The game of
basketball was invented before the dawn of the 20th century, and since then, there have been many rule changes, and
changes in general. In the beginning one man, James Naismith, a Canadian physical education instructor was challenged to
find a new game that would allow people to play inside during the winter time. In just two weeks, Dr. Naismith, created
the rough form of basketball. Instead of creating a game based on strength, he created a game based on accuracy and
skill, and this is what we now know today as basketball. In order to understand the rule changes, we first have to
understand how the game of basketball was structured in the beginning. So first, we will study how basketball was
designed in the beginning, more than 120 years ago.
In the beginning there were 13 rules to the game of basketball. Not only that, but
there were nine players on a team, the baskets were 10 feet high, and there were only 13 rules. A lot has definitely
changed since then. The first game was played on December 21st of 1891. In the original game, dribbling was not allowed.
Only later were players allowed to dribble the ball. It would seem funny today if basketball players just threw the ball
around instead of dribbling. The nets back then were actually peach baskets, that had a metal bottom. This meant that
players had to climb up a ladder to get the ball out of the net. The advancement of basketball to open ended nets were
not created until 1913. This was the initial form of basketball that we now watch NBA teams play today. It is interesting
though, to be able to look back and find out what exactly were Dr. Naismith's original 13 rules of playing basketball.
Below we go over the original 13 rules that were created way back in 1891.
The Original 13
Rules of Basketball
The first rule was that the ball could be thrown in any direction with one or
both hands. Now you have to remember, that back in 1891, players could not dribble. This means that players could not
double dribble like they can today. So putting two hands on the ball was fine at any
Rule number two, was that the ball could be batted in any direction, with one
or both hands, but not with the fist.
The third rule was one that still has an effect on
the game today. When you see a player stop, and then after a second, throw the ball to a player in mid-air who the slams
it down, probably eliciting a great reaction from the home crowd, the third rule makes this possible. The third rule
states that a play cannot run with the ball. The player can only throw it from the spot where they catch it. In today's
NBA, this rule is still in effect, and a player will be called for traveling if they stop and then move again with the
The fourth rule was that the ball must be held with the
Fifth rule, is basically what we call a foul today. The fifth rule states
that a player cannot shoulder, push, hold, or strike an opponent in any way. Today we have five fouls before you are out
of the game, or you "foul out", but in the beginning the first instance was a foul, and the second one would disqualify
the player until the next point was made. If a player tried to injure another player on purpose, that player would be out
of the game.
Rule 6 describes fouls, such as violations of rule 3 or 4, and also
The 7th rule stated that if any team committed three fouls in a row, that
is without the other team fouling, that would mean the opponent would be credited with a
Rule number 8 describes how scoring was counted, which was when the ball was
batted or thrown into the basket. Also, if the ball rested on the edge of the basket, and the edge of the basket was
moved by the opponent, the goal would count. This is what we know as goal tending
The 9th rule stated that when the ball went out of bounds, it had to be
immediately thrown in and played by the first person to touch it. If there was any dispute, the umpire would throw the
ball in. Also, if the person who was throwing in the ball held it for longer than five seconds, the ball would go to the
other team. This is what we know today as an in-bounding violation, which still has the same
Rule number 10 stated that the umpire would be the one to keep track of
fouls, and also notify the referee when any team committed three straight fouls.
11th rule described the role of the referee, whose job it was to keep track of the ball. The referee was also in
charge of keeping track of who had possession of the ball, and also what the score
The 12th rule described the timing of the game. Back in 1891, the game was
structured in two 15 minute halves, with a five-minute break in between halves. Much different than it is
Finally, the 13th rule stated that the team who made the most goals at the
end of the game would be declared the winner. This is a rule that will never change. In 1891, there were 13 rules, and
today, through the evolution of such a simple game, there are over 100 different rules. Next, we will examine various
changes to the scoring system since the game was created.
NBA Shooting and Scoring
In the beginning a team was only able to score one point, either by scoring a goal or by
one team committing three straight fouls. In 1894, free throws became a part of the game. Now, a field goal, once called
only a goal, and a free throw, both counted as one point. Then, in 1896, a field goal began to count as two points, and a
free throw was counted as one point. It was not until 1961 that the American Basketball League, created the three-point
field goal. Still, it was not until 1979 that the NBA finally accepted the idea of a three-point shot. From its
introduction, until the 1993-94 season, the three-point line in the NBA was 23 feet, 9 inches from the basket, and 22
feet away at the corners. For the 1994-95 seasons through the 1996-97 season, the NBA changed the distance of the three-
point line to 22 feet away around the whole three-point line. This was done to try and increase the scoring in games.
