The Basic Rules of Basketball
If you just started playing or watching basketball, understanding how the game works can take some time. The rules can be complex and confusing at more advanced and professional levels.
The basic rules of basketball are fundamentally the same. Here is a quick look at those to help you better understand one of the most popular sports in the world.
Team Sport and Court
Basketball is a team sport. Organized games involve two teams with five players on the court. There can be more than five players on the team, but only five can be actively playing at any time.
Games of less than five players do occur on the playground, gym, or other organized situations. 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 are typical for pickup games, but not at higher levels.
Full-court games have two baskets with rims that are 10-feet tall. Each team has a specified basket on their half of the court. Court sizes and widths can vary by level and league.
Scoring and Time
Basketball games are timed, and the winner is whichever team has the most points when game time has expired. Games are commonly split into four quarters but can also be divided into two halves.
The NBA has four 12 minute quarters and the length of a basketball game varies depending on the game-experience and type of competition the teams are participating in.
Points are awarded when the ball goes through the basket. This can be through shots, dunks, layups, and other variations of these.
Different points are awarded for various shots. A 2-point shot occurs anywhere near the basket inside of the 3-point line. 3 points are awarded for shots behind the 3-point line. 1 shot is awarded for free throws, also known as foul shots.
Teams can only score points on their side of the court. These sides switch at halftime, which is at the end of the first two quarters or the first half.
When a team has possession of the basketball, they are on offense.
The players can pass, dribble, or shoot. In order to move with the ball, players must dribble the ball - bounce it on the ground while running. If they stop dribbling, they cannot dribble again and must either pass or shoot.
The ball must also stay in bounds when the offensive team has possession. If it goes outside of the court boundaries, possession of the ball is awarded to the team who did not touch the ball last before going out of bounds.
When a team does not have possession of the basketball, they are on defense.
Defensive players try to take the basketball away from the other team and prevent them from scoring. The basic rule on defense is not to foul the opposing player.
Fouls occur when a defensive player touches an offensive player in a way that affects their ability to dribble, pass, or shoot. If a foul is committed during the act of shooting, the offensive player gets to shoot free throws.
Beyond the Basics
There are many more rules to basketball and the basic ones described here. While these will give you a good understanding of the game to get started, hundreds of others are at the professional level.
Check out the complete NBA rulebook here.