Hartyáni Zsolt

History of Basketball

Rule Development from the beginning up to now.
Texts that are about rules or rulechanges are in green.




The history of basketball dates back more than a hundred years to 1891, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.
  At that time Dr. James Naismith (born November 6th, 1861 – died November 28th, 1939) was a physical educator in the School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College). As the coach of the school football team he was given the task to create an interesting indoor game to occupy the students during the winter months. In a fortnight he came up with the basic rules of a new game.

Mr. Naismith evolved 5 basic principles when he created the rules.

1. The game is played with a round ball and with the hands.
2. A player cannot run with the ball.
3. Any player can take up any position on the playing court at any time.
4. There shall be no physical contact between players.
5. The goal (basket) shall be placed horizontally above the floor of the court.
He chose two wooden peach baskets and nailed them to the side of the balcony of the hall. The height where the baskets were hung was dictated by the height of the balcony. This height (10 feet) was so ideally selected that it has never been changed.
The first games were played with a football and a janitor sat on a ladder to retrieve the ball from the basket when a player made a goal.
James Naismith with thabasket(s) and the ball.
The new game became a big success. Naismith’s 13 original rules were based on the principle that the points are to be attained by skill rather than force. The rules were published in 'Triangle' magazine on 15th January 1892 under the title 'A New Game'.
drawings made in 'Triangle' by a Japanese student, named Genzabaro Sadaku Ishikawa

1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.

2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).

3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed.

4. The ball must be held in or between the hands, the arms or body not be used for holding it.

5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking, in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed, the first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.

6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of rules 3, 4 and such as described in rule 5.

7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents. (Consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).

8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in it is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on them.

10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals, with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.

12. The time shall be two fifteen minute halves, with five minutes rest between.

13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.
The first publicly played game of basketball was played on March 2nd, 1892 between students and teachers at the Springfield Collage. The students won 5-1 before a crowd of over 200.
Basketball began its worldwide movement as the game was then introduced in Mexico.
In the same year Lew Allen of Hartford, Connecticut made cylindrical baskets of heavy woven wire to eliminate Naismith's peach baskets.  
  The rims were hung at the balcony and some spectators amused themselves by diverting the ball away from the hoop. To protect the ball from spectators, first backboards (3.60x1.80m) were introduced.
The ball itself outgrew the football ball and was replaced by an official basketball in 1894. In the next year a 1.80x1.20 m backboard was approved. Free throws were introduced.  
  A new basket was invented. It consisted of a net suspended on a ring and with a rope attached to the bottom of the net. When the rope was pulled the ball was released and the days of the stepladder came to an end.
On March 22nd, 1893 the first women's match took place in Northampton. No men were allowed to watch the game.
From 1896 field goals were changed to 2 points, free throws to 1 point.
The same year Chicago and Iowa competed in the first college match. Five players were allowed on each team. Chicago won 15-12. Neither team used substitute players.
Dr. James Naismith controlled the rules until 1896. Since 1896 the Amateur Sports Federation had been in charge of the rules and any changes.
The Federation ruled in 1897 that a team should consist of five players and it was universally accepted. Before this ruling occasionally up to 50 players from each side were on the floor.
By 1905 basketball had become widely spread in secondary schools, universities, church clubs and military barracks. Many students from abroad studied at the Springfield Sports School at the time when basketball was being born. They spread the new game across the world. Basketball was brought to Europe, more specifically to France, by a Springfield student named Mel Rideout.
In 1909-1910 glass backboard was first approved. A player was disqualified upon committing his fourth personal foul.
With the arrival of the First World War the game's growth slowed. During that time the American soldiers and sport coaches, including Naismith himself brought to Europe the innovations of the game.
The first Inter-Allied Games were played in 1919 in Paris. This competition was won by the USA who defeated France and Italy. It is considered to be the first international basketball tournament and paved the way for World Championship and Olympic recognition. In 1923 the designated foul shooter was eliminated, the person fouled had to shoot the free throw. At the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 basketball was played as exhibition.
  In 1927 Abe Saperstein organised the Harlem Globetrotters. The players were from Chicago and they played their first game in Hinckley, Illinois. Since that time they have contributed greatly to increase the popularity of basketball throughout the world, playing in about 100 different countries.


