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Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one. dan frisby

Can’t tell a fast break from a free throw? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The problem is really just a lack of understanding: many people don’t think it’s interesting. But those who do make the effort to learn about basketball often find that it can be exciting and fun to watch once they understand it. After reading through this guide, you will have a better understanding of basketball and should be able to really enjoy watching the game. Basketball is a 5-on-5 game played with a single ball on a court with 2 baskets, 1 at each end. A team can have 15 guys on its roster, but there are only 5 basic positions. The point of the game is to earn points by getting the ball into the basket and to stop the other team from doing the same. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. The basic premise may be simple, but that concept alone would make the game too easy, so the sporting gods added a few tricks. For instance, a basketball court is marked by lines that indicate how many points a shot is worth when taken from the area behind a given line. When a player is the victim of a foul (and we’ll discuss fouls in more detail later), he or she may go to the free throw line to take 1, 2, or 3 unobstructed shots, with each basket worth 1 point. A shot taken from within the 3-point line, or the arc, is worth 2 points. The toughest baskets to make are those from beyond the arc; these are worth 3 points. Meanwhile, the baselines and sidelines mark where the court ends. The free-throw lane, also called the paint, is the rectangular area between the free-throw line and the basket.

Until 1937, the referee tossed a jump ball after each basket scored.


Let’s tip-off from the top with key information.


AIRBALL A basketball shot that misses everything; net,

backboard, and rim.

ALLY-00P A pass high above the basketball rim that allows

a player to catch and slam dunk or drop in the ball in one motion.

ASSIST A pass to another basketball player that leads

directly to a made basket. BACKBOARD The rectangular piece of wood or fiberglass that

the rim attaches to. BLOCK OUT OR Getting your body between the basketball player BOX OUT and the basket to get a rebound. BLOCKED SHOT When a defensive basketball player makes contact

with the basketball while another player is shooting the ball. BRICK A poor shot that bounces hard off the rim

or backboard. DOUBLE TEAM When 2 basketball teammates join efforts in

guarding a single opponent. DRIBBLING The act of bouncing the basketball continuously. DUNK When a player close to the basket jumps and

strongly throws the ball down into it. FAST BREAK A basketball play that begins with a defensive

rebound by a player who immediately sends an outlet pass toward mid court to his waiting teammates; these teammates can sprint to their basket and quickly shoot before enough opponents catch up to stop them. FIELD GOAL When the basketball enters the basket from above

during play; worth 2 points, or 3 points if the shooter was standing behind the 3-point line.

official tosses above and between them.

KEY The area at each end of the court, consisting

of the foul circle, foul lane and free-throw line; named for the shape it had years ago.

LAYUP A close up shot taken after dribbling to the basket.



JUMP BALL When 2 opposing players jump for a basketball an

PERSONAL FOUL Contact between basketball players that may

result in injury or provide one team with an unfair advantage; players may not push, hold, trip, hack, elbow, restrain or charge into an opponent. REBOUND When a basketball player grabs a ball that is com-

ing off the rim or backboard after a shot attempt; see offensive rebound and defensive rebound. SCREEN When the offensive basketball player stands

between a teammate and a defender to give his teammate the chance to take an open shot. TURNOVER When the offense loses possession through its

own fault by passing the basketball out of bounds or committing a floor violation. ZONE DEFENSE A defense where each defender is responsible for

an area of the court and must guard any player who enters that area.

key terms

A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That's how I want you to play. mike krzyzewski

The first hoop had a bottom and every time a team scores, the referee would climb a ladder to get the ball.

The point guard, also known as the one, is typically the team’s best ball handler and passer. They are often quick and are able to hit shots either outside the 3-point line or in the paint, largely depending on the player’s skill level. Point guards are looked upon as the ‘floor general’ or the ‘coach on the floor’. They should study the game and game film to be able to recognize the weaknesses of the defense, and the strengths of their own offense. They are responsible for directing plays, making the position equivalent to that of play-making midfielder in association football, setter in volleyball, quarterback in American football, or center in ice hockey. Good point guards increase team efficiency and generally have a high number of assists. Point guards are often shorter or smaller players. They are often referred to as dribblers or play-makers. Point guards have to be good at dribbling. A point guard’s job is to create scoring opportunities for his/her team, or sometimes attack the basket.



SHOOTING GUARD (SG) The shooting guard, also known as the 2, is usually one of the team’s most versatile players, being bulky like the Forwards, yet fast like the Point Guard. Besides being able to shoot the ball, shooting guards tend to have good ball touching skills and the ability to drive the ball to the net, often creating their own shots off the dribble. A versatile shooting guard will have good passing skills, allowing him to assume point guard responsibilities. On defense, shooting guards are often tasked with defending the opponent’s strongest perimeter threat. When defending the opposing guard, they tend to poke the ball away, which is known as a steal. They are quick and guard the perimeter of the court, hoping to stop outside and 3-point shots.


