Basketball is a sport in which two teams of five players each try to score points on one other 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. Organized league play originated in the YMCA and early leagues were formed in colleges. Basketball eventually became a professional sport and is one of the few women's sports which developed in tandem with men's. Even though it was originally an American sport, it quickly spread internationally and outstanding players and teams are found today all over the world.
Points are scored for passing the ball through the basket from above; 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. Disruptive physical contact (foul) 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, and offensive and defensive structures. While competitive basketball is carefully regulated, numerous variations of basketball have developed for casual play. Basketball is also a popular spectator sport.
While competitive basketball is primarily an indoor sport, played on a basketball court, less regulated variations have become exceedingly popular as an outdoor sport among inner city groups, particularly African-Americans. Examples of these variations include streetball and one-on-one; a variation in which two players will use only a small section of the court (often no more than a quarter of a court) and compete to play the ball into a single hoop. Such games tend to be more physical than competitive indoor basketball, and emphasize individual dribbling and ball stealing skills over shooting and team play.
Outdoor basketball courts are commonly referred to as 'blacktop', a reference to the asphalt surface used on many outdoor recreation grounds. This term can apply regardless of the actual surface material used.
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 physician of McGill University and minister on the faculty of a college for YMCA professionals (today, Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought a vigorous indoor game to keep rugby players occupied and at proper levels of fitness 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 10-foot (3.05 m) elevated track. In contrast with modern basketball nets, this peach basket retained its bottom. Therefore balls scored into the basket had to be poked out with a long dowel each time. Women's basketball began in 1892 at Smith College when Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher, modified Naismith's rules for women. The first official basketball game was played in the YMCA gymnasium on January 20, 1892 with nine players, on a court just half the size of a present-day NBA court. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of Naismith's students, was popular from the beginning.
Basketball's early adherents were dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, and it quickly spread through the country. By 1896, it was well established at several women's colleges. 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. However, 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 for the game.
Basketball was originally played with a soccer ball. The first balls made specifically 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.
Dribbling, the bouncing of the ball up and down while moving, was not part of the original game except for the "bounce pass" to teammates. Passing the ball was the primary means of ball movement. Dribbling was eventually introduced but limited by the asymmetric shape of early balls. Dribbling only became a major part of the game around the 1950s as manufacturing improved the ball shape.
College basketball and early leagues
Kent Benson of Indiana University Bloomington takes a hook shot.
Naismith and Berenson were instrumental in establishing college basketball. Naismith coached at University of Kansas for six years before handing the reins to renowned coach Phog Allen. Naismith's disciple Amos Alonzo Stagg brought basketball to the University of Chicago, while Adolph Rupp, a student of Naismith's at Kansas, enjoyed great success as coach at the University of Kentucky. In 1892, University of California and Miss Head's School, played the first women's inter-institutional game. Berenson's freshmen played the sophomore class in the first women's collegiate basketball game at Smith College, March 21, 1893. The same year, Mount Holyoke and Sophie Newcomb College (coached by Clara Gregory Baer) women began playing basketball. By 1895, the game had spread to colleges across the country, including Wellesley, Vassar and Bryn Mawr. The first intercollegiate women's game was on April 4, 1896. Stanford women played Berkeley, 9-on-9, ending in a 2-1 Stanford victory. In 1901, colleges, including the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, University of Minnesota, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Utah and Yale University began sponsoring men's games. By 1910, frequent injuries on the men's courts prompted President Roosevelt to suggest that college basketball form a governing body. And the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (IAA) was created.
Teams abounded from through the 1920s. There were hundreds of men's professional basketball teams in towns and cities all over the United States and little organization of 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 Original Celtics and two all African American teams, the New York Renaissance Five ("Rens") and (still in existence as of 2006) the Harlem Globetrotters played up to two hundred games a year on their national tours. Women's basketball was more structured. In 1905, the National Women's Basketball Committee's Executive Committee on Basket Ball Rules was created by the American Physical Education Association. These rules called for six to nine players per team and 11 officials. The International Women's Sports Federation (1924) included a women's basketball competition. 37 women's high school varsity basketball or state tournaments were held by 1925. And in 1926, the Amateur Athletic Union backed the first national women's basketball championship, complete with men's rules. The first women's AAU All-America team was chosen in 1929. Women's industrial leagues sprang up throughout the nation, producing famous athletes like Babe Didrikson of the Golden Cyclones and the All American Red Heads Team who competed against men's teams, using men's rules. By 1938, the women's national championship changed from a three-court game to two-court game with six players per team. The first men's national championship tournament, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in New York, was organizied in 1938.
