What is the Game of Basketball?
Basketball is a team sport played on a flat, rectangular court in which players shoot a ball into a hoop in order to score. Each team has five players who try to score in a goal at one end of the court and defend the goal at the opposite end.
The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
When Was Basketball Invented?
Basketball was invented in 1891, at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The first game was played on December 21, 1891.
Who Invented Basketball?
James Naismith, a physical education instructor and graduate student at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented the game of basketball.
With his students feeling restless while stuck inside during winter classes, Naismith developed basketball as a sport that could easily be played indoors. The original goals were two peach baskets nailed to the lower rail of the balcony in the Springfield College gymnasium, and the first ball used was a soccer ball.
Originally, the game was played with nine players on each team, and dribbling was not permitted.
The Basic History of Basketball
After James Naismith invented the game of basketball at Springfield College in 1891, it quickly became popular. Because the school was informally associated with the YMCA, it soon became a common activity in these facilities across the United States and Canada. As the game became more popular and more players needed access to a gym, YMCA membership grew significantly. Within just a few years, basketball was introduced in several countries around the world, including France and England.
Adjustments to the Rules
Naismith’s original rules were similar to those used today.
Players were instructed to hold and pass the ball only with their hands and to avoid pushing, holding, and striking other players. Fouls could be called for violating these rules. Throw-ins were used when the ball went out of bounds, and the game was played in two halves with a break in between.
As the game was played more widely and became more structured, a few changes were made.
Instead of using a soccer ball, players began playing with a laced basketball around 1894 (balls like those used today weren’t standardized until the late 1940s). The size of each team, which had varied based on the size of the court and availability of players, was standardized to five players per side in 1897. Players were allowed to dribble the ball beginning in 1901.
Another change involved the original peach basket goals (the inspiration for the original two-word name of “basket ball”) from which the ball needed to be retrieved manually. A hole was eventually cut to allow the ball to fall through and a wooden backboard was added. Metal hoops with nets similar to those used today were eventually introduced in 1906.
Lower scores were common in early basketball games. Teams would slow down the pace of the game once they gained a lead, leading to point totals of less than 30 in most matchups. New rules were instituted to prohibit these stalling strategies and make the game more exciting for spectators to watch, including:
- 1932: The half court line was created, and offensive team would lose possession if they did not advance past it within 10 seconds.
- 1937: The center jump after a goal or free throw was replaced by throw-ins.
- 1954: Two free throws were granted for each backcourt foul, and teams were required to attempt to score a goal within 24 seconds after gaining possession.
Official Basketball Leagues
As the game continued to spread around the world, more organizations and schools were eager to form leagues.
Various sets of rules were developed by different groups, so to create a more uniform game, the Joint Rules Committee was formed in 1915. This committee was later renamed as the National Basketball Committee (NBC).
The National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began to adopt these rules and form basketball teams at their schools. At the same time, amateur leagues formed outside of educational institutions and would host their own games at facilities like the YMCA.
The first professional basketball teams were developed within a few years of the game’s invention. The National Basketball League (NBL) was established in 1898. This league, along with many early basketball teams, were short-lived. Many players were paid on a per-game basis and played for multiple teams within the same season. The quality of the game was unreliable, leading to financial instability for the league.
Throughout the early 1900s and up through the Great Depression, a number of newly formed pro basketball leagues continued to struggle. The Original Celtics, formed in New York City in 1915, were one of the first widely known and highly successful teams. In 1937, a new NBL was formed in the upper Midwest.
Later, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was established in 1946 with Walter A. Brown, president of the Boston Garden, as its leader. He worked to emphasize player’s skill over physical scuffles in the game. In addition, he had players restricted to contracts with a particular team.
In 1949, the BAA and the NBL merged to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). Though the American Basketball Association (ABA) was formed in 1967, it only lasted until 1976, when it disbanded and the NBA took on four of its teams.
The NBA and College Basketball
Basketball’s fan base grew as television coverage expanded in the 1960s and 1970s. The NBA experienced an explosion in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s with increased cable TV coverage. During this period, a number of star players became household names, such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and Patrick Ewing.
Today, the NBA continues to be widely popular and has a number of superstar athletes in its ranks. The league includes 30 teams with regular season games played from October to April and playoffs ending in June.
In the years following the invention of the game, college basketball conferences formed and regional tournaments were held. In 1937, the first national college basketball tournament was held in Kansas City, Missouri. The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) was hosted in New York City a year later. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament, first held in 1939, quickly became the most popular of these events.
Today, the NCAA tournament known as March Madness is a hugely popular sporting event lasting for weeks. College basketball has also gained in popularity, though many of today’s biggest stars in the game skip college basketball to go straight to the NBA. Although players have skipped college in the past to go straight to the NBA, currently the NBA does not allow this anymore, as of 2020.
High school and youth leagues are also incredibly popular and widespread.
Basketball Around the World
Though basketball originated in the United States, it has gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA, for Fédération Internationale de Basketball) was founded in 1932 and has hosted the FIBA Basketball World Cup since 1950. Today, FIBA membership includes more than 200 basketball teams from countries across the globe.
