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Basketball Rules

So What Are Some Of The Common Basketball Rules?

I find it very interesting that there are variations of basketball rules all around the world. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association which are the most important governing bodies in North America, have their own rules. In addition to this, FIBA (International Basketball Federation) has a technical commission that determine the international rules of play. A majority of leagues outside North America use those rules.

Before i get into the nitty gritties of the current rules available, it is important to know the genesis of Basketball rules.

James Naismith who is the inventor of “Basket ball” published the rules of the game in 1891. Those rules were different from the rules that we have today. There was no dribbling,dunking,three pointers or a shot clock. And to make it worse, goal tending was legal! Can you imagine how boring watching such a game was. I am sure it is hard for you to imagine a game without any dribbling or dunking because that is what gives Basketball entertainment appeal.

Anyway that was the way it was.

Here is a sample of some of the original basketball rules in 1891;

  1. The ball may be passed in any direction with one or both hands.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  5. No shouldering, holding, striking, pushing, or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next basket is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of rules three and four and such described in rule five.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there (without falling), providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify people according to Rule 5.
  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the baskets, with any other duties that are usually performed by a scorekeeper.
  12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
  13. The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.

basketball 1891

The Picture above depicts how a typical game in 1891 would look like. There were no high definition cameras then, so that will have to do :)

The Original Basketball rules above by Naismith did not specify how many players were to be on the court. In 1900, five players on the court became a standard and players that were substituted were not allowed to re-enter the game.

How Players Were Substituted Back Then As Compared to Now

Later on in 1921, players were allowed to re-enter once into the game once substituted and twice from 1934. Finally in 1945, such substitution restrictions were eliminated and became unlimited. Another thing that was prohibited was coaching during the game, however from 1949 coaches were allowed to speak to the players during timeouts.

A second foul in the original basketball rules was a license to being disqualified. In 1911, the limits became 4 fouls and in 1945 it became 5 fouls and then 6 fouls which is still the standard maintained up to this date at least according to the NBA that puts a 48minutes time limit to a game (excluding any overtime).

How Shot clocks And Time Limits Were Handled

In 1933, the first time restriction of possession of  a ball in a basketball game. The respective teams were required to advance the ball towards the center line within 10 seconds of ball possession. This rule was there until the year 2000 when FIBA reduced the requirement to 8 seconds with the NBA following suit in 2001. This is because the game has become so competitive and every second counts because of the high stakes involved in a professional basketball league.

The NCAA has retained the 10 second rule for men’s play while the women have never really had a time limit set for them. High schools in the U.S also use the 10 second time limit rule for both sexes.

” The 3 second rule was introduced in 1936. This rule prohibits offensive players from remaining near their opponents’ basket for longer than three seconds (the precise restricted area is also known as the lane or the key). A game central to this rule’s introduction was that between the University of Kentucky and New York University. Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp did not take one of his referees with him, despite being warned of discrepancies in officiating between the Midwest and east by Notre Dame coach George Keogan, and the game became especially rough. Because of this game and others, 6’5″ (1.96 m) Kentucky All American center Leroy Edwards is generally recognized as the player responsible for the 3 second rule.

While the rule was originally adopted to reduce roughness in the area between big men, it is now considered to prevent tall offensive players from gaining an advantage by waiting close to the basket. When the NBA started to allow zone defense in 2001, a three-second rule for defensive players was also introduced.

The shot clock was first introduced by the NBA in 1954, to increase the speed of play. Teams were then required to attempt a shot within 24 seconds of gaining possession, and the shot clock would be reset when the ball touched the basket’s rim or the backboard, or the opponents gained possession. FIBA adopted a 30-second shot clock two years later, resetting the clock when a shot was attempted. Women’s basketball adopted a 30-second clock in 1971.

The NCAA adopted a 45-second shot clock for men while continuing with the 30-second clock for women in 1985. The men’s shot clock was then reduced to 35 seconds in 1993. FIBA reduced the shot clock to 24 seconds in 2000, and changed the clock’s resetting to when the ball touched the rim of the basket. Originally, a missed shot where the shot clock expired while the ball is in the air constituted a violation. In 2003 the rule was changed so that the ball remains live in this situation, as long as it touched the rim. If the ball touches the rim and slightly bounces over the basketball hoop it will be called as a loose ball. ”

How Foul Throws, Free Throws Violations Are Handled

Dribbling was not part of the original game and was only introduced in 1901. In those days, a player could only dribble the ball once and could not shoot after he dribbled. The “continuous passage of the ball” became the definition of dribbling in 1909, allowing more than one bounce and a player was allowed to shoot after he had dribbled.


