From Academic Kids


Basketball is a ball sport in which two teams of five players each try to score points by throwing a ball through a hoop.

It is primarily an indoor sport, played in a relatively small playing area, called the court. The speed and grace of the game, combined with the close proximity of the spectators to the action, make basketball an exciting spectator sport. It is one of the most popular sports in the United States, and is also popular in other parts of the world, including South America, Europe, Asia, and the former Soviet republics. Professional basketball players are characterized by extreme height, which is a significant advantage.



Early basketball

Basketball is unusual in that it was invented by one man, rather than evolving from a different sport. In 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian minister on the faculty of a college for YMCA professionals in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought a vigorous indoor game to keep young men occupied during the long New England winters. Legend has it that, after rejecting other ideas as either too rough or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums, he wrote the basic rules, and nailed a peach basket onto the gym wall. The first official game was played in the YMCA gymnasium on January 20 1892. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of his students, was popular from the beginning, and with its early adherents being dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, the game was soon played all over the country.

Interestingly, while the YMCA was responsible for initially developing and spreading the game, within a decade, it discouraged the new sport, as rough play and rowdy crowds began to detract from the YMCA's primary mission. Other amateur sports clubs, colleges, and professional clubs quickly filled the void. In the years before World War I, the Amateur Athletic Union and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (forerunner of the NCAA) vied for control over the rules of the game.

Basketball was originally played with a soccer ball. The first balls made specially for basketball were brown, and it was only in the late 1950s that Tony Hinkle, searching for a ball that would be more visible to players and spectators alike, introduced the orange ball that is now in common use.

College basketball and early leagues

Naismith himself was instrumental in establishing the college game, coaching at University of Kansas for six years before handing the reins to renowned coach Phog Allen. Naismith disciple Amos Alonzo Stagg brought basketball to the University of Chicago, while Adolph Rupp, a student of Naismith at Kansas, enjoyed great success as coach at the University of Kentucky. College leagues date back to the 1920s, and the first national championship tournament, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in New York, followed in 1938. College basketball was rocked by gambling scandals from 1948-1951, when dozens of players from top teams were implicated in game fixing and point-shaving. Partialy spurred by the association of the NIT with many of the cheaters, the NCAA national tournament surpassed the NIT in importance. Today, the NCAA tournament it is rivaled only by the baseball World Series and the Super Bowl of American football in the American sports psyche.

In the 1920s, there were hundreds of professional basketball teams in towns and cities all over the United States. There was little organization to the professional game, as players jumped from team to team, and teams played in armories and smoky dance halls. Leagues came and went, and barnstorming squads such as the New York Rens and the Original Celtics played up to two hundred games a year on their national tours.

National Basketball Association

In 1946, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was formed, organising the top professional teams and leading to greater popularity of the professional game. An upstart organization, the American Basketball Association, emerged in 1967 and briefly threatened the NBA's dominance until the rival leagues merged in 1976.

The NBA has featured many famous players, including George Mikan, the first dominating "big man"; ball-handling wizard Bob Cousy and defensive genius Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics; Wilt Chamberlain (who originally played for the barnstorming "Harlem Globetrotters"); all-around stars Oscar Robertson and Jerry West; more recent big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, playmaker John Stockton; and the three players who many credit with ushering the professional game to its highest level of popularity: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

The NBA-backed Women's National Basketball Association began play in 1997. As in the NBA, several marquee players (Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Sue Bird among others) have helped the league improve its popularity and level of competition. Other professional women's basketball leagues in the United States have folded because of the success of the WNBA.

International basketball

The International Basketball Federation was formed in 1932 by eight founding nations: Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland. At this time, the organisation only oversaw amateur players. Its acronym, in French, was thus FIBA; the "A" standing for amateur.

Basketball was first included in the Olympic Games in 1936, although a demonstration tournament was held back in 1904. This competition has usually been dominated by the United States, whose team has won all but three titles, the first loss in a controversial final game in Munich in 1972 against the Soviet Union.

In 1950 the first World Championships for men were held in Argentina. Three years later, the first World Championships for women were held in Chile.

