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File:Three point shoot.JPG
Sara Giauro shoots a three-point shot, FIBA Europe Cup for Women Finals 2005
File:Jordan 040914.jpg
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls attempts to score. Jordan is widely considered to be one of the best basketball players of all time.

Basketball is a sport in which two teams of five players each try to score points by throwing a ball through a hoop (the basket) under organized rules.

Since its invention in 1891, it has developed to become a truly international sport. It originated in the YMCA; early leagues were formed in colleges. Basketball eventually became a professional sport, and organizations such as the National Basketball Association developed. It gained Olympic status in 1936 and, even though it was originally an American sport, it quickly spread internationally and outstanding players and teams are found today all over the world.

Basketball is primarily an indoor sport, played in a relatively small playing area (the court). Points are scored for passing the ball through the basket from above (shooting); the team with more points at the end of the game wins. The ball can be advanced on the court by bouncing it (dribbling) or passing it between teammates. Advantageous personal contact (fouls) is not permitted and there are restrictions on how the ball can be handled (violations).

Through time, basketball has developed to involve common techniques of shooting, passing and dribbling, as well as players' positions (which are not legally required) and offensive and defensive structures. Height is considered advantageous. While competitive basketball is carefully regulated, variations have developed for casual play. Basketball is also a popular spectator sport.



Early basketball

Basketball is unique in that it was invented by one person, rather than evolving from a different sport. In early December 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-born American physician and minister on the faculty of a college for YMCA professionals (today, Springfield College) 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. At that time, it was played with nine players on a court just half the size of a present-day NBA court. "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

Kent Benson of Indiana takes a hook shot.

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 to 1951, when dozens of players from top teams were implicated in game fixing and point-shaving. Partially 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 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.

US high school basketball

Before widespread school district consolidation, most US high schools were far smaller than their present day counterparts and during the first decades of the 20th century basketball quickly became the ideal interscholastic sport due to its modest equipment and personnel requirements. In the days before widespread television coverage of professional and college sports, the popularity of high school basketball was unrivaled in many parts of America.

Today, virtually every high school in the United States fields a basketball team in varsity competition, and its popularity remains high, both in rural areas where they carry the identification of the entire community, as well as at some larger schools known for their basketball teams where many players go on to participate at higher levels of competition after graduation. In the 2003–04 season, 1,002,797 boys and girls represented their schools in interscholastic basketball competition, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The states of Indiana and Kentucky are particularly well known for their residents' devotion to high school basketball; the critically acclaimed film Hoosiers shows high school basketball's depth of meaning to these rural communities.

National Basketball Association

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The Seatle SuperSonics' Ray Allen

In 1946, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was formed, organizing 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 in part because of the success of the WNBA.

International basketball

File:Jose Ortiz.jpg
Jose Ortiz scores for Puerto Rico in an international match.

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

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 suffered its first Olympic loss while using professional players, falling to the Puerto Rican national basketball team and eventually came in third after Argentina and Italy.

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. Players from all over the globe can be found in NBA teams. Steve Nash, who won the 2005 NBA MVP award as the Most Valuable Player in the NBA, is a South African-born Canadian player. Dallas Mavericks superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, was born in Germany and plays for the German national team.

The all-tournament team at the most recent World Basketball Championships, held in 2002 in Indianapolis, demonstrates the globalization of the game equally dramatically. The team featured Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic of Serbia and Montenegro, Manu Ginobili of Argentina, Yao Ming of China, and Pero Cameron of New Zealand; all except Cameron were or became NBA players.

Rules and regulations

Main article: Rules of basketball

Measurements and time limits discussed in this section often vary among tournaments and organizations; international and NBA rules are used in this section.

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. A successful shot is worth two points, or three points if it is taken from beyond the three-point arc which is 6.25 meters (20 ft 5 in) from the basket in international games and 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m) in NBA games. A successful free throw is worth one point.

Playing regulations

Games are played in four quarters of 10 (international) or 12 minutes (NBA). Fifteen minutes are allotted for a half-time break, and two minutes are allowed at the other breaks. Overtime periods are five minutes long. Teams exchange baskets for the second half. The time allotted is actual playing time; the clock is stopped while the play is not active. Therefore, games generally take much longer (about two hours).

There are five players from each team on the court at any time. Teams can have up to seven substitutes. Substitutions are unlimited but can only be done when play is stopped. Teams also have a coach, who oversees the development and strategies of the team, and other team followers such as assistant coaches, managers, statisticians, doctors and trainers.

