1. Basketball
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  3. Original Rules

13 Original Basketball Rules

Basketball today is a game full of high-flying action played by athletes with supernatural abilities at every position. It hasn't always been that way, though. In fact, when Dr. James Naismith invented the game in December 1891, he envisioned it being much different than the game we know today.

When the game was created in Springfield, Massachusetts, its sole purpose was to train young athletes during the cold months when they could not be outside. Initially, the game was played with a ball similar to a soccer ball and two peach baskets were nailed to the lower railing of the gym balcony to serve as makeshift hoops. Naismith then came up with 13 official rules to ensure that the game was run smoothly.

Basketball has evolved into a game likely unrecognizable by Dr. James Naismith since its creation over 100 years ago. Although the game is vastly more competitive today, we cannot go without giving credit to the one who started it all. Naismith laid the framework for a game that now has a large global reach.

Table of Contents


List of Original Basketball Rules

  1. Throwing The Ball
  2. Hitting the ball
  3. Running With The Ball
  4. Use of Hands
  5. Personal Fouls
  6. Fist on Ball
  7. Three fouls rule
  8. Scoring Rule
  9. Throw-Ins
  10. Foul Limits
  11. Out of Bounds Rule
  12. Game Length
  13. Sudden-Death

Throwing The Ball

The game called for players to throw the ball in any direction with one or both hands. Doing so allowed them to get closer to the basket without dribbling the ball (because "dribbling" was not included in Naismith's first set of rules). This can be considered passing in today's game.


Hitting The Ball

While on defense, players were allowed to hit the ball in any direction using one or two hands. On the offensive end, the same rules applied as one could bat the ball to a teammate in loose ball situations. The only exceptions to this rule were the use of fists and feet to deflect a ball.


Running With The Ball

Running with the ball, or "traveling" as we know it today, was not allowed. Once a player caught the ball, they had to remain in the same spot that the ball was caught until another pass was made. The officiating umpires allowed for a few steps after the ball was caught if they determined said player was running fast enough. This rule is similar to the sport of handball.


Use of Hands

The ball was only allowed to be held in one's hands. Use of the arms or body to prevent a defender from stealing the ball was prohibited. This rule is inherent to the way the game is played nowadays.


Personal Fouls

Shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, and striking were all classified as acts worthy of a foul. The first time one of these rules were broken would result in the player receiving a foul call. After a player received a second foul call, he would be disqualified until the next goal was scored. If the umpire determined that a foul was committed with the intention of injuring another player, he would be ejected for the remainder of the game. This would put a team at an extreme disadvantage as no substitutions were allowed after someone was removed from the game.

This rule was clearly influenced by soccer's yellow and red card rules, and are the clear precursors for fouls in today's game.


Fist on Ball

Striking the ball with one's fist resulted in a foul as it went against both Rules Three and Four. It was enforced via Rule Five.


Three Fouls Rule

Three consecutive fouls committed by either team without the opposition committing a foul within that span would result in a goal for the opposing team. This was a precursor to the bonus and double bonus rules that are used today.


Scoring Rule

In order to score a goal, one could either throw or bat the ball from the ground into the basket. If the ball stayed in the basket without a defender interfering with it, then a point was awarded to the offensive team. The original fruit baskets that were used as hoops were designed so that the ball got stuck in the basket when a goal was scored. Because of this, umpires had to get a ladder and remove the ball anytime a basket was scored, although a shot going in was much less frequent back then.


Throw-Ins

If the ball goes out of bounds, the first person to touch it would throw it back into play. If it were unclear who the ball went out off of, the umpire would be the one to throw it into play. Although the referee will never inbound the ball anymore, the player inbounding the ball had five seconds to inbound the ball to one of his teammates before conceding possession to the other team, a rule that is still in place today. Any form of delaying the flow of the game resulted in a foul, which is now a technical foul.


Foul Limits

The umpire was responsible for governing the flow of the game. It was his job to keep track of fouls and notify the referee when a team had committed three consecutive fouls. He had the power to eject players from the game for the violation of any of the acts listed in Rule Five. In the modern game, there are officiating crews of two or three for almost every game.


Out of Bounds Rule

The referee was responsible for having eyes on the ball. If the ball went out of play, it was his job to make that decision. He decided when a fair basket had been made and was responsible for keeping count of each of these baskets. Referees today have many of the same roles that they had when the game was first created.


Game Length

Each game consisted of two 15-minute halves with a five-minute rest period in between them. This break from action went on to become what we now know as half-time. The game clock has evolved, though, and games are now longer than 15 minutes in almost every competition.


Sudden Death

The team that scored the most points after 30 minutes of action would be declared the winner. If there was a draw, captains could decide to play until the next basket was scored in a "sudden-death" fashion.



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