FIBA dropped the distinction between amateur and professional players in 1989, and in 1992, professional players played for the first time in the Olympic Games. The United States' dominance briefly resurfaced with the introduction of their Dream Team. However, with developing programs elsewhere, other national teams have now caught up with the United States. A team made entirely of NBA players finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, behind Serbia and Montenegro, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand and Spain. In the 2004 Olympics, the United States' Dream Team lost their first game in history to the Puerto Rican National Basketball Team and eventially came in third after Argentina and Italy.

Women's basketball was added to the Olympics in 1976, with teams such as Brazil and Australia rivaling the American squads.

Missing image
Basketball game

World-wide, basketball tournaments are held for all age levels, from five- to six-year-olds (called biddy-biddy), to high school, college, and the professional leagues. Tournaments are held at each level for both boys and girls.

The global popularity of the sport is reflected in the nationalities represented in the NBA. Here are just a few of the outstanding international players who have played or still play in the NBA: Argentina's Manu Ginobili; Serbia and Montenegro's Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojaković; Croatia's Toni Kukoč and Dražen Petrović; Russia's Andrei Kirilenko; Lithuania's Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis; Germany's Dirk Nowitzki; Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo; China's Yao Ming; Canada's Steve Nash; Australia's Luc Longley and Spain's Pau Gasol. Many outstanding international players, including Serbia and Montenegro's Dejan Bodiroga, past Olympian Oscar Schmidt of Brazil, and recent Lithuanian Olympian Sarunas Jasikevicius, have chosen to decline NBA opportunities.

Rules and regulations

The object of the game is to outscore one's opponents by throwing the ball through the opponents' basket from above while preventing the opponents from doing so on their own. An attempt to score in this way is called a shot. Two points are scored for a successful shot, three points for a successful long-range shot (6.25 metres from the basket), and one point for each successful free throw.

Playing regulations

At the professional level, games are played in four quarters of 10 (international) or 12 minutes (NBA) each. Games take longer than this allotted game time. The clock stops when the ball is not in play; for example, when it goes out of bounds or a foul is committed. Fifteen minutes are alloted for a half-time break, and two minutes are allowed at the other breaks. At lower levels, various time regulations exist.

Time-outs and substitutions are permitted during a game. A substitution swaps one player on the court for another on the team bench. A time-out is a clock stoppage requested by the coach of either team, in which he can discuss strategy. A time-out lasts one minute in international basketball and either 100 seconds, 60 seconds or 20 seconds in NBA basketball. Time-outs are limited: in international basketball, 2 time-outs are allowed in the first two periods, 3 in the last two periods, and 1 in each extra period, while in NBA basketball, six 100/60-second time-outs are allowed in the entire game, of which a maximum of three can be in the last quarter. Additionally, 3 100 or 60-second time-outs are allowed in each extra period.


A modern basketball
A modern basketball

The only essential equipment in basketball is the court, which consists of two baskets with backboards, and a basketball. At competition level, clocks are necessary to regulate game time. Professional and international games often call for more equipment to assist in administration and officiating. This can include shot clocks, scorer's tables, and whistle-operated stop-clock systems.

The men's ball's circumference ranges between 749 and 762 mm (29.48 and 30 in); its diameter 238 to 242 mm (9.3 to 9.5 in). Its mass is from 567 to 624 g (1.246 to 1.374 lb). The smaller women's ball's circumference is between 724 and 737 mm (28.50 and 29.01 in), its diameter 230 to 235 mm (9.07 to 9.23 in), and its mass from 510 to 567 g (1.123 to 1.246 lb).

A diagram of a FIBA basketball court.
A diagram of a FIBA basketball court.
Missing image
The backboard and basket.

Playing the ball

Taking a shot
Taking a shot

The ball may be advanced toward the basket by being shot, passed, thrown, tapped, rolled or dribbled. Passing is the act of throwing the ball from player to player. Dribbling is the act of running while continuously bouncing the ball. The ball cannot be kicked or struck with the fist, and must stay within the playing court.

Running with the ball without bouncing it, called travelling, is illegal. Double dribbling, the act of dribbling with two hands or starting a second dribble after having caught the ball after a first one, is also illegal. A player's hand cannot pass the vertical while dribbling, so that his hand is partially below the ball; this is known as carrying the ball. In higher levels of basketball time limits are imposed on advancing the ball past halfway, remaining in the restricted area (also known as the "paint") and attempting a shot. Rules are generally stricter in the NBA. Contrary to popular belief, there is no limit to the amount of steps a player can take between bounces while dribbling.