SMALL FORWARD (SF) The small forward is known as the 3. The small forward position is considered to be perhaps the most versatile of the main positions. Versatility is key for small forwards due to the nature of its role, which is sometimes similar to that of a power forward, but more often resembles the role of a shooting guard. Thus, the small forward and shooting guard positions are often interchangeable. Small forwards have a variety of assets, such as quickness and strength inside. One common thread between all kinds of small forwards is an ability to draw fouls by aggressively attempting plays, lay-ups, or slam dunks. As such, accurate foul shooting is a common skill for small forwards, many of whom record a large portion of their points from the foul line. Small forwards should be able to do a little bit of everything on the court, typically playing roles such as swingmen but also as point forwards and defensive specialists.


Also known as the 4 position the power forward plays a role similar to that of the center, down in the post or low blocks. On offense, they are often the team’s most versatile traveler, being able to score close to the basket while also being able to shoot mid-range jump shots from 12 to 18 feet from the basket. On defense, they are required to have the strength to guard bigger players close to the basket, while having the athleticism to guard quick players away from the basket. Most Power Forwards tend to be more versatile than Centers since they can be part of plays, being that they are not always in the low block. Forwards are like the linemen of basketball, not shy about pushing people and blocking their way. Very strong and powerful, they block the post, or middle of the court. They are also known to block shots. Because of their strength and size, they often accumulate more fouls than the guards when trying to defend.



The center, also referred to as the 5, big man, or the pivot, usually plays near the baseline, close to the basket (referred to as the low post). The center is usually a key player in the game of basketball. It is usually the tallest player on the floor and because of that the center is responsible for the jump ball to start off the game. Usually, they score “down low, in the paint� (near the basket, in the key), but some can be good perimeter shooters. When they are good perimeter shooters they are called stretch bigs. They are typically skilled at gathering rebounds, contesting shots and setting screens on plays. The Center position has been traditionally considered as one of the most important positions, if not the most important. The Centers are the last line of defense en route to the basket. These guys stand tall, dead center, in hopes of stopping a drive to the basket or blocking a shot.



The tallest players to ever play in the NBA were 7'7". The shortest NBA player ever stood 5'3".



The referee controls the game. They are the official who tosses the ball up for the center jump at the start of the game and each overtime period. The referee’s assigned chores range from inspecting and approving all equipment before the game’s starting time to approving the final score. In between, the referee is responsible for the notification of each team 3 minutes before each half is to begin and deciding matters of disagreement among the officials. The referee has the power to make decisions on any points not specifically covered in the rules and even to forfeit the game if necessary. During actual play, there is no practical difference between the referee and umpire(s). They are equally responsible for the conduct of the game; and, because of the speed of play, their duties are dictated essentially by their respective positions on the court from moment to moment. For this reason, the rules specify that no official has the authority to question decisions made by another official.


The makeup of the officiating corps is strictly a matter of choice. The minimum number is 5: a referee, an umpire, a scorer, a timer and a shot-clock operator. In some cases, eight officials are used in a lineup comprising: Referee, two umpires, a shot-clock operator, two scorers and two timers.


Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players. larry bird


A professional basketball game is split into quarters of 12 minutes each, with a 15-minute halftime break. But because of fouls, free throws, and time-outs, during which the clock is stopped, games can last about 2 hours. If the game is tied after regulation time is over, overtime periods will occur and are five minutes in length.

Some rules regarding time: › An offensive player must make a shot that touches the rim within 24 seconds. › No offensive player may stay longer than 3 seconds within the paint. › The offensive team must get to their side of the court within 8 seconds. › A player cannot hold the ball for more than 5 seconds once he has stopped dribbling.


When a player breaks any of these rules, he commits a violation. Penalties for these violations will be discussed in the Fouls section.

The reason why a backboard was added is because the audience in the balcony used to interfere in the game by handling the ball.



Besides being able to shoot, players also need to learn how to: › block, or prevent an opponent from scoring (this must be done while the opposing player is making or attempting a shot); › steal, which is to grab the ball from an opponent or intercept a pass; and › rebound, which means getting the ball once a shot has been missed. Players get the ball from one end of the court to the other by passing or dribbling. A player commits a traveling violation when caught running or walking while holding the ball. A violation results in a turnover, in which the other team gains possession of the ball.



