Basketball: A Look At The Sport That Changed The World

Basketball is one of the world’s most beloved and recognizable sports. The game is so common that in countries across the world, fully-built basketball courts in cities and makeshift half courts in small towns are fairly ubiquitous. According to FIBA (Federation of International Basketball Associations), there are about 450 million people who play basketball, either as a competitive sport or as a form of recreation.

What is Basketball?

Basketball is a game played by two opposing teams with the goal of getting a ball through a hoop designated as the opponent’s net. The hoops are located at both ends of the court. Scores are earned each time a player shoots the ball through the hoop. It is a very energetic game, requiring players to run, move, pass, dribble, shoot, and communicate on the court to keep their team ahead of the opposing team.

History of Basketball

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education instructor from Canada. Naismith was a physician and sports coach who wanted a game that could be played by students indoors during winter. He also wanted to eliminate the rough physicality that was associated with American football. He designed a game wherein two teams of players compete for scores while playing with a ball. He also wanted a game that did not require too much physical contact.

Naismith wrote the first basic rules of the game and created basketball by nailing a peach basket 10 feet high to a vertical track. Initially, the basket had a bottom so someone had to reach up into the basket to retrieve the ball (usually a janitor). The bottom was later removed, allowing a faster and more efficient transition after a successful basket.

The game was, unsurprisingly, named “basket ball” and the inaugural game was played in December 1891. The students for whom the game was designed were less than enthusiastic about the new sport but they played nevertheless. Unlike modern basketball that allowed dribbling, Naismith’s basketball involved passing the ball between players to reach the basket. Dribbling, which is an important part of the modern game of basketball, was a challenge then. Part of the problem was the ball itself. The first basketball was an association soccer ball that had laces to close the leather skin around the inflated ball within. The laces affected the way the ball bounced, which made dribbling the ball and bouncing difficult to predict. As such, players merely passed the ball to their teammates by throwing it.

The first game of basket ball did not go well. Although Naismith wanted his game to avoid physical roughness, the players did indeed begin to tackle, punch, and kick one another during the game, and one player even ended up unconscious. This prompted Naismith to change the rules to make the game fair and to prevent player injuries. The game improved considerably thereafter.

It took only a year for basketball to become popular on campus. At one point, some people even wanted to call the “New Game” the “Naismith Ball”, although Naismith declined. In 1893, YMCA introduced the game internationally and it spread even further through the U.S. Army. The game established itself quickly, particularly in schools and universities where it became a part of the sports curriculum. It evolved to become even more exciting when the design and material of the ball were improved to allow players to dribble the ball beginning in 1896. Metal hoops featuring backboards were later added in 1906.

It was only a matter of time before basketball was played professionally. In 1898, the National Basketball League was founded. It had six teams as members. However, the league imploded in 1904 and was replaced by smaller championship organizations. In 1946, the NBA (National Basketball Association) was established in the U.S. It became the most important basketball league in the U.S. and around the world that now has 30 teams in its franchise.

How Basketball is Played

The first game of basketball involved nine players for each team. The modern game consists of two teams of five players each, with a maximum of seven players allowed on the bench in international games. In the NBA, a team may keep a roster of up to 13 players. The game is played on a rectangular court with two netted hoops on each end. The goal of the game is for players to shoot the ball through the opposing team’s hoop to score and to prevent the opposing team from shooting the ball into the first team’s hoop.

Basketball requires a number of skills to play effectively. Players must run, dribble and pass the ball, jump, and shoot. They must also be able to strategize both as an individual player and as a team, and work in both offensive and defensive game positions. A basketball game usually lasts for four quarters, with each quarter lasting 12 minutes of continuous play in the NBA and 10 minutes in the FIBA. Men’s games in collegiate levels last 20 minutes in two halves, while women’s games have 10-minute quarters. The length of time of each quarter may also vary depending on the state where the game is being played.