To interfere with the ball while on its downward flight for a basket, or while it is bouncing on the basket, is called goal tending, and is a violation. Goal tending is one of the most complicated calls of basketball, and is significantly different in international basketball.


An attempt to unfairly disadvantage an opponent through personal contact is illegal and is called a foul. These are most commonly committed by defensive players; however, they can be committed by offensive players as well. Players who are fouled either receive the ball to pass inbounds again, or receive one or more free throws if they are fouled in the act of shooting, depending on whether the shot was successful. One point is awarded for making a free throw, which is attempted from a line 4.5 metres (15 feet) from the basket.

If a team surpasses a preset limit of team fouls in a given period (4 in international and NBA games), the opposing team is awarded free throws on all subsequent fouls for that period. Offensive fouls and double fouls are not counted as team fouls in the NBA, but they are counted in international games.

A player or coach who shows poor sportsmanship, for instance, by arguing with a referee or by fighting with another player, can be charged with a technical foul. A player or coach with two technical fouls is disqualified from the game and is required to leave the stadium. Blatant fouls with excessive contact or that are not an attempt to play the ball are called unsportsmanlike fouls (or flagrant fouls in the NBA) and incur a harsher penalty; in some rare cases a disqualifying foul will require the player to leave the stadium.

If a player commits five fouls (including technical fouls) in one game (six in some professional leagues, including the NBA), he is not allowed to participate for the rest of the game, and is described as having "fouled out". If no substitutes are available, the team must forfeit the game. Some leagues, including the NBA, allow disqualified players to re-enter the game at the cost of a technical foul on the team.


A team consists of five players and up to seven substitutes, although in series where there are three games or less, only five substitutes are allowed. Any number of player substitutions are allowed during the game, although substitutes can only enter a game during a stoppage of play.

Male players generally wear shorts and a sleeveless top, and high-top sneakers that provide extra ankle support. Female players have worn shirts and skirts in the past, but most female players now wear uniforms identical to those worn by men.


A referee and one or two umpires, called officials, control the game. On the scorebench, there are table officials, who are responsible for the administration of the game. The table officials include the scorer, who keeps track of the score and fouls by each player; the assistant scorer, who controls the scoreboard; the timekeeper, and the shot clock operator.

Referees and umpires generally wear a grey shirt and black trousers. These officials are responsible for the overall management and calling of the game, to ensure the teams compete in a fair environment and the standard of play is enforced. The officals call fouls and violations and oversee substitutions, timeouts, and other details.

Common techniques and practice


During the first five decades of basketball's evolution, a player occupied one of three positions, as follows: two guards, two forwards, and one center. Since the 1980s, more specific positions have evolved, as follows:

  1. Point guard
  2. Shooting guard
  3. Small forward
  4. Power forward
  5. Center

On some occasions, teams will choose to use a three guard offense, replacing one of the forwards or the center with a third guard.


The most common and recommended way of shooting the ball is outlined:

The ball is first held with both hands with the guide hand on the side of the ball and the shooting hand under the ball. The ball rests in the shooting hand, in the manner of a waiter carrying a tray. The power of the shot comes from the legs, passing through to the elbow and wrist extensions of the shooting arm, finally continuing through the fingers. The ball is shot toward the target by extending the wrist in a half-arc until the fingers are pointing toward the floor. The ball rolls off the finger tips while the wrist completes a full downward flex motion. The shooting elbow is extended upward, starting its extension from approximately a 90 degree flex.

The ball should be evenly placed between the index and middle fingers.. Upon the wrist and finger actions, the ball ideally has a reverse, even spin, called backspin. This deadens the shot upon impact with the rim and applies "touch" to the ball.

The ideal trajectory of the shot is somewhat arguable, but generally coaches will profess proper arch. The ball should pass well above the hoop, depending on the length of the shot, and travel downward into the basket to create the best angle for success. A shot that has little arch is called an "arrow" and has less chance of going in. A shot with too much arch is sometimes called a "rainbow". A "rainbow" is preferable to an "arrow".

