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

Basketball is highly suited to viewing by spectators, as it is primarily an indoor sport, played in a relatively small playing area, or "court," with only ten players, and using a large ball which is easy to follow. Additionally, the lack of protective gear makes it easy to see the reactions of the players. 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, southern Europe, Asia, and the former Soviet Union.



Early basketball

Basketball is unusual in that it is a sport that was invented essentially by one man. In 1891, Dr James Naismith, a Canadian minister on the faculty of a college for YMCA professionals in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought an indoor game of vigor and grace 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 up some basic rules, nailed up a peach basket on the gym wall, and got his students to start playing his new game. The first official game was played there 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, was soon being played all over the country.

Interestingly, while the YMCAs were responsible for developing and initially spreading the game, within a decade they were discouraging the new sport, as rough play and rowdy crowds seemed to detract from what they saw as their primary mission. Other amateur sports clubs, colleges, and eventually 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 (or foot-) ball. When special balls were made for the game they were initially a "natural" brown. It was only in the late 1950s that Tony Hinkle - looking for a ball that would be more easily noticed by players and spectators alike - introduced the orange ball 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 there 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 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. Partly spurred by the association of New York, the site of the "N.I.T.", with many of the fixers, the NCAA national tournament eventually surpassed the N.I.T. in importance. Today 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. 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 N.B.A.'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. Just like the NBA, it has had several marquee players to help the league improve its popularity. Players like Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Sue Bird have helped elevate the WNBA to high levels of play. Other professional women's basketball leagues in the United States folded because of the strong backing of the WNBA.

International basketball

The International Basketball Federation was formed in 1932, by the 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 been mostly 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. In 1992, professional players played for the first time in the Olympic Game. 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 came 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.

Basketball game
Basketball game

World-wide, basketball tournaments are held at many age levels, such as five to six year olds (usually called biddy-biddy), seven to eight year olds, nine to ten year olds, eleven to thirteen year olds (biddy), teenagers, jr. high-schoolers, high school, college, the professional leagues and master leagues. Tournaments are held at each level for both males and females.

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 Emanuel 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 N.B.A. 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, since the game clock only runs when the ball is in play. This is called using a stop clock, as 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 allowed at half-time, and two minutes are allowed at other intervals. At lower levels, various time regulations exist.

Time-outs and substitutions are permitted during a game. A substitution is that of 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 tactics etc. A time-out lasts one minute in international basketball and either 100 seconds, 60 seconds or 20 seconds in NBA basketball. A limited number of time-outs is allowed. (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. 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, and 3 100/60-second time-outs in each extra period, as well as one 20-second time-out per half.)


The only essential equipment in basketball is a court, 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.

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 throwing the ball from player to player. Dribbling is when a single player runs while continuously bouncing the ball. The ball cannot be kicked deliberately or struck with the fist, and must stay within the playing court.

Running with the ball without bouncing it, or travelling is illegal; as is double dribbling, the act of dribbling with two hands or starting a second dribble after having caught the ball after a first one. 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 with playing the ball are 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 with 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. Normal fouls are called personal fouls. Players who are fouled either receive the ball to pass inbounds again, or receive a free throw if they are fouled in the act of shooting. 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 in international games.

A player or coach who shows poor sportsmanship such as arguing with a referee or 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, though 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 control the game, these are the officials. On the scorebench, there are table officials, 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 call fouls, award successful baskets, and so on.

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 the fish-hook motion in which the ball is held with both hands but shot by quickly flexing the shooting wrist downwards, letting the ball slip to the fingers. It is then shot by slipping off the finger tips while the wrist completes a full downward flex motion. The arm extends completely outwards at at a 40 degree angle upwards, starting its extension when the ball is starting to be shot towards the basket and being fully extended when the ball is released. When the motion is complete, the wrist is then in a complete 180 degrees beneath where it was as it held the ball and is "dangling" downwards lifelessly-like from the arm. The motion is meant to be done in a somewhat weak way, as the power the ball is shot at should originate from the arm, the power and speed at the way the fingers release the ball, and/or the speed at which the motion is done.

Based on one's style, a shooter may have the fingers either curl up entirely or partially (depending on one's own style). However, when the fish-hook motion is properly done, having the ball simply slip from the finger tips is good enough without needing to curl the finger tips.


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.

The most basic pass 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 the around 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.


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 6 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 (7 feet) 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 often when there is not the equipment to play a full game. In informal street (also known as pickup) 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, ringball, and 21 basketball, streetball, which used to be called street basketball and now is a portmanteau of street and basketball.

Further reading

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-18-2005 04:55:40
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