College basketball was rocked by gambling scandals from 1948 to 1951, when dozens of players from top teams were implicated in match fixing and point shaving. Partially spurred by an association with cheating, the NIT lost support to the NCAA national tournament. Today, the NCAA men's and women's "March Madness" tournaments are rivaled only by the MLB World Series and the NFL Super Bowl in the American sports psyche.
U.S. high school basketball
Before widespread school district consolidation, most United States 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 Illinois, 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. In fact, the term "March Madness" was first used to describe the Illinois high school basketball tournament.
National Basketball Association
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. Today the NBA is the top professional basketball league in the world in terms of popularity, salaries, talent, and level of competition.
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 four players who many credit with ushering the professional game to its highest level of popularity: Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.
The NBA-backed Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) began 1997. Though it had an insecure opening season, several marquee players (Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and Sue Bird among others) helped the league's popularity and level of competition. Other professional women's basketball leagues in the United States, such as the American Basketball League (1996-1998), have folded in part because of the popularity of the WNBA.
In 2001, the NBA formed a developmental league, the NBDL. The league currently has 8 teams, but will add 7 more for the 2006-2007 season.
In 2005, NBA adopted the dress code law for players who are injured or DNP in the game.
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 organization 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 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 Basketball World Championship for men was 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 continued with the introduction of their Dream Team. However, with developing programs elsewhere, other national teams are starting to catch up with the United States. A team made entirely of NBA players finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, behind Yugoslavia, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand and Spain. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the United States suffered its first Olympic loss while using professional players, falling to the Puerto Rican national basketball team. It eventually won the bronze medal, finishing behind Argentina and Italy. (It should be noted, however, that of the twelve players originally selected by the NBA, only Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson chose to play; the rest of the team was put together from second and third choices.)
Worldwide, basketball tournaments are held for boys and girls of all age levels, from five- and six-year-olds (called biddy-biddy), to high school, college, and the professional leagues.
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 and 2006 NBA MVP award, is Canadian; Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki is German; All-Star Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies is from Spain; and the San Antonio Spurs feature three stars from outside the United States: Tim Duncan of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Manu Ginobili of Argentina (like Chicago Bulls player Andres Nocioni) and Tony Parker of France. (Duncan competes for the United States internationally.)
The all-tournament team at the most recent Basketball World Championship held in 2002 in Indianapolis demonstrates the globalization of the game equally dramatically. The team featured Nowitzki, Ginobili, Peja Stojakovic of Yugoslavia, Yao Ming of China, and Pero Cameron of New Zealand; all except Cameron were or became NBA players.
Rules and regulations
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 6 in) from the basket in international games and 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m) in NBA games.
Games are played in four quarters of 8 (high school), 10 (international) or 12 minutes (NBA). College basketball plays in two halves of 20 minutes. Fifteen minutes are allowed 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 allowed is actual playing time; the clock is stopped while the play is not active. Therefore, games generally take much longer to complete than the allotted game time, typically about two hours.
Five players from each team may be on the court at one 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 personnel 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 tank top with a clearly visible number, unique within the team, printed on both the front and back. Players wear high-top sneakers that provide extra ankle support. Typically, team names, players' names and sometimes sponsors are printed on the uniforms. In FIBA-organized leagues, a player's number must be between 4 and 15 (inclusive), so that a referee can signal the number to the scorer's table with one hand. American leagues ban any number above 5 in most cases for much the same reason.
A limited number of time-outs, clock stoppages requested by a coach for a short meeting with the players, are allowed. They generally last no longer than one minute unless, for televised games, a 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.
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 effect 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 without dribbling, known as traveling, 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. The ball may not be kicked nor struck with the 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 (the lane, or "key") (3 seconds). These rules are designed to promote more offense.
No player may interfere with the basket or ball on its downward flight to the basket, or while it is on the rim (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 goaltends, the basket is cancelled.
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 — referees consider if there was unfair advantage gained, e.g. if a player were to gain possession unfairly, sometimes making fouls controversial calls. 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, the number depending on the league. A player who commits five fouls, including technical fouls, in one game (six in some professional leagues, including the NBA) is not allowed to participate for the rest of the game, and is described as having "fouled out".
Common techniques and practices
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: organizes the team's offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right player at the right time
shooting guard: creates a high volume of shots on offense; guards the opponent's best perimeter player on defense
small forward: often primarily responsible for scoring points via cuts to the basket and dribble penetration; on defense seeks rebounds and steals, but sometimes plays more actively
power forward: plays offensively often with his back to the basket; on defense, plays under the basket (in a zone defense) or against the opposing power forward (in man-to-man defense)
center: uses size, either to score (on offense) or to protect the basket closely (on defense)
The above descriptions are flexible. 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 commonly interchanged positions are point guard and shooting guard, especially if both players have good leadership and ball handling skills.
