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Starting play Fouls and penalties
Moving on court Officials
Scoring Equipment
Timing Glossary
Playing positions

The basketball court

The basketball court


History of the game

Objective: Basketball is played by two teams of five players on a court. Each team has to try and get the ball into each others baskets to score points. The team which has scored the most points at the end of the game wins.

One of the reasons why basketball has become so popular is because the game can be varied. Although the usual format of the game is for two teams of five, there are variations such as 3 on 3, 2 on 2, and 1 on 1.

Basketball can also be played outdoors or indoors, but at senior and international level, it is always played indoors. For professional NBA games, there are four 12-minutes quarters. For other basketball games, including college games (NCAA), there are two 20 minute halves.


How does play begin?

The visiting team has the choice of basket to aim for in the first half. Teams change ends at the interval or the middle interval in four-quarter games. If the game is played at a neutral venue then a coin is tossed to determine which team chooses the basket.

The game is started with a jump-ball in the centre circle. The referee will throw the ball into the air, between two players on opposite teams. The players stand in each half of the centre circle, on the side nearest to their own basket.

The ball must not be touched until it has reached its highest point in the air, then the two players may jump up and try and get the ball back to their own team.

All players not involved in the jump-ball must be away from the centre circle. Players involved in the jump-ball may only touch the ball twice. After that, they cannot touch it until it has been touched by or has touched, any of the other players not involved in the jump, the floor, or one of the rings, or backboards behind the rings.

Moving around

When a player has the ball, they bounce the ball between the ground and one hand, while moving around the court. A player can also pass the ball to another player. The object is to move the ball along the court and get it through the opposing team's basket. See Scoring for details.

The act of bouncing the ball as described above is called dribbling. Only the hands may be used. Touching the ball with the leg or foot, unless done by accident, is a violation.

The ball must always be dribbled if the player who has it is moving. Carrying it is not allowed, as is using a fist to play the ball. The dribble ends if a player touches the ball with both hands at the same time, or holds the ball with one or both hands. That player may not dribble again until they have either taken a shot, or another player has got the ball.

When a players gets possession of the ball, either from another player, or because the ball has rebounded after an attempt at basket, the following rules apply:

If the player was standing still upon receiving the ball, they can dribble, pass, or shoot. If the player chooses to pass or shoot, they cannot move with the ball. A pivot is allowed, however. This means that one foot can be moved, but the other must stay on the ground, and allows the player to slightly change angle for a pass or shot.

If the player is moving when they receive the ball, that player can move no more than two steps before they have to play the ball.

A player must come to a correct stop after collecting the ball on the move, or when finishing a dribble, and the two-count rhythm is used to make sure of this. Otherwise it is known as travelling, and it counts as a technical foul.

The first count is when the player gets the ball with one or both feet on the floor, or as both feet touch the floor, if the player jumped to get the ball.
The second count is when one or both feet touch the floor again after the first count. If a player stops after the first count, the second count does not apply.

The player is allowed to pivot after stopping, after one or two counts. They must use the back foot, unless both feet are level. Then they can use either foot.

What points can be scored, and how?

There are three different methods of scoring in basketball, and they are all worth different amounts of points. But they all involve putting the ball fairly through the opponents' basket.

Field goal - this is scored when a player throws the ball from the court in the course of normal play (open play), and gets the ball through the basket. It is worth two points from inside the curved line (the three-point line), three points from outside.

Free throw - called against a team who have committed a foul. It is taken from behind the free-throw line. If a personal foul has taken place, the player fouled would take the throw. If a technical foul is awarded, any player on the non-offending team can take the throw. No other players are allowed in the area until the ball has left the thrower's hands. A free throw is worth one point. For reasons why a free throw could be given, see below.

The free throw line, and the three-point line

A - free throw line
B - three point line

After a field goal, play is restarted by a member of the non-scoring team, who will pass the ball back onto the court from off the court, at the end where the goal was scored from. So if the goal was scored from the right, the player would stand in the right-hand corner to throw the ball in. This is also how play is restarted after a successful free throw. The referee will decide if it is unclear which side of the court the ball should be returned to play from.

If the ball goes off the sidelines at the sides of the court, it is thrown back in by a player from the team who did not touch the ball last before it went out.

All about timing

If the game has to have a winning side, overtime periods are used for games which end normal time in a draw. There are extra periods of five minutes until a winner is found. There can be as many extra periods as necessary.

The game clock is stopped between periods of play, during time-outs, when the ball goes out of play, and when free throws are taken.