Until 1932 we can mainly speak about American basketball rules. The rest of the world was developing under the influence of local enthusiasts with certain fashionable additions coming from the States.
The rules were not standardised internationally. The World YMCA Committee in co-operation with Springfield College established an International School for Physical education in 1927 in Geneva. It convened a conference of the representatives of basketball associations on 18th June 1932 in Geneva and the International Amateur Basketball Federation (FIBA) was founded by eight countries. The first President of FIBA: Leon Bouffard (Switzerland), Secretary General: Renato William Jones (Great Britain).
Leon Bouffard (Switzerland)
The first president of FIBA
  Renato Williams Jones (Great Britain)
And the first secretary general of FIBA
At the FIBA Founding Congress the first international rules were elaborated.
Each team consisted of five players and 2 substitutes who could come into play twice during the game. Following every point scored from the field or from a free throw the game continued by a jump ball at the centre. The rules were basically the same as in the USA with a few changes. It was decided that the rules would be revised every four years, connecting with the Olympic Games. This revision would be carried out by the Technical Commission.
A game in the 30’s. The basket support is inside the court. The keyhole shape area is not the restricted area against tall players where they may not remain for more than 3 seconds, it is only a lane for free throw rebounds. However, here 5 players play against 5.
  The first European Championship for Men was held in 1935 in Geneva. Ten nations took part and the first European Champion was Latvia, defeating Spain 24-18 in the final.
In 1935 the International Olympic Committee officially approved basketball for the Games in Berlin. It was the first great basketball tournament at which the uniformity of the game had to be proven. USA defeated Canada 19-8 (in the rain) for the Gold medal. Dr. James Naismith was among the spectators and presented medals to the champions.
  In Berlin, 1936, the FIBA Congress brought changes to the rules in order to keep the balance between defence and offence, thus limiting the advantage of taller players. Three time-outs were allowed. The centre jump after each score was eliminated. The ball was brought into play from the end line. When the court was divided into two halves and the 10-second rule came into effect, it was a revolutionary rule change. Any player who collected four personal fouls was disqualified. The number of substitutes was increased to five.
Dr. James Naismith inventor of basketball died in Lawrence, Kansas on 28th November 1939.


The professional NBA league was founded in 1949.

In 1950 the first World Championship for Men took place in Argentina and the first World Championship for Women in 1953 in Chile.
On 2nd March 1951, the first NBA All-Star Game was played in Boston; East 111–West 94. The same year a crowd of 75,000 people filled Berlin's Olympic Stadium – the all time basketball attendance record to see the Harlem Globetrotters’ play.

In 1952, after the Helsinki Olympic Games, very few rule changes were made. Fouls committable by a player were increased to five instead of four. The games sometimes became boring, because the team that was ahead often froze the ball producing long moments of stagnant play. Against this type of play a wider application of pressing was required, as first developed by the Soviet team in an impressive manner in Helsinki. Everybody knew, it was necessary to do something but no one had any idea. The game was in danger.
In 1954 a brilliant solution was suggested by Danny Biason and the NBA introduced a new rule: the team must shoot within 24 seconds of possession.
Almost the same rule was accepted in Melbourne in 1956. The time for offence was limited to 30 seconds and the problem of freezing the ball was solved. The free throw area was enlarged to the current trapezium shape, to take the giants still further away from beneath the basket. The Technical Commission re-established the equilibrium between defence and offence by requiring that the ball leave the hands of the dribbler before lifting the pivot foot at the start of a dribble.
The jump shot became the most frequent way of shooting. A great variety of shooting passing and dribbling was employed. Screening tactics were known to all.
The Cup of the European Champion Clubs was introduced for men in 1958, and for women in 1959.

1955, Budapest Thirty-thousand people celebrate the victory of Hungary over Sovietunion in the European Championship final in the Nepstadion.


In 1960 the Congress in Rome eliminated the line at mid-court that was duly re-established in Mexico 1968. During the last five minutes every personal foul was punished by two free throws, provided the fouled player did not score a valid basket. If both teams had committed fouls, which carried the same penalty, no free throws would be taken in order to reduce those situations when there were free throws at both baskets. When the penalties could not be cancelled the total penalty awarded in one play should not exceed 2 free throws and possession of the ball. The variety of penalties complicated the life of the officials, and they were sometimes in a difficult situation when calculating the cancellation and the number of the remaining free throws. The rule seemed to be so complicated that often the decision made by the referee was not understood by neither the players nor the spectators.  
  Ervin Kassai (HUN) officiated 2 olympic finals (1960, 1968)
In 1964 in Tokyo the term of play phase was introduced to define what was considered to be one play concerning calculation of the number of free throws. These rules have never solved all possible situations, but it was necessary to wait for twenty years to eliminate them. In the Tokyo Congress the Technical Commission re-arranged the Rulebook to make it much easier to read and understand.

