How Basketball changed since it’s Inception | Basketball Original Rules


basketball rules

When James Naismith invented basketball, he devised thirteen rules:

The object of the game is to put the ball into your opponent’s goal. This may be done by throwing the ball from any part of the grounds, with one or two hands, under the following conditions and rules :

  • The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
  • The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
  • A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowances to be made for a man who catches the ball when running if he tries to stop.
  • The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  • No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall come as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.
  • A foul is striking the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3, 4, and such as described in Rule 5.
  • If either side makes three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
  • A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, 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.
  • When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person touching it. He has a right to hold it unmolested for five seconds. In case of a 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.
  • 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 men according to Rule 5.
  • 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 goals, with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.
  • The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
  • The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In the case of a draw the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

Basket, Backboard and Ball

Basket, Backboard and Ball

The original basket was a peach basket nailed to the wall of a gymnasium. This type of basket and its position, however, eventually proved impractical. In 1897, a board (later known as the backboard) was placed behind the basket to allow the ball to bounce off it during shots. The bottom of the basket was cut open to allow the ball to fall through in 1914, thereby eliminating the need to poke the ball out every time a goal was scored.

In 1921, the basket and backboard were moved two feet (60 cm) from the wall to stop players climbing the wall to score baskets. The basket and backboard were moved inwards a further two feet in 1940 to allow more movement underneath the basket without players going out of bounds.

The ball was originally 32 inches (81 cm) in diameter; this was reduced to 31 inches (79 cm) in 1931. A further reduction took place in 1935 to the current diameter of between 29½ and 30¼ inches (74.9 and 76.8 cm).

Players, Substitutes and Teams


Naismith’s original rules did not specify how many players were to be on the court. In 1900, five players became standard, and players that were substituted were not allowed to re-enter the game. Players were allowed to re-enter a game once from 1921, and twice from 1934; such restrictions on substitutions were abolished in 1945 when substitutions became unlimited. Coaching was originally prohibited during the game, but from 1949, coaches were allowed to address players during a time-out.

While originally a player was disqualified on his second foul, this limit became four fouls in 1911 and five fouls in 1945. This is the current limit in most forms of basketball, where the regulation part of the game (before any overtime periods) is 40 minutes. In games of four 12-minute periods, such as the National Basketball Association in the United States or the National Basketball League in Australia, a regulation game is 48 minutes; accordingly, a player is disqualified there on his sixth foul.

Shot Clock and Time Limits

International rules of Basketball

The first time restriction was introduced in 1933, where teams were required to advance the ball over the centre line within ten seconds of gaining possession. This rule remained until 2000, when FIBA reduced the requirement to eight seconds. NBA followed suit the following year.

The three-second rule, which prohibits offensive players from remaining in their opponents’ restricted area for longer than three seconds, was introduced in 1936. A game central to this rule’s introduction was that between the Universities of Kentucky and New York. 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. The rule was adopted to reduce roughness in the area between big men; it is now considered to prevent tall players from gaining an advantage by waiting close to the basket. When the NBA started to allow zone defense in 2001, they also introduced the three-second rule for defensive players.

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 twenty-four 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 thirty-second shot clock two years later, resetting the clock when a shot was attempted. Women’s basketball adopted a thirty-second clock in 1971. The NCAA adopted a forty-five-second shot clock for men and a thirty-second clock for women in 1985. FIBA reduced the shot clock to twenty-four seconds in 2000, and changed the clock’s resetting to when the ball touched the rim of the basket. A missed shot where the shot clock expires while the ball is in the air constituted a violation. In 2003, this became legal, as long as the ball touched the rim.

Fouls, Free Throws and Violations

basketball fouls

Dribbling was not part of the original game, but was introduced in 1901. At the time, a player could only bounce the ball once, and could not shoot after he had dribbled. The definition of dribbling became the ‘continuous passage of the ball’ in 1909, allowing more than one bounce, and a player who had dribbled was then allowed to shoot.

Running with the ball ceased to be considered a foul in 1922, and became a violation, meaning that the only penalty was loss of possession. Striking the ball with the fist has also become a violation. From 1931, if a closely guarded player withheld the ball from play for five seconds, play was stopped and resumed with a jump ball; such a situation has since become a violation by the ball-carrier. Goaltending became a violation in 1945, and offensive goaltending in 1958.

Free throws were introduced shortly after basketball was invented. In 1895, the free throw line was officially placed fifteen feet (4.6 m) from the basket, prior to which most gymnasiums placed one twenty feet (6.1 m) from the basket. From 1924, players that received a foul were required to shoot their own free throws.

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.

Scoring and Court Markings

Scoring and Court Markings

While originally, only the number of goals was counted, and when free throws were introduced, they were considered a goal each, these were changed to two points for a field goal and one point for a free throw in 1896. The American Basketball Association introduced a three-point field goal, which was one scored from beyond the three-point field goal arc, when it began in 1967. FIBA introduced its three-point line 6.25 meters (20 ft 6 in) from the center of the basket in 1984.

The restricted area, also known as the free throw lane, had its width increased from 6 feet to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.7 m) in 1951. In 1956, FIBA adopted a trapezoidal lane, 3.6 metres (11 ft 10 in) wide at the free throw line and 6 metres (19 ft 8 in) In 1961, the NBA increased this width to 16 feet (4.9 m). Both these lanes have since remained.

Officiating and Procedure

basketball in 1988

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, though now they both control all aspects of the game in equal rights. NBA introduced a third official in 1988, and FIBA did so afterwards, 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 game 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. In Italy’s LEGA A, an American football-style coach’s challenge is permitted to challenge (at the next dead ball) to challenge an official’s call on any situation similar to the NCAA.

The centre jump ball that was used to restart a game after every successful field goal was eliminated in 1938, in favour 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 over time. 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 2005.

International Rules of Basketball

Shot Clock and Time Limits

The most recent International rules of basketball were approved on 31 March 2006 by FIBA and became effective as of 1 October that year.

There are eight rules encompassing fifty 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 time-outs.

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