The game clock starts when a player has touched the ball at the beginning jump-ball at the start of the game. If the referee blows the whistle for any of the following, the clock also stops:

- Delay in restarting play after a dead ball

- Field goal is scored against a team after that teams coach has asked for a time-out

- Foul

- Held ball (when two players on opposing teams both hold the ball)

- Stop in play because of injury

- Stop in play as ordered by an official

- Thirty-second signal is sounded

- Violation

There are further rules relating to timing and playing. To keep the game flowing smoothly, there are rules on how quickly certain action must take place.

Three-second rule - a player is not allowed to stay in the opponents area of court between the end line and the free throw line while that player's own team has the ball.

Five-second rule - a player who has the ball must play it within five seconds or a violation will be called against that player. Also, a player who is out-of-bounds must release the ball into play within five seconds, or possession will go to the defensive team.

Ten-second rule - when a team gains possession in their own half of the court (back court), the ball must be progressed to the opposing teams half of the court (front court) within ten seconds, otherwise a violation is called. A team also cannot move the ball backwards into their own backcourt after being in possession in the front court.

Thirty-second rule - A team which has possession of the ball must shoot for the basket within thirty seconds, otherwise it is a violation.

Time-outs - a team coach can call up to two charged time-outs in a half. The time-out cannot begin until the ball becomes dead (out of play). The coach would ask the scorer who passes the message on to the other officials. As and when the ball becomes dead the charged time-out lasting one minute begins. The coach can use this to discuss strategy, re-motivate players, and so on. If there is extra time, there can be one time-out per period of extra time.

Dead ball
When the ball is dead, the clock is stopped, and if relevant, time-outs can take place. The ball is dead when:

- The official enters the circle to set up the jump-ball
- The official enters the free throw area to set up the free throw
- A player taking a throw-in is in an out-of-bounds (off court) position, and has possession of the ball
- Play is stopped for any other reason

The ball becomes alive and active when:

- A player involved in the jump-ball touches the ball
- The official gives the ball to a player who is to take the free throw
- From a throw-in, the ball touches a player who is in play

Playing positions

As with many other team sports, there are set formations, although in basketball, any player can be involved in legal play in any position. There are three categories of player, guards, forwards, and centres. Of course, any player can score. The two most common formations are explained here.

1-2-2 formation

1-2-2 formation

A - point guard
B / C - forwards
C / D - centres

2-1-2 formation

2-1-2 formation

A / B - point guards
C - centre
D / E - forwards

What do the players do?

Guards - generally the quicker players in a team, they usually play further away from the basket, and start the attacking moves. They must also be good at long-range shots, and be able to pass accurately.

Forwards - usually positioned by the side of the key (area which covers the free throw circle to the basket) and are good at passing and collecting rebounds.

Centres - often the tallest members of the team, they must be good jumpers as they are usually positioned closest to the basket, and should also be good close range shooters, rebounders and passers, as they are likely to be involved in action around the basket.

Fouls, violations, and misconduct

Physical contact between players in basketball is against the rules. But it is likely to happen, as basketball is a fast game. A foul is given for personal contact. A violation is for a breach of the rules not involving personal contact, and is penalized by the non-offending team having possession of the ball on the side-line nearest to where the offence took place. There are two types of foul:

Personal foul
Called against a player who makes contact with another player at any time, whether the ball is alive or dead. This can be tripping, blocking, holding, pushing, charging, or stopping the progress of an opponent by extending the arm, hip, shoulder, knee, leg or so on. If the hands are used on an opponent at any time, other than touching hands while getting or trying to get the ball, this also counts as a foul. A free throw will be given to the non-offending team.

Technical foul
Fouls that do not involve contact with another player, like preventing a throw-in being taken, arguing with officials, or unsporting behaviour. Two free throws will be given to the non-offending team.

If a player has five fouls (of either type) called against them in one game, that player must leave the game. After seven player fouls (of either type) against a team in one half, the one-and-one rule applies. This means that when a player of that team commits a foul after the one-and-one rule has been implemented, the player / team fouled may take two free throws, but the first has to be scored to take the second.

- If a basket is scored either during or just after a violation has been committed, it does not count.
- Olympic basketball allows two free throws regardless of whether the first was scored or not.

A team may have one or more players removed from play due to fouls and violations. Each team is allowed up to five substitute players. If a team want to bring on a substitute in normal play, they must notify the scorer, and wait for the ball to go dead.

If a team want to bring on a substitute after they have committed a violation, they cannot do so, unless the non-offending team do aswell. If they do not, the offending team would have to wait for the next dead ball situation when no violation had taken place, or if it had, that they were not at fault.