By this time the jump shot was used by everyone. The game became more individual, counter offence was apparent more often and scores were increasing. The physical capabilities of players were improving, basketball was moving towards a greater mobility.

Four years after Mexico 1968, the imaginary cylinder above the basket, in which a defensive player could not touch the ball but the offensive could, was deleted. From this time onward once the ball has bounced off the ring, both defensive and offensive players could touch it. In the last 3 minutes each foul was penalised by 2 free throws and the fouled team had the right to opt for having a sideline throw-in instead of taking free throws.

In Munich, 1972, the 3-minute rule at the end of the game was eliminated. There was no difference anymore between the last minutes and the other part of the game. At the same time, a foul on an opponent not shooting was only penalised with a throw-in from the sideline; no real penalty. The result of this rule change was that the defensive team could commit fouls in order to make it impossible for the offence to get into scoring position.
The 1972 Munich Olympics Final is particularly memorable. The USA-Soviet Union brings a unbelievable excitement and protest. The last 3 seconds was twice played. After the first one the Americans celebrate the victory, but the referees, due to timing error, order to play it again. The Soviet team passes the ball from under his own basket end line to the other end of the court where Bjelov, with Americans in the neck, grabs it and scores. Soviet Union wins. The Americans can not endure the defeat, and do not take the silver medal. Their protest is rejected by the Jury d’Appeal (3-2). These moments can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKn8jTCkTr8
Alexander Bjelov’s decisitive basket.   The USA did not win the gold medal at the first time during the history of the Olympics..


At the 1973 European Championship in Barcelona the number of fouls committed especially at the end of the game increased dramatically. The average fouls per game was more than 61. This presented a danger and demanded quick action. There was no time to wait for the next Congress, so while still in Barcelona a proposal was tabled: 'If within a half a team commits 10 fouls each additional player foul shall be penalised by two free throws'. At the same time a player foul when his team had control was punished by a sideline throw-in. The new rule went into effect in 1974 and it was a big success. The 10 team foul rule reduced the number of fouls and the Montreal Congress ratified it in 1976. At the same time, after ten team fouls, there was no difference in the penalties if a player was fouled in the field or in the act of shooting. To eliminate this problem the 'three for two' rule was introduced whereby a player who had been fouled in the act of shooting, and his shot was unsuccessful, had the opportunity to shoot a third free throw if one of the first two missed. In cases when the shot had been successful the fouled shooter was awarded an extra free throw.
The Moscow Congress in 1980 allowed 8 personal fouls instead of 10 in order to better reduce the fouls in the game. The technical fouls on the bench increased. It was decided that the coach would be automatically disqualified when three technical fouls had been called against him.
For the first time the rulebook commented on how personal contact should be judged and how to determine the player responsible for the contact: (The principle of verticality that says that the space above the player's cylinder is protected; the right of a player in the air to arrive to a place that has not been occupied before taking his jump; what are legal and illegal guarding positions; judgement of charging and blocking, etc.)

In 1979 the NBA introduces the three point shot. The same idea was accepted by FIBA in 1984, but the distance of the line from the basket was 6.25 m comparing with 7.24 m of the NBA. This rule opens a new era in basketball. The smaller players had a better chance to score. The game was no longer only for the centres. The number of team fouls was reduced from 8 to 7. The penalty, after seven team fouls became a 1+1 free throw, that is if a player misses the first free throw he is not entitled to the second one. The 'three for two' rule was deleted. If a foul was committed on a 2-point shooter 2 free throws, if on a 3-point shooter 3 free throws are awarded. The penalty for a technical foul by the coach was also made stiffer: two free throws plus the possession of the ball by the other team..

In 1986 the World Congress decided that each intentional or disqualifying foul committed by a player – above the two or three free throws – was additionally penalised by awarding possession of the ball to the other team. This rule aimed at reducing the number of this type of foul, which was occurring frequently.

In 1990 the right of option and play phase were deleted. There was no limit anymore on free throws to be taken in one sequence of play. In the case when more fouls were committed the official should determine the order of fouls and administer them in the order they occurred. No more complicated calculation of penalties, it was much easier to understand for everyone. The fouled player has no right to opt for a throw-in instead of taking free throws.
During this era coaches and team followers were leaving the vicinity of the court to discuss decisions. The team bench area was introduced in order to keep the coach and the bench personnel in their place. In case someone leaves the bench area without a valid reason a technical foul can be called on the coach. Moreover, if someone leaves the team bench area when a fight is breaking out on the court, he must be immediately disqualified. At this time the officials began handling the ball all over the court. The thrower-in shall not move along the sideline more than one normal step. At the last free throw the players lined up may enter the restricted area the moment the free throw shooter has released the ball. A new rule is introduced: the referee may correct some errors concerning administration of free throws and scoring.