Basketball became an official Olympic sport in 1936. It is played every four years as part of the summer Olympics. Beginning in 1989, professional basketball players were permitted to participate in the Olympics.
The Basic Rules & Gameplay of Basketball
What Is the Objective of Basketball?
The objective of the game is to score goals by putting the ball into the basket of the opposing team. At the same time, players try to defend their own basket to prevent their opponent from scoring.
The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
What Are the Basic Rules of Basketball?
The specific rules of basketball may vary slightly from one league to another. However, the most common rules include:
- Team size – Each team has five players on the court at a time and can have up to 7 players on the bench. Substitutions are permitted.
- Game periods – The length and number of periods varies for different levels of play:
- NBA: 12-minute quarters
- FIBA: 10-minute quarters
- College (men’s): 20-minute halves
- College (women’s): 10-minute quarters
- High school: 8-minute quarters
- Scoring – Players must try to score in their opponent’s basket. There are three ways to score in basketball:
- Inside the three-point arc: 2 points
- Outside the three-point arc: 3 points
- From the foul line: 1 point
- Ball movement – There are strict rules about how the ball may or may not be moved on the court:
- The ball may be moved by passing from one player to another or by a single player dribbling the ball.
- Once a player stops dribbling, they can’t start dribbling again. The player may only take two steps without dribbling before they shoot or pass the ball.
- Once the team in possession crosses the half-court line with the ball, they can’t cross back over the line with the ball.
- Violations – Play is immediately stopped and the opposing team gains possession of the ball if any of the following violations occur:
- Out of bounds
- Double dribble
- Held ball
- Back-court violation
- Time violations
- Fouls – Play is immediately stopped if a foul occurs. Fouls may be called on a player for:
- Illegal contact with an opponent, such as reaching in, holding, blocking, charging, pushing, or an illegal screen
- Technical fouls
- Flagrant fouls
- Intentional fouls
- Penalties – The penalty for a foul varies based on the circumstances:
- If a player is fouled while attempting a field goal, they are awarded 2 free throws.
- If a player is fouled in the process of successfully scoring, the points count and they are awarded 1 free throw.
- If a player is fouled while not attempting a field goal, their team gets possession of the ball at the closest out-of-bounds location from where the foul occurred.
- If a player accumulates 5 fouls over the course of a 40-minute game, they “foul out” and must stay on the bench for the remainder of the game. In NCAA and FIBA games, a player can accumulate 5 fouls.
In a 48-minute game, a player can accumulate up to 6 fouls. In NBA games, players can accumulate up to 6 fouls.
- Timeouts – Each team is permitted to call timeouts. Timeouts are very brief (such as 20, 30, or 60 seconds), and the number of timeouts allowed varies by league (the NBA allows 6 per game).
- Overtime – If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, an overtime period of 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the league rules) is played in its entirety. The team with more points at the end of the overtime period wins. If the score is still tied, additional OT periods are played until there is a winner.
These rules are overseen by a lead referee. This referee is typically assisted by one or two umpires, with table officials tracking points, fouls, time, and player substitutions.
The Roster of a Basketball Team
Each team has five players on the court at a time, each of which is assigned one of the following positions:
- Point guard: This player is usually the primary ball-handler and leads the team’s offense by directing plays.
- Shooting guard: The shooting guard’s main responsibility is to score points, especially from longer distances from the basket.
- Small forward: This player must have versatile skills that include driving for goals, defending, and rebounding.
- Power forward: Usually the larger of the two forwards, this player often scores close to the basket and must guard taller players on defense.
- Center: The center plays close to the baseline. They often score close to the basket and must set screens, gather rebounds, and contest shots.
Although this is by far the most common lineup on basketball rosters, there are some variations. For example, some teams use hybrid positions, like a swingman (skills of a small forward and a shooting guard). Others may use a different lineup of five players, such as four guards and one center.
The Basic Equipment in Basketball
The essential equipment for basketball includes:
- Ball: Regulation size is 29.5 inches in circumference for men’s and 28.5 inches in circumference for women.
- Court: The court should be a flat, rectangular surface, usually made of wood flooring. See more details in the next section.
- Baskets: There must be a basket at each end of the court. The standard size includes an 18-inch diameter rim with a net attached to the bottom and a 6 x 3.5-foot backboard behind it.
Additional equipment used for official games includes a clock/scoreboard and scoring sheets. Players typically wear shorts and a sleeveless jersey with sneakers.
Basketball is played on a rectangular court. Court dimensions vary by league:
- NBA and NCAA: 94 x 50 feet
- FIBA: 28 x 15 meters
- High school: 84 x 50 feet
There are a few common features on all official basketball courts:
- A basket centered on each of the shorter ends of the court (the baselines)
- A half-court line with a circle at the center where the tip-off takes place
- A key near each basket with a semicircle at the top
- An arced three-point line stretching from one side of each baseline to the other
Coaches and player benches are positioned along one sideline. The table officials are usually positioned between the two teams.