For both men's and women's teams, a standard uniform consists of a pair of shorts and a sleeveless tank top with a clearly visible number, unique within the team, printed on both the front and back. Players also wear high-top sneakers that provide extra ankle support. Often, team names and players' names and sometimes sponsors are printed on the uniforms too.

A limited number of time-outs, clock stoppages requested a coach during which he can talk to his team, are allowed. They generally last no longer than one minute unless a television commercial break is needed.

The game is controlled by the officials consisting of the referee, one or two umpires and the table officials. The table officials are responsible for keeping track of each teams scoring, timekeeping, individual and team fouls, player substitutions, team possession arrow, and the shot clock.


File:Basketball court dimensions.png
A diagram of a FIBA basketball court.

The only essential equipment in basketball is the ball and the court: a flat, rectangular surface with baskets at opposite ends. Competitive levels require the use of more equipment such as clocks, scoresheets, scoreboards, alternating possession arrows, and whistle-operated stop-clock systems.

The men's ball's circumference is about 30 inches (76 cm) and weighs about 1 lb 5 oz (600 g). The women's ball's circumference is about 29 inches (73 cm) and weighs about 1 lb 3 oz (540 g). A regulation basketball court in international games is 28 by 15 meters (approx. 92 by 49 ft) and in the NBA is 94 by 50 feet (29 by 15 m). Most courts are made of wood.

A cast-iron basket with net and backboard hang over each end of the court. At almost all levels of competition, the top of the rim is exactly 10 feet (3.05 m) above the court and 4 feet (1.2 m) inside the endline. While variation is possible in the dimensions of the court and backboard, it is considered important for the basket to be the correct height; a rim that is off by but a few inches can have an adverse affect on shooting.


The ball may be advanced toward the basket by being shot, passed between players, thrown, tapped, rolled or dribbled (bouncing the ball while running).

The ball must stay within the court; the last team to touch the ball before it travels out of bounds forfeits possession. The ball-handler may not move both feet while he is not dribbling, known as travelling, nor may he dribble with both hands or catch the ball in between dribbles, a violation called double-dribbling. A player's hand must remain on top of the ball while dribbling, failure to do so is known as carrying the ball. A team, once having established ball control in the front half of the court, may not return the ball to the backcourt. No player may kick the ball or strike it with his fist. A violation of these rules results in loss of possession, or, if committed by the defense, a reset of the shot clock.

There are limits imposed on the time taken before progressing the ball past halfway (8 seconds in international and NBA), before attempting a shot (24 seconds), holding the ball while closely guarded (5 seconds), and remaining in the restricted area (3 seconds). These rules are designed to reward good defense.

No player may interfere with the basket or ball on its downward flight to the basket, or while it is on the ring (or, in the NBA, while it is directly above the basket), a violation known as goaltending. If a defensive player goaltends, the attempted shot is considered to have been successful. If a teammate of the shooter or dribbler goaltends, the basket is cancelled and the team loses possession.


Main articles: Personal foul, Technical foul

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.

There is some discretion with the referee when calling a foul — they consider if there was unfair advantage gained, for example, a player gained possession unfairly. This makes fouls sometimes controversial calls. Contact in basketball is unavoidable, and the calling of a foul can vary between games, leagues and even between referees.

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. The penalty involves free throws and varies between leagues; repeated incidents can result in disqualification. 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 playing area.

If a team surpasses a preset limit of team fouls in a given period (quarter or half) – four for international and NBA games – the opposing team is awarded one or two free throws on all subsequent fouls for that period, depending on the league. 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".

Common techniques and practice

Positions and structures

Although the rules do not specify any positions whatsoever, they have evolved as part of basketball. During the first five decades of basketball's evolution, two guards, two forwards, and one center were used. Since the 1980s, more specific positions have evolved, namely point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and 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.

Two main defense concepts are used: zone defense and man-to-man defense. Zone defense involves players in defensive positions, guarding whichever opponent is in their zone. In man-to-man defense, each defensive player guards and follows a specific opponent and tries to prevent him from taking action. Variations of these two main structures are used.