There are 10 basic shots, but the most common are the lay-up, a close-range shot made by laying the ball into the basket with one hand; the jump shot, which refers to any shot made while the player is jumping; and the set shot, which is made while the player’s feet are planted firmly on the ground. The dunk, however, is the crowd favorite.

Once a basket is made, the ball goes to the other team. A team trying to make a basket plays offense, while their opponents play defense. When a team scores quickly, without allowing their rivals to set up defense, they have scored on a fast break.


Chest Pass The basketball is passed directly from the passer’s chest to the receiver’s chest. This has the advantage that it takes the least time to complete, as the passer tries to pass as directly straight as possible.


Bounce Pass In this pass, the basketball bounces about two-thirds of the way from the passer to the receiver.

Michael Jordan is considered one of the best basketball players around the world. The record number of points scored in playoffs of 5,987 made him a legend in the world of basketball.



In basketball, the basketball court is the playing surface, consisting of a rectangular floor with tiles at either end. In professional or organized basketball, especially when played indoors, it is usually made out of a wood, often maple, and highly polished. Outdoor surfaces are generally made from standard paving materials such as concrete or asphalt. The baskets are always 10' above the floor. Basketball courts have a three-point arc at both baskets. A basket made from behind this arc is worth 3 points; a basket made from within this line, or with a player’s foot touching the line is worth 2 points. The free-throw line, where one stands while taking a foul shot, is located within the 3-point arc.


Center circle The only 2 players permitted to enter this area prior to the tip-off are the players contesting the jump ball (usually but not always centers). Both players jump when the referee throws the ball in the air, each attempting to tap the ball into the hands of a player of their own team. Free throw line When a player is the victim of a foul (and we’ll discuss fouls in more detail later), he or she may go to the free throw line to take 1, 2, or 3 unobstructed shots, with each basket worth 1 point. The free-throw lane, also called the paint, is the rectangular area between the free-throw line and the basket. 3-point line or the arc The 3-point line is the line that separates the 2-point area from the 3-point area; any shot converted beyond this line counts as 3 points. If the shooting player steps on the line, it is counted as 2 points only. Any foul made in the act of shooting beyond the 3-point line would give the player 3 free throws if the shot doesn’t go in, and 1 if it does. The distance to the 3-point line from the center of the basket varies depending on the level or league, and has changed several times. Perimeter The perimeter is defined as the areas outside the free throw lane and inside the 3-point line. Shots converted (successfully made) from this area are called perimeter shots or medium-range shots. If a player’s foot is on the 3-point line, the shot is considered a perimeter shot.


Low post area The low post is defined as the areas that are closest to the basket but outside of the free throw lane. This area is fundamental to strategy in basketball. Skilled low post players can score many points per game without ever taking a jump shot.

Key The key or shaded lane refers to the usually painted area beneath the basket. At the top of the rectangle is the free-throw line, behind which players shoot uncontested shots when they’re fouled. A circle is drawn around the free-throw line which is used for jump ball instances, as is done at the center circle. The 2 hash lines show the lower defensive box linked to the restricted area. The key is primarily used to prevent players from staying beneath the basket of the opponents’ team for long periods (maximum 3 seconds).

Baselines and sidelines Mark where the court ends.


Restricted area arc The restricted area arc is a semi-circular arc drawn around the area directly underneath the basket. With some exceptions, defending teammates cannot draw charging fouls in this area.

court sections

I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win. michael jordan


Basketball is sometimes called a non-contact sport. Although, there is plenty of legal contact between players, some contact is considered illegal. If an official decides that the contact is illegal, they will call a personal foul. Most of the fouls in a game are committed by the defense, but the offense can commit fouls as well. Here are list of some of the types of fouls.

TYPICAL DEFENSIVE FOULS Blocking A blocking foul is called when one player uses their body to prevent the movement of another player. This is often called when the defensive player is trying to draw a charge, but does not have their feet set or initiates the contact. Hand Check A hand check foul is called when a player uses their hands to impede or slow the movement of another player. This is usually called on the defensive player covering the player with the ball on the perimeter. Holding Similar to a hand check foul, but is generally called when a player grabs another player and holds on to prevent them from moving. Illegal Hand Use This foul is called for any use of the hands on another player that the referee thinks is illegal. It’s generally called when you hit another player on the arm during shooting or when trying to steal the ball.



Charging Charging is called on the player with the ball when they run into a player that already has position. If the defensive player doesn’t have position or is moving, then generally the official will call blocking on the defender. Moving Screen A moving screen is called when the player setting the pick or screen is moving. When setting a screen you have to stand still and maintain position. Sliding a bit over to block your opponent will cause a moving screen foul to be called.