The clock continues to run when the ball is at play. It only stops when:

– the referee calls a foul
– the ball goes out of bounds
– a timeout is called
– a player is going to make a free throw

The clock starts again when the ball is inbound and is touched by a player. A shot clock is also imposed to limit the time that a team is in possession of the ball. This helps prevent teams from keeping the ball to themselves and stalling the game. The shot clock restarts when the ball hits the rim of the basket or if it changes hands. The shot clock varies in length, from 24 seconds (NBA) to 30 seconds (NCAA Women’s) to 35 seconds (NCAA Men’s).


Timeouts allow teams to rest and strategize their gameplay. In professional basketball, a team may call for 6 full timeouts. One 20-second timeout may be made for each half. In NCAA basketball, if the game is not aired on TV, teams may call two 30-second timeouts and four 75-second timeouts. If the game is being aired, teams may call one 1-minute timeout and four 30-second timeouts to allow the TV station to show ads.


Substitutions are allowed in basketball, wherein a player currently on the court may be replaced by a player on the bench. A team may substitute as many players as necessary during a game, although this is often a strategic move on the part of the team. Very often, substitutions are made when a player is injured, exhausted, or fouled out. A substitution must be legal or recognized by the officials of the game. Otherwise, a penalty may be imposed. Substitutions may only be made when the clock is stopped, such as when a basket is made, or if the ball is dead. Only players who belong to the team and are considered active may replace another player.

Game Officials

Game officials are necessary for basketball to oversee the game and ensure that it is fair and runs efficiently. No professional game of basketball may begin without the presence of these officials. These include the referee, umpire, timekeeper, shot clock operator, scorekeeper, and assistant scorekeeper. These individuals are independent of the teams and have no association with any team in the league or organization.


Players may earn points for their teams depending on the type of shooting they make. A ball that is shot from or away from the 3-point line is equivalent to 3 points, while every successful shot within the 3-point line or near the basket is worth 2 points. If a player is fouled by a player of the opposing team while attempting to shoot, he/she may earn a free throw. A free throw is equivalent to 1 point.

Players and Player Positions

In basketball, players hold key positions to keep the team at its most efficient. These positions are:

  • Center – Participates in the tipoff, plays closest to the basket, blocks shots and rebounds; usually the tallest team member.
  • Power Forward – Receives rebounds coming from under the basket and guard players from the opposing team when close to the basket; usually the players who are versatile and capable of shooting midrange and beyond when necessary; often the next tallest players in the team.
  • Small Forward – The most versatile player among the members of the team. They perform a number of tasks from rebounding, to shooting, to assisting. Usually taller than the shooting guard and the point guard.
  • Point Guard – The player with the best court vision and ball-handling skills, responsible for directing offensive plays; usually the player with excellent long-distance shooting skills.
  • Shooting Guard – The player with the best outside shooting skills; must be able to dribble fast and pass efficiently; must have good court vision and set up offensive plays; often the shortest player in the team.

There are other positions that players may take on depending on their skills and capabilities. These positions include the point forward, swingman, cornerman or stretch four, and the forward-center.

Variations in Gameplay

Basketball is actually a very flexible game in that it can be modified to accommodate certain physical needs of the players or limitations of the environment. A pick-up hoops game, for example, may only be played on a half-court by three players for each team. There are no foul shots and players must bring the ball out beyond the three-point line or free-throw line before they can attempt to score after a turnover. This game may also be played by two or four players.

Another common variation is 21. There is an odd number of players on each team and the goal is to reach exactly 21 points. Each shot is worth 2 points and the player who sinks the ball will be given the opportunity to make a series of free throws to score 3 points. The first team to make exactly 21 points wins the game.

Basketball may also be played by players on wheelchairs, particularly those who have special physical needs. The same basic rules apply, with some alterations. An estimated 100,000 individuals participate in wheelchair basketball. It is a major sport in the Paralympic Games, with participants from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and the Netherlands.