A game of basketball is presided over by a referee and an umpire, along with a timekeeper, a scorer, and a thirty-second operator.

The referee and umpire control the game and take up positions on opposite sides of the court. Before each jump-ball and after each foul they swap sides. The referee has the final say on disciplinary matters.

The scorer keeps a record of points scored, all fouls called against each player, time-outs charged to each team, notes the starting line-ups, and keeps a record of all substitutions.

The timekeeper keeps a record of playing time and stoppages in play, and times the time-outs, and indicates when each half or overtime ends.

The thirty-second operator starts the thirty-second clock every time a team takes possession of the ball.


The ball
The ball is round, and the outer casing/coating should be rubber, leather or some other suitable synthetic material. Its circumference is between 74.9 and 78 centimetres (29 and a half and 30 and a quarter inches). It weighs between 567m and 650 grammes (20 and 22 ounces). It is inflated to a pressure so that when it is dropped from a height of 1.8 metres (6 feet) onto the court, it should bounce up to a height between 1.2 and 1.4 metres (4 feet and 4 feet 7 inches).

The court
The court (if played indoors) should measure 28 metres (92 feet) long, and 15 metres (46 feet) wide. There is flexibility allowed, up to 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches) and 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) variance on height and width respectively is acceptable, as long as it remains proportional. The basket should be 2.9 metres (9 feet 6 inches) above the floor, and any seating or tables, and so on, must be at least 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches) away from the court side-lines and end-lines.

The basket and backboard
The ring which holds the net or basket should be 3.05 metres (10 feet) above the floor. The net is made of cord and is 40 centimetres (15 inches) long, and has to be wide enough to let the ball fall through (the ring has a diameter of 45 centimetres/1 foot 6 inches). The ring is made of solid iron, and is painted orange.

The backboard is the board behind the net which provides for rebounds when the ball has missed the basket. It measures 1.8 metres by 1.05 metres (6 feet by 3 feet 5 inches). It is usually made of hard wood, 3 centimetres (just over one inch) thick, or of a similar transparent material. The front must be flat and white (unless transparent). A rectangle is painted on the board, measuring 59 centimetres by 45 centimetres (2 feet by 1 foot 6 inches).

The bottom line of the rectangle should be level with the top of the net. The lines of the rectangle should be 5 centimetres (2 inches) wide, and there should also be a border around the edge of the board the same width.

The backboard is positioned above the court with its lower edge 2.9 metres (9 feet 6 inches) above the floor. It is centrally placed between the two sidelines, and the supports should be at least 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) outside the end-line, and painted in a contrasting colour so that players can see the backboard clearly. It will also be covered in padding for safety.


Alley-oop - When a player lobs a pass above the basket and a teammate catches it in midair and puts it in the basket on the way down.

Assist - a pass which gives the receiver an easy, close score

Back court violation - when a team in possession takes or passes the ball back into the half of court containing their own basket

Basket - not just the literal name, to 'score a basket' is to score point(s)

Disqualifying foul - serious foul which puts player out permanently

Double dribble - stopping after dribbling, then starting dribbling again, or using both hands together

Double foul - when two players from opposing sides commit fouls against each other. Play is restarted with a jump-ball

Dunk - also known as stuff or slam dunk, when a player jumps up and puts the ball through the basket

Fast break - a quick move out of defence with possession to take the defensive team by surprise

Full-court set - when defenders start guarding the offense in the backcourt

Give-and-go - when the player who passes the ball goes straight to the basket

Half-court press - when a team develops a play in the frontcourt

Held ball - when two players on opposing teams firmly hold the ball at the same time

Inbounds - the area of court not out of bounds (within the lines). An inbound ball is a ball thrown in by the team with possession

Intentional foul - a personal foul which the official feels was deliberate. Two free throws are awarded, as well as a personal foul against the offender

Lay up - to bounce the ball off the backboard so that it goes through the net

Man-to-man defence - a defensive player marks a specific attacking player

Outlet pass - first pass of a defensive team after a rebound

Out-of-bounds - a player or the ball if they / it touch the floor outside the side or end lines

Rebound - when a player grabs a ball that is coming off the rim or backboard after a shot attempt. Also offensive rebound and defensive rebound depending which team gets the ball

Strong side - the side of court which the attacking team has possession in

Three-point play - when a player is fouled while scoring a two-point basket, then scores another from the free-throw (this becomes a four-point play if a three-point score is made prior to a free throw)

Weak side - the side of court opposite where the attacking team has possession

Zone defence - also known as zonal defence, marking players as they go into specific areas

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