Over the Back This foul is called when rebounding. If one player has position, the other player is not allowed to jump up over their back to try and get the ball. This is called on both offensive and defensive players.

WHO DECIDES? The officials decide if a foul is committed. While some fouls are obvious, others are more difficult to determine. The referee has the final say, however, arguing will get you nowhere. Sometimes referees will call the game close. This means they are calling fouls with just a little bit of contact. Other times the referees will call the game loose or allow more contact. As a player or coach you should try to understand how the referee is calling the game and adjust your play accordingly.

Wayne “Tree” Rollins was the first player to be suspended for biting someone. He bit Danny Ainge’s middle finger so hard that it needed a few stitches.


There are various penalties for fouls depending on the type of foul. You can read more about it on the basketball penalties for fouls page.

Depending on the situation and type of foul in basketball, the penalty will be different. Non-shooting fouls generally cause the team to lose possession of the ball. Shooting fouls result in free throws. If the basket was made when the player was fouled, then the basket counts and 1 free throw is awarded. If the basket wasn’t made, then either 2 free throws or 3 (if the player was attempting a 3 point shot when fouled) are awarded. Fouling Out Each time a player commits a foul, they get another personal foul added to their name. If they reach a certain total during they game they will have fouled out and will not be allowed to play any more. It takes 5 fouls to foul out in college and high school, 6 fouls in the NBA. Team Fouls The total number of team fouls add up during the game as well. After a certain number of fouls, a team is to be considered over the limit and free throws will be awarded for non-shooting fouls. The rules for the NBA and college/ high school are different: NBA – Team fouls are added up per quarter. There are 4 fouls allowed with 2 free throws being awarded starting with the fifth foul. Only defensive fouls count toward team fouls. NCAA college and High School – Team fouls are added up per half. After 6 fouls a team is awarded a 1-and-1 free throw. A 1-and-1 means that the first free throw must be made in order to get a second free throw. If the player misses the first, the ball is live and play begins. After 10 fouls in a half, 2 free throws are awarded.

penalties for fouls

Technical Foul A technical foul is given for unsportsmanlike conduct or other infraction. This can range from fighting to arguing with the official. Both coaches and players can get technical fouls. The penalty for a technical foul is 2 free throws and the ball for the other team. Also, if a player or coach receives 2 technicals during a game, they will be ejected. In college a technical foul counts as a personal foul as well, so it adds into fouling out. In the NBA a technical foul does not count as a personal foul.


Flagrant Foul Another type of foul in basketball is the flagrant foul. This is when a foul could seriously injure an opponent. Generally two free throws and possession of the ball are awarded. In high school and college the player committing the flagrant foul is ejected from the game. In the NBA it can count as a technical foul or the player can be ejected depending on the severity of the foul.


Here is a list and description of non-foul violations in the game of basketball. The penalty for most violations is loss of possession of the ball.


One of the basic ideas of the sport of basketball is that you have to dribble or bounce the ball while you are walking or running. When you have stopped dribbling one of your feet will become your pivot foot. You cannot move your pivot foot or lift it off of the ground. If you do, this is called traveling.


You only get to dribble once in basketball. If you stop dribbling you have to pass it to another player or shoot the ball. If you start dribbling again, this is called double dribbling.


Offensive players are not allowed to stay in the free throw lane, or key, for more than 3 seconds. Anytime they leave the key or the ball hits the rim, the three second count starts over again.


The offensive team has 10 seconds to get the ball across half court. If it takes longer than 10 seconds, they will lose possession of the ball.



Once the offensive team has gotten the ball over half court, they cannot go back into the defender’s half court with the ball. This is called over-and-back. Carrying, or palming, is like a double dribble. Players may not put the palm of their hands under the ball or carry the ball in one hand for a long time. This is similar to holding the ball and a double dribble.

non-foul violations


During a free throw shot, players will line up on both sides of the lane. If they jump into the lane prior to the shot, it will be called a lane violation. If it was an offensive player, a made shot will not count. If it was a defensive player, a missed shot will not count and the shooter will get another try. Players are not allowed to intentionally kick the ball. If a defensive player kicks the ball, the offensive team will get it out of bounds.


Goal tending is when a player interferes with a shot when it is above the rim, but still on its downward path to the basket, interferes with the ball while on the rim of the basket, or touches the net or rim while the ball is being shot. If goaltending is called on the defense, the shot is called good. If goaltending is on the offense, then the shot does not count and the defense gets the ball.


The ball is considered out of bounds when it touches the ground outside the lines of the court. The lines themselves are considered out of bounds as well. It's also out of bounds if the ball touches a player while any part of their body touching the ground out of bounds.



PocketREF: A Reference Guide to Understanding Basketball  
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