Therefore, a fluid shot involves a sequenced motion extending the knee, elbow, wrist and fingers. From behind, a shooter will have their arm fully extended with the wrist and fingers forming a "gooseneck" position.


A pass is a method of moving the ball between players. Most passes are accompanied by a step forward to increase power and are followed through with the hands to ensure accuracy.

One of the most basic passes is the chest pass. The ball is passed directly from the passer's chest to the receiver's chest. This has the advantage that it takes the least time to complete, as the passer tries to pass as directly straight as possible.

Another type of pass is the bounce pass. In this pass, the ball bounces about two-thirds of the way from the passer. Like the chest pass, it is passed from the passer's chest to the receiver's chest, and it is passed as directly as possible, for example, there should be no downward motion of the ball between the bounce and the time the receiver catches it. In this way, it is completed in the smallest amount of time possible for this pass. It does take longer to complete than the chest pass, but it is more difficult for the opposing team to intercept (kicking the ball deliberately is a violation). Thus, in crowded moments, or to pass the ball around a defender, this pass is often used.

The overhead pass is used to pass the ball over a defender. The ball is passed from behind the passer's head, coming over it and aiming for around the chin of the receiver. This pass is also a fairly direct pass and can cover more distance than a chest pass.

A pass is not necessarily always between two players a distance from each other; sometimes a clever cut by a team-mate can mean that a pass is to a team-mate who is in motion but at the time of passing next to the passer.

The most important aspect of a good pass is that it is difficult for the defense to intercept. For this reason, large arc-shaped passes are almost always avoided and cross-court passes are extremely rare.


Dribbling is the act of bouncing the ball continuously. When a player dribbles, he pushes the ball down towards the ground, rather than patting it, because this ensures greater control.

When dribbling past an opponent, the dribbler should dribble with the hand furthest from the player. It is therefore important for a basketballer to be able to dribble confidently with both hands. In this way, the defender will not be able to get to the ball without getting past the dribbler. Also, the dribble will be lowered so that its movement is more frequent.

The dribble is also lowered when switching hands. This is because, when switching the hand that is dribbling, the ball travels in front of the player making it easier to steal. Alternatively, to switch hands, a player can dribble between his legs or behind his back.

It is common for beginners to dribble into a difficult position. A player should not have to watch the ball while he is dribbling. The pushing motion means that he knows where the ball is without having to see it; and a player's peripheral vision can also track the ball. By not having to focus on the ball, a player can look for teammates or scoring opportunities, as well as steer himself away from danger.


Being tall is a clear advantage in basketball. At professional level, most men are above 1.8 meters (6 feet) and most women are above 1.7 meters (5 feet 7 inches). In men's professional leagues, guards tend to be the smallest players, though they can occasionally be taller. Forwards in the men's professional leagues are almost all 2 meters (6 feet 6 inches) or taller. Many centers, and a few forwards, are over 2.1 meters (6 feet 10.5 inches) tall. The tallest players ever in the NBA, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, are 2.31m (7 ft 7 in). Currently, the tallest NBA players are Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming, both listed at 2.29m (7 ft 6 in).

Variations and similar games

There are some variations of basketball played in informal settings. In street (also known as 'pickup' or 'streetball') games, an arbitrary number of points by one team is set as the game's end point. Free throws are not used, and fouls are called, by the fouled player, only when a violation is flagrant or prevents a score. In halfcourt games, only one basket is used, with the requirement that the ball be "cleared", or passed back behind the halfcourt line (or sometimes the three-point line), whenever possession of the ball changes. A "make-it-take-it" convention is followed in some regions, whereby the scoring team retains possession of the ball. Because free throws are not generally used, baskets made in pick-up games generally count as one point. However, some courts have begun to add the three-point goal to their pick-up scenario, with two points for other field goals, resulting in a higher designated end point for the game.

Spin-offs from basketball include baseketball, which has some elements of baseball, korfball, which was born in Holland and is played by mixed teams, netball, which was informally called "women's basketball" but now includes men's teams, slamball, and ringball. 21 basketball, Horse, and Around the world are popular variants.

Further reading


See also

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