The rules of basketball are the rules and regulations that govern the play, officiating, equipment and procedures of basketball. The international rules are governed by the Technical Commission of the International Basketball Federation. Most leagues, including the National Basketball Association, govern their own rules.
13 original rules
When James Naismith invented “Basket Ball” in December 1891, the ruleset consisted of exactly 13 rules:
- If the player is knocked out of bounds by the other team player it is called force out.
- The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.
- 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 running at good speed.
- The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
- 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.
- A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 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(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.
- When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field 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 them.
- 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.
- 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 referee.
- The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
- The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.
Under this early version of “Basket Ball”, dribbling and most physical contact is outlawed, and only rudimentary anti-fouling rules exist.
Players, substitutes and teams and teammates
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 quarters, 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
The first time restriction was introduced in 1933, where teams were required to advance the ball over the center 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 (referred to as the lane or the key) for longer than three seconds, was introduced in 1936. 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. 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 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. 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
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 1944, 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. One free throw shot is awarded to a player who was fouled while making a successful field goal attempt. If the field goal attempt is unsuccessful, or if the player was not fouled in the act of shooting, two free throw shots are awarded (three if the player was attempting a three-point field goal).
Charge is 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” (see below for more details).
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: 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 will adopt this arc with a 1.25 m (4 ft 1.2 in) radius starting in 2010.
Scoring and court markings
Originally only the number of goals was counted, and when free throws were introduced they were considered one goal each. In 1896 this changed to two points for a field goal and one point for a free throw. 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 NCAA adopted the three-point line at 19-feet, 9 inches in 1986. For the 2008-09 season, the distance has been expanded to 20-feet, 9-inches in men’s games but remains at 19 ft. 9 in. for women’s contests.
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) wide at the baseline. In 1961, the NBA increased this width to 16 feet (4.9 m). Both these lanes have since remained.
On April 26, 2008, FIBA announced what it called “historic changes” to its ruleset which will result in its court markings being much more similar to those of the NBA. These changes will take effect for FIBA’s major competitions (Olympic basketball, world championships at senior, under-19, and under-17 levels, and zone/continental championships) on October 1, 2010, after the 2010 World Championships for men and women, and for other competitions on October 1, 2012. The list of changes is:
- FIBA will adopt the rectangular restricted area, with the same dimensions as the NBA.
- The three-point line will move to 6.75 m (22 ft 1.7 in) from the center of the basket.
- FIBA will adopt the “no-charge semicircle” currently used in the NBA. An offensive player cannot be called for charging if the defensive player is within this semicircle near the defender’s basket. The NBA’s semicircle is 4 feet (1.22 m), while the FIBA semicircle will be 1.25 m (4 ft 1.2 in), both measured from the center of the basket.
In High School basketball, a five second count must start if a defender is less than 6 feet from from the player. The count resets if the player puts the ball on the floor or if the defender is greater than 6 feet away.
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.
International rules of basketball
The most recent international rules of basketball were approved on 26 April 2008 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.