It was a historical decision when FIBA opened the Olympic Games for the American professional players in Barcelona, 1992. The games played by the 'Dream Team' were the most popular event during the Games.
In 1994 the whole rulebook was re-arranged. Games played in 2x20 minutes or in 4x12 minutes were accepted. The throw-in from out-of-bounds was always at the closest point to the infraction, including the end line. The act of shooting, in case of an airborne shooter, continues until the player's feet return to the floor. The travel rule is completely re-written. The first foot to touch the floor becomes the pivot foot instead of the rear foot. Alley-oop is allowed, that is the offensive player may also touch the ball during a pass in its downward flight above the level of the ring. The term ‘intentional’ foul is changed to unsportsmanlike foul. The referee cannot call an unsportsmanlike foul only because it was committed in the last minutes of the game, presumably to stop the clock. It shall be judged the same way from the first to the last minutes of the game. The one and one rule is deleted. Instead of one and one, 2 free throws are awarded if a team is in the penalty situation. If a player, coach or any member of the team bench is disqualified, he must go to and remain in his team's dressing room for the duration of the game or, if he so chooses, he shall leave the building. During free throws only six players may jump for a rebound: three defensive and two offensive players at the restricted area and the free throw shooter. The players not lined up at the restricted area must remain behind the free throw line extended and behind the three-point line.
In 1998 the term of ball ‘in play’ was deleted. The beginning of a live ball is changed in the case of a throw-in and in the case of a jump ball. Three time-outs may be granted to each team during the second half. In the last two minutes of the second half or any extra period the game clock shall be stopped following a field goal. An offensive or a defensive player may not touch the ball above the level of the ring during a shot for field goal after it has hit the backboard. The penalty for a double foul has been changed: if a team is in control of the ball when a double foul occurs this team does not lose the ball, that is, instead of a jump ball this team is entitled to a throw-in. A new type of technical foul has been introduced: the unsportsmanlike technical foul. Its penalty is the same as that of the unsportsmanlike foul (2 free throws and possession of the ball).


In 2000 the rules are slightly re-arranged. Cases and rulings which are not typical in a standard basketball game, and which happen very rarely, are deleted. The games are played in 4x10 minutes. One time-out may be granted in each period except the fourth period when two. In each quarter when a team commits four fouls the team reaches the penalty situation. In order to make the game more dynamic the 30-second rule is reduced to 24, and the 10-second rule to 8 seconds. In the case of a shot the 24-second clock shall only be reset when the ball has hit the ring or the ball becomes live again following a successful basket. The penalty for a technical foul by a player has been changed to one free throw plus possession at mid-court. The ‘Unsportsmanlike technical foul’ is therefore now deleted. FIBA has decided that the three-man system (the NCAA three-man officiating mechanic system) may be used in major FIBA competitions and that the Zones of FIBA and National Federations may also use this system in their competitions.
From 2003 there are jump balls only at the start of the halves and eventual extra periods. When any jump ball situation occurs the alternating possession rule comes into effect. When the 24-second signal sounds it does not stop the main clock, and if no violation occurred, the game is not stopped.
In 2004 there are some minor changes. In all games 12 players are entitled to play. There is one jump ball only at the start of the game. Both teams are allowed to substitute after a violation. A player who commits his second unsportsmanlike foul shall be disqualified. The penalty for all technical fouls (against either player or coach or any bench personnel) is 2 free throws plus possession of the ball.
In 2006 there are some editorial changes for better understanding of the rules text and to minimise misinterpretation and for the sake of simplification. There are wider possibilities for substitution.
The referee is now authorised to use the technical equipment to decide if a last shot at the end of each period or any extra period was released during playing time before he signs the scoresheet. This can only be applied when the technical equipment is available.

In 2008 there are some changes which help the game but are not very crucial. A player falling to the floor may slide with the ball in the hands. The ball returned to backcourt rule becomes much more according to the spirit of the game but it does not simplify the life of the referees. The rule does not want to penalize anymore a player who makes his normal movement but he is unluckily at the centre line and therefore commits a backcourt violation. Allowance is given to a player who steals the ball or gains a new control at the centre line and also to a player who dribbles the ball.
There are some minor changes at plays above the ring. The player grasping the ring to play the ball is a violation not necessarily a technical foul. Reaching through the ring and touching the ball is now interference and if it is by defence a basket shall be awarded.
The fast break tactic fouls in case of the last player are called unsportsmanlike fouls. In order to stop dangerous actions by players, excessive swinging of elbows without contact may be called as a technical foul.

