season Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks
Career Highlights: Hall of Famer, 2x All-Star, 5x NBA Champion
Dennis Rodman is known as much for his off-the-court record as he is for his stellar on-the-court performances. The center kept it weird for most of his career, though he was oddly normal while a member of the Detroit Bad Boys. Even then, Rodman rarely backed down from a hard foul or altercation.
4. Gary Payton
Seasons and Teams: 13 seasons Seattle SuperSonics, 2 seasons Miami Heat, 1 season Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks
Career Highlights: Hall of Famer, 9x All-Star, 1x NBA Champion
Father of Golden State Warrior Gary Payton II, Gary Payton had an incredible NBA career, mostly with the sadly defunct Seattle Sonics. The point guard won his championship with Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and the Miami Heat in 2006.
3. Rasheed Wallace
Seasons and Teams: 8 seasons Portland Trailblazers, 6 seasons Detroit Pistons, 1 season Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks
Career Highlights: 4x All-Star, 1x NBA Champion
Rasheed Wallace, who also goes by Sheed, Roscoe and Dirty Thirty, was known for being an exceptional talent with a matching temper. Only a man with the four-time All-Star’s reputation could get thrown out of an NBA game for speaking an eternal truth — the ball don’t lie.
2. Charles Barkley
Seasons and Teams: 8 seasons Philadelphia 76ers, 4 seasons Phoenix Suns, 4 seasons Houston Rockets
Career Highlights: Hall of Famer, 11x All-Star
Mouth-of-the-South Sir Charles Barkley has made a career out of trash-talking referees and other players. Barkley fought with every team from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Sacramento Kings. Though Old Chuck may speak like he has peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth, he never let that stop him from expressing himself into multiple ejections. He’s a true inspiration to us all.
1. Karl Malone
Seasons and Teams: 18 seasons Los Utah Jazz, 1 season Los Angeles Lakers
Career Highlights: Hall of Famer, 14x All-Star, 2x MVP
Karl Malone has the absolute most fouls in NBA history, technical and personal. With just three more techs than Chuck, Utah Jazz legend Malone has 4578 personal fouls, bringing his total to 4,910 career fouls.
The multi-time defensive player of the year fouled everybody in his career, from the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to the Indiana Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal. King Karl will likely wear his foul crown for years to come as the closest active player is still about 150 techs behind him. Karl Malone not only has the most techs, but he is also arguably the best player on this list.
Active Technical Foul Leaders
Aside from Howard and Westbrook, other active technical foul offenders include Goon Squad teammate Carmelo Anthony, famous body-language expert DeMarcus Cousins and the hilarious Draymond Green. Anthony currently leads the NBA this year with nine techs, bringing his total to approximately 160. As of June 2021, it was reported that DeMarcus Cousins had 137 technicals and Green had 131.
Perhaps the moral of the story is this: every single member of the list is a multi-time All-Star (except for one-time All-Star Anthony Mason), while many are NBA Champions and Hall of Famers.
Sometimes, it pays to play rough.