After the 1996-97 season, the NBA moved the three-point line back to its original dimensions, where it still remains
today. At first, the three-point line was hard to accept, but now, when we see a beautiful rainbow three pointer by some
of the game’s greatest shooters, it seems as if it has always been a part of the game. Next, we will examine the changes
in the timing of the game.
Evolution of Timing and the NBA
From the beginning, when
teams played two fifteen minute halves, to now, where NBA teams play four 15 minute quarters, the timing of the game has
changed greatly. From two 15 minute halves, the game of basketball went to two 20 minute halves. In fact, games had no
overtime in the beginning. The first game of basketball ever played in fact, ended in a 2-2 tie. The evolution of the
overtime came about, first as a sudden death overtime, where the first team to score would win. Finally, in the 1960's,
the sudden death overtime was changed to overtime periods, in order to make it more fair. Now we have four 12 minute
quarters, divided into two halves, with a halftime break in between, and possibly overtime periods in the event of a tie.
The NBA, when it began in 1946, had these rules in place and they still exist today. A new invention was created in the
NBA in 1954, which was the 24 second shot clock. The shot clock was introduced to make sure one team could not hold the
ball and cause the game to stall. In games before the 24 second shot clock, teams who were ahead in the third quarter,
would hold on to the ball, and there would be no way for the opposing team to catch up so they would have to foul the
other team to get the ball back. This also increased the length of the game because teams would foul each other
continuously, leading to more and more free throws, which virtually halted the play of the game. Next, we will look at
the evolution of rules in the NBA when it comes to fouling.
History of Fouls in
In the beginning, fouling was integral to the game, but lacked definition. Nowadays, we have multiple
kinds of fouls, such as technical, flagrant, and common fouls. The fouls are also divided up into team fouls and personal
fouls. The game has now become more structured when it comes to the concept of fouls. In the beginning, the only
differentiation in fouls was between whether the person was allowed to stay in the game or not. The original rules, as
you have read earlier, stated that if a player incurred two fouls, he would sit out until a goal was scored. Also, anyone
intentionally trying to hurt a player, would be ejected from the game.
The second rule
is still instituted in the game today. In 1911, a player was allowed to foul 4 times before being disqualified. Then in
1945 it was increased to 5, which is the standard today. Also, prior to 1922, traveling was called a foul, but after
that, it became only a violation, and not a foul.
Nowadays we have many types of fouls and violations in
the NBA, and all are clearly (and sometimes not so clearly) defined. Today there are fouls such as blocking fouls,
charging fouls, as well as a collection of other personal fouls. Also, in today's NBA game there are team fouls and
personal fouls as well. The history of fouling in the NBA was defined in the beginning in more than one of the original
13 rules, and have now become a large part of the game. Next we will move on and explain various types of other NBA rule
changes that have occurred over the years.
Other NBA Rule
Dribbling seems like common sense today when it comes to basketball, but as funny as it
sounds, it was not included in the original game. Dribbling was not introduced into the game of basketball until 1901.
Even then, a player could only bounce the ball once before passing the ball again. Also, if you bounced the ball, you
were no longer able to shoot it, only pass again. It was not until 1909 that a player could actually dribble the ball
numerous times as well as shoot after dribbling. This change created a major difference in the game, since players could
now use dribbling as a technique to get out of trouble. Also, now double dribbling was a new violation. The only time
dribbling was stopped since 1909 was in 1927, when dribbling was outlawed, but was quickly reinstated two weeks later.
Another change in basketball was out of bounds. When basketball was created, there were no boundaries defined. In 1904,
instead of walls being the only barrier to the game, lines were created, forming the official boundaries that limit
In the beginning, the first person who touched the ball after it went out of bounds would
be rewarded with the ball. This was not a good solution at all, as players would begin fighting for possession of the
ball. Finally, players were saved the damaging effects of the first attempt at boundaries, and the current rules began,
where the team who touched the ball last before it went out of bounds, lost the ball. This made the game safer and injury
free than earlier games.
One final rule to consider, is the use of the mid court line. In earlier games,
teams were able to use the whole court. But in 1932 a line was added to the middle of the court and once the players
passed over the line, they were not able to go back. Then, in 1933, the rule was put in place that forced a player to get
the ball over the mid court line before 10 seconds passed. In 2000, the time limit was changed to 8
In the beginning, the game of basketball
was created by a smart man trying to keep kids out of trouble, and give them a game to play during the cold months of
winter. Now, the NBA is a complicated and very talented game where players get paid many millions of dollars if they are
skilled enough to be in the elite. But through all of the rule changes, which has made the game better and more popular,
one thing remains true. Players of any skill level can enjoy the game. No matter the rules, people of all kinds love the
game of basketball.