2010 – Up to now

2010 brings also changes to the court markings.
The 3-point line is moved 0,5 m away from the basket (instead of 6,25 m it is 6,75 m)
The restricted (3-second) area is a rectangle as in the USA (not anymore a trapezoid shape).
No-charge semi-circles are marked under the baskets. The distance of the inner edge of the semicircles is 1,25 m from the centre of the basket (on the floor).
2 small lines, called throw-in lines, are marked outside the court, on the opposite side of the scorer’s table, level to the top of the 3-point line.
New playing court from 2010   Playing court valid up to 2010
At the end of the game (or any period), a fraction of second can decide if a goal was in time or not. To simplify making decisions at such situations a new paragraph is introduced to better define how much time can pass during a shot, tap or dunk.
The game clock must indicate 0:00.3 (three tenths of a second) or more for a player to gain control of the ball on a throw-in or on a rebound after the last or only free throw in order to attempt a shot for a field goal. If the game clock indicates 0:00.2 or 0:00.1 the only type of a valid field goal made is by tapping or directly dunking the ball.
To make more exciting the end of a close game the throw-in spot in the frontcourt is introduced. This means that during the last 2 minutes of the game, following a time-out granted to the team that has been entitled to the possession of the ball from its backcourt, the subsequent throw-in will be taken on the opposite side of the scorer’s table from the new “throw-in line” and not as before from the centre line extended.
There is an important modification in the backcourt rule. When the ball touches an offensive player at the centre line the offensive player must have both feet in the frontcourt when the ball touches him in order that the ball is considered to be in the frontcourt.
The consequence of this ruling is: The player straddling the centre line is considered to be in his backcourt. This player may pivot backwards, until both feet are placed to the frontcourt or start a dribble or pass the ball also backwards, but the eight second count continues. The intent of this ruling is to create the same principle for any offensive player as for the dribbler, and by this, to allow normal movements for players who are straddling the centre line.
On a throw-in, the 8 or 24 second count starts when the ball touches or is legally touched by any player on the playing court. This means that the game clock and the shot clock start simultaneously. By the old rule the 24 second clock could start later because it started when the first player gained control of the ball on the court. At the end of the game some smart players tried to gain some seconds by not catching but only touching the ball. This ruling eliminates this possibility.
No charge semi-circle is introduced not to reward a defensive player who has taken a position under his own basket in order to draw a charging foul against an offensive player who is in control of the ball and is penetrating towards the basket.
The rule says: On any penetration play situation into the no-charge semi-circle area a contact caused by an airborne offensive player with a defensive player inside the no-charge semi-circle shall not be called as an offensive foul, unless the offensive player is illegally using his hands, arms, legs or body, when the offensive player is in control of the ball whilst airborne, and he attempts a shot or passes off, and the defensive player has both feet inside the no-charge semi-circle area.
During a last or only free throw, if a defensive player commits a violation a technical foul shall be given only in case of goaltending but not anymore for interference.

2012 brings very slight changes.
When the backboard is equipped with lighting around its perimeter, the lighting takes precedence over the game clock signal sound.

To provide the offensive player with more protection while he is in the air on the shot for goal the semi-circles become part of the no charge area. This means that the area is larger and the defensive player is considered inside the area when he stands on the semi-circle line.
In the last 2 minutes only 2 time-outs may be granted to a team.
To speed up the game and allow more attacks and shots during the game, when the offensive team gains control of a rebound the shot clock is reset only to 14 seconds.
The penalty for the technical foul has been found too excessive and it is reduced from 2 free throws plus possession to 1 free throw plus possession. However to discourage unsportsmanlike behaviour of the players, they will be disqualified when charged with 2 technical fouls.
The use of instant replay becomes wider. The referees can review play situation in many new cases.
Players are allowed to use numbers 0 and 00 and from 1 to 99.
Some new officials’ signal is introduced.
At the beginning of the 21st century, basketball is played and enjoyed by an estimated 400 million registered players all over the world. Basketball is one of the largest sporting families with 214 nations joined to FIBA.

Basketball is fast, dynamic, attractive and spectacular game. The score changes every minute making the game exiting. Thanks to these features basketball is one of the most popular games in the world and it has become the game of modern times.