  • In NCAA and NFHS play:
    • If the player’s team has 6 or fewer team fouls in the half, the team fouled gets possession of the ball.
    • If the team has 7 to 9 team fouls, the player fouled goes to the line for what is called “one-and-one” or the “bonus”—that is, if the player makes the first free throw, he gets the opportunity to attempt a second, but if he misses, the ball is live.
    • If the team has 10 or more fouls in the half, the player fouled gets two free throws, often called the “double bonus”.
    • All overtime periods are considered an extension of the second half for purposes of accumulated fouls. Also, NFHS rules accumulate fouls per half, even though games are played in quarters.
  • In the NBA:
    • If the player’s team has 4 or fewer team fouls in the quarter, the team fouled gets possession of the ball.
    • Starting with the team’s fifth foul in the quarter, the player fouled gets two free throws.
    • Overtime is not considered an extension of any quarter. Instead, the “penalty” of two free throws is triggered on the team’s fourth foul in that overtime period (instead of the fifth).
    • Foul limits are reset in the last two minutes of a quarter or overtime period. If a team has not reached its limit of accumulated fouls, the first team foul in the last two minutes results in possession by the team fouled, and all subsequent fouls result in two free throws.
  • In FIBA play:
    • If the player’s team has 4 or fewer team fouls in the quarter, the team fouled gets possession of the ball.
    • Starting with the team’s fifth foul in the quarter, the player fouled gets two free throws.
    • During an interval of play, all team members entitled to play are considered as players.
    • The ball become dead when an official blows his whistle while the ball is live
    • All overtime periods are considered an extension of the fourth quarter for purposes of accumulated fouls.

However, the player must attempt to shoot the ball within 10 seconds of receiving the ball from the referee when attempting a free throw. If the 10 second limit is exceeded, then a free throw violation is called.

A free throw violation also occurs if a free throw misses the backboard, rim, and basket. If a free throw violation is assessed in the last free throw awarded to a player in a given situation, possession automatically reverts to the opposing team.

A charge is any physical contact between an offensive player and a defensive player. In order to draw an offensive charge the defensive player must establish legal guarding positioning in the path of the offensive player. If contact is made, the officials would issue an offensive charge. No points will be allowed and the ball is turned over. The defensive player may not draw an offensive charge in the “restricted zone”.

Blocking is physical contact between the offensive player and the defensive player. Blocking fouls are issued when a defensive player interferes with the path of the offensive player in the shooting motion. Blocking fouls are easily called when the defensive player is standing in the “restricted zone”.

Restricted zone definition: In 1997, the NBA introduced an arc of a 4-foot (1.22 m) radius around the basket, in which an offensive foul for charging could not be assessed. This was to prevent defensive players from attempting to draw an offensive foul on their opponents by standing underneath the basket. FIBA adopted this arc with a 1.25 m (4 ft 1.2 in) radius in 2010.

Basketball Equipment

The goal is usually placed 10 feet (3.05m) above the court. Originally a basket was used (thus the name “basket-ball”), so the ball had to be retrieved after each made shot. Today a hoop with an open-bottom hanging net is used instead.

Basketball Officiating And Procedures

As quoted  here

” Originally, there was one umpire to judge fouls and one referee to judge the ball; the tradition of calling one official the “referee” and the other one or two the “umpires” has remained (the NBA, however, uses different terminology, referring to the lead official as “crew chief” and the others as “referees”). Today, both classes of officials have equal rights to control all aspects of the game.

The NBA added a third official in 1988, and FIBA did so afterward, using it for the first time in international competition in 2006. The use of video evidence to inform referee’s decisions has always been banned, except in the case of determining whether or not the last shot of a period was attempted before time expired. This exception was introduced by the NBA in 2002 and adopted by FIBA in 2006.

The NCAA, however, has permitted instant replay for timing, the value of a field goal (two or three points), shot clock violations, and for purposes of disqualifying players because of unsportsmanlike conduct. The NBA changed its rules starting in 2007 to allow officials the ability to view instant replay with plays involving flagrant fouls, similar to the NCAA. In Italy’s Lega A, an American football-style coach’s challenge is permitted to challenge (at the next dead ball) an official’s call on any situation similar to the NCAA.

The center jump ball that was used to restart a game after every successful field goal was eliminated in 1938, in favor of the ball being given to the non-scoring team from behind the end line where the goal was scored, in order to make play more continuous. The jump ball was still used to start the game and every period, and to restart the game after a held ball. However, the NBA stopped using the jump ball to start the second through fourth quarters in 1975, instead using a quarter-possession system where the loser of the jump ball takes the ball from the other end to start the second and third periods, while the winner of that jump ball takes the ball to start the fourth period from the other end of the court.

In 1981, the NCAA adopted the alternating possession system for all jump ball situations except the beginning of the game, and in 2003, FIBA adopted a similar rule, except for the start of the third period and overtime. In 2004, the rule was changed in FIBA that the arrow applies for all situations after the opening tap.

In 1976, the NBA introduced a rule to allow teams to advance the ball to the center line following any legal time-out in the final two minutes of the game. FIBA followed suit in 2006.”

Basketball Rules International

The most recent International basketball rules were approved April 26, 2008 by FIBA and became effective October 1 of that same year.

There are8 rules encompassing 50 articles, covering equipment and facilities, regulations regarding teams, players, captains and coaches, playing regulations, violations, fouls and their penalties, special situations, and the officials and table officials. The rules also cover officials’ signals, the scoresheet, protest procedure, classification of teams and television timeouts.

Basketball has indeed become a complicated officiating game from the humble beginnings.

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