Offensive plays are more varied, normally involving planned passes and movement by players without the ball. A quick movement by an offensive player without the ball to gain an advantageous position is a cut. A legal attempt by an offensive player to stop an opponent marking a teammate, by standing in the defender's way such that the teammate cuts next to him, is a screen or pick. The two plays are combined in the pick and roll, in which a player sets a pick and then "rolls" away from the pick towards the basket. Screens and cuts are very important in offensive plays; these allow the quick passes and teamwork which can lead to a successful basket. Teams almost always have several offensive plays planned to ensure their movement is not predictable. On court, the point guard is generally responsible for indicating which play will occur.

Defensive and offensive structures, and positions, are more emphasised in higher levels in basketball; it is these that a coach normally requests a time-out to discuss.


File:Basketball shot.jpg
Player releases a short jump shot, while her defender is either knocked down, or trying to "take a charge."

Shooting is the act of attempting to score points by throwing the ball through the basket. While methods can vary with players and situations, the most common technique can be outlined here.

The player holds the ball to rest in his dominant hand's fingertips (the shooting arm) slightly above his head, with the other hand on the side of the ball. The ball is shot by extending the shooting arm to become straight; the ball rolls off the finger tips while the wrist completes a full downward flex motion. Generally, the non-shooting arm is only used to guide the shot, not to power it.

Players often try to put a steady backspin on the ball to deaden its impact with the rim. The ideal trajectory of the shot is somewhat arguable, but generally coaches will profess proper arch. Most players shoot directly into the basket, but in certain situations the shooter may use the backboard to redirect the ball into the basket.

The two most common shots are the set shot and the jump shot. The set shot is taken from a standing position, with neither foot leaving the floor, typically used for free throws. The jump shot is taken while in mid-air, near the top of the jump. This provides much greater power and range, and it also allows the player to elevate over the defender.

The best shooters have good coordination, balance, courage and are well practiced. Realizing a shooting opportunity and using it is as important as basic technique; top players at the professional level rarely miss when given an unguarded look at the basket.


File:172808 480 art R0.jpg
Carlos Arroyo of the Utah Jazz, left, passes to a teammate.

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 between two players a distance from each other; sometimes a clever cut by a teammate can mean that a pass is to a directly adjacent teammate who is in motion, where either player's hands remain on the ball for the duration of the pass.

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, called skip passes, are only used in certain situations.


File:Basketball game.jpg
U.S. Naval Academy ("Navy") player, left, attempts to dribble past U.S. Military Academy ("Army") defender

Dribbling is the act of bouncing the ball continuously. When a player dribbles, he or she 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 player 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 be able to dribble without watching the ball. 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 avoid the danger of someone stealing the ball from them.


Being tall is a clear advantage in basketball. At the professional level, most male participants are above 1.90 meters (6 ft 3 in) and most women are above 1.70 meters (5 ft 7 in). Guards, for whom physical coordination and ball-handling skills are of greater importance, tend to be the smallest players although they can occasionally be quite tall. Forwards in the men's professional leagues are almost all 2 meters (6 ft 6 in) or taller. Most centers are over 2.1 meters (6 ft 10.5 in) tall. The tallest players ever to play in the NBA, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, are 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in). Currently, the tallest NBA player is Yao Ming, who stands at 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in).

The shortest player ever to play in the NBA is Muggsy Bogues at 1.60 meters (5 ft 3 in). Some shorter players experience success at professional level. Anthony "Spud" Webb was just 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m) tall, but had a 42-inch (1.07 m) vertical leap, giving him significant height when jumping.

Variations and similar games

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Pickup basketball game in Main Park, Windsor, Colorado
Main article: Variations of basketball

Variations of basketball are activities based on the game of basketball, utilizing common basketball skills and equipment (primarily the ball and basket). Some variations are only superficial rules changes, while others are distinct games with varying degrees of basketball influences. Other variations include children's games, contests or activities intended to help the player reinforce skills, which may or may not have a competitive aspect. Most of the variations are played in informal settings without referees or strict rules.

Perhaps the single most common variation is the half court game. Only one basket is used, with the requirement that the ball be "cleared" - passed or dribbled outside the half-court or three-point line - whenever possession of the ball changes. Half-court games double the number of players that can utilize a court, and are sometimes required by the owner of a busy facility.

Further reading


Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Official rules of the NBA
  • Reimer, Anthony (June 2005). "FIBA vs North American Rules Comparison". FIBA Assist 14, p. 40.
  • International Basketball Federation (September 2004). Official Basketball Rules.

See also

External links

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