There are two main defensive strategies: 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 a specific opponent and tries to prevent him from taking action. Variations of these two main structures are also 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 from guarding 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 usually responsible for indicating which play will occur.
Defensive and offensive structures, and positions, are more emphasized in higher levels in basketball; it is these that a coach normally requests a time-out to discuss.
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 throwing the ball through the basket. While methods can vary with players and situations, the most common technique can be outlined here.
The player should be positioned facing the basket with feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and back straight. The player holds the ball to rest in the dominant hand's fingertips (the shooting arm) slightly above the head, with the other hand on the side of the ball. To aim the ball, the player's elbow should be aligned vertically, with the forearm facing in the direction of the basket. The ball is shot by bending and extending the knees and extending the shooting arm to become straight; the ball rolls off the finger tips while the wrist completes a full downward flex motion. When the shooting arm is stationary for a moment after the ball released, it is known as a follow-through; it is incorporated to maintain accuracy. Generally, the non-shooting arm is used only 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 shooters may use the backboard to redirect the ball into the basket.
The two most common shots that use the above described set up 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. Failure to release the ball before returning the feet to the ground is a traveling violation.
Another common shot is called the layup. This shot requires the player to be in motion toward the basket, and to "lay" the ball "up" and into the basket, typically off the backboard (the backboard-free, underhand version is called a finger roll). The most crowd-pleasing, and typically highest-percentage accuracy shot is the slam dunk, in which the player jumps very high, and throws the ball downward, straight through the hoop.
A missed shot that misses the basket completely is referred to as an air ball.
The best shooters combine great dedication, coordination, and confidence. Practice is essential to shoot at a high level. Getting open is also crucial; at the pro level, top shooters rarely miss when given an unguarded look at the basket.
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.
A staple pass is the chest pass. The ball is passed directly from the passer's chest to the receiver's chest. A proper chest pass involves an outward snap of the thumbs to add velocity and leaves the defense little time to react.
Another type of pass is the bounce pass. Here, the passer bounces the ball crisply about two-thirds of the way from his own chest to the receiver. The ball strikes the court and bounces up toward the receiver. The bounce pass takes longer to complete than the chest pass, but it is also harder for the opposing team to intercept (kicking the ball deliberately is a violation). Thus, players often use the bounce pass in crowded moments, or to pass around a defender.
The overhead pass is used to pass the ball over a defender. The ball is released while over the passer's head.
The outlet pass occurs after a team gets a defensive rebound. The next pass after the rebound is the outlet pass.
The crucial aspect of any good pass is being impossible to intercept. Good passers can pass the ball with great accuracy and touch and know exactly where each of their teammates like to receive the ball.
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, and is a requirement for a player to take steps with the ball. To dribble, a player pushes the ball down towards the ground rather than patting it; this ensures greater control.
When dribbling past an opponent, the dribbler should dribble with the hand farthest from the opponent, making it more difficult for the defensive player to get to the ball. It is therefore important for a player to be able to dribble competently with both hands.
Good dribblers (or "ball handlers") tend to bounce the ball low to the ground, reducing the travel from the floor to the hand, making it more difficult for the defender to "steal" the ball. Additionally, good ball handlers frequently dribble behind their backs, between their legs, and change hands and directions of the dribble frequently, making a less predictable dribbling pattern that is more difficult to defend.
A skilled player can dribble without watching the ball, using the dribbling motion or peripheral vision to keep track of the ball's location. 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.
At the professional level, most male players are above 1.90 meters (6 ft 3 in) and most women above 1.70 meters (5 ft 7 in). Guards, for whom physical coordination and ball-handling skills are crucial, tend to be the smallest players. Almost all forwards in the men's pro leagues are 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 in the NBA, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Mureşan, were 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in). The tallest current 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). Other short players have thrived at the pro 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. The shortest player in the NBA today is Earl Boykins at 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m). While shorter players are often not very good at defending against shooting, their ability to navigate quickly through crowded areas of the court and steal the ball by reaching low is welcome.
Variations and similar games
Variations of basketball are activities based on the game of basketball, using 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 meant to help players reinforce skills. 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, and the ball must be "cleared" - passed or dribbled outside the half-court or three-point line - each time possession of the ball changes from one team to the other. Half-court games require less cardiovascular stamina, since players need not run back and forth a full court. Half-court games also raise the number of players that can use a court, an important benefit when many players want to play.