The Rules of Basketball

The rules of basketball cover basics, including equipment, court regulations, player responsibilities, game rules, violations and penalties and referee duties.

Originally, 13 rules governed the game. These rules defined the primary policies concerning game length, scoring, official duties, fouls, and passing. A lot has changed since James Naismith invented the game in 1891! Now, each governing body, ranging from the NCAA to the NBA to the International Basketball Federation, determines the rules for its specific teams.

Court Size
Depending on which governing body you play for, court dimensions vary in both length and width. But within those limits, the markings for the foul line, key, and three-point arc are the same.

For NBA and college teams, the court measures 94 feet long by 50 feet wide. High school players dribble on a court that is 84 feet long by 50 feet wide. Most junior high teams adjust to smaller court: 74 feet long by 42 feet wide floor.
The charity stripe, or free-throw line, covers 15 feet from the foul line to the front of the backboard. The lane, also known as the key, measures 12 feet wide. If you play on a regulation court, the backboard extends four feet over the baseline (end line or inbounds line) into the key. From the foul line, a six foot arc extends and forms the remainder of the key.

The three-point arc varies. High school and college teams shoot three pointers from an arc that is 19 feet 9 inches from the center of the rim. Along the baseline, three-point range measures 63 inches from the basket.  In the NBA, the three-point arc is 22 feet to the center of the rim, with a straight shot of 16 feet 9 inches from the baseline. The line extends out 23 feet 9 inches from the center of the rim from this angle.

From the floor to the top of the rim, regulation distance is 10 feet for all governing bodies. Backboards measure six feet wide by 42 inches tall. That small square in the middle of the board calculates to 24 inches wide by 18 inches tall. Finally, the diameter of basketball hoops measures 18 inches.

Basketball Basics
In the beginning, the number of players on the court was not specified, but in 1900, a five-player team became the norm.

A player is allowed five fouls before being forced from the game.

A regulation game lasts 40 minutes. Pro games run 48 minutes.

Games begin with a jump ball at center court. This establishes possession and sets the game into motion.

Shoot and Score
Point values are as easy as one, two, three. A free throw, or foul shot, counts as one point. A goal, a shot from anywhere inside the three-point arc attempted during regulation play, counts as two points. Make a shot from beyond the three-point line, and your team will receive three points.

Time Limits
Teams have ten seconds to move the ball from the baseline past the center line. When a team is on offense, if a player remains in the key for longer than three seconds, a three-second or -lane' violation is assessed.
Shot clocks get a workout in NBA and college contests. This increases the speed of the game. Pro players use a 24-second clock. Men's and women's college teams both use a shot clock; men must shoot within 35 seconds; women, 30. Only a handful of states use a shot clock for high school basketball. These vary from half a minute to 35 seconds.

The rules of the game needn't be confusing. Shooting and scoring, while limiting fouls, is the basis for the game. See also Popular Basketball Cheers.

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