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Dr. James Naismith’s Famous 13 Rules of Basketball

These rules were written on December 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game of Basketball. This 125 year old document was auctioned in 2010 for more than $4 million for charity. The proceeds will benefit the Naismith foundation, which promotes sportsmanship and provides services to underprivileged children around the world.

The first Basketball game played was guided by these 13 rules. It was played with a soccer ball and two teams of nine players each. (There were 18 total students in Naismith’s physical education class). The score of the game was 1-0 and William Chase is credited with the first basket in the history of Basketball; a 25 foot shot in the middle of the 30 minute game.

A couple of Peach Baskets were used in the first game of "Basket Ball"

A couple of Peach Baskets were used in the first game of “Basket Ball”

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The game of Basketball has been evolving over time, but the essential principles remain constant. Here are the famous 13 first rules of Basketball and how the compare to the current NBA rules as of 2016:

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

Current: This rule is still true, as the ball can be thrown or passed in any direction. The only change to this rule is the backcourt violation. Once the ball has crossed midcourt, it cannot be passed behind the midcourt line unless touched by a defensive player first.

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

Current: The ball can still be batted away with one or both hands. It can be batted from a player’s hands or batted away during a shot. This rule led to the evolution of the blocked shot, as defensive players can block a shot while it is on its upward path to the basket.

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 if he tries to stop.

Current: A player cannot run with the ball, as he must dribble or pass the ball. A player running with the ball is called for travelling.

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

Current: The ball can only be held in the hands or the arms of a player. A player cannot use his body to hold the ball or to obstruct the ball from getting to a player or going in the net.

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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 player 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.

Current: The noted offences still apply today and result in fouls or even ejections. Like the Naismith rule, a player can be thrown out of a game for intent to injure. A flagrant foul is unnecessary or excessive contact against an opponent that results in two shots and possession of the ball. A player that commits a flagrant foul may be ejected from the game or suspended for a period of time.

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

Current: NBA players today are permitted to be more creative, as they use passes like the chest pass, bounce pass, behind-the-back pass and even the occasional pass off the elbow, like the move of guard Jason Williams in the 2000 Rookie Challenge.

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

Current: Though this rule is no longer in effect, after five fouls in a quarter a team is in the penalty and the fouled team shoots two free throws.

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 edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

Current: This rule has changed in the sense that the basket now has a hole in it and the ball does not stay there, it goes through. However, a player cannot touch the rim when the ball has been shot and is on its way to the basket. The goaltending violation originated from this rule.

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9. When the ball goes out-of-bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in 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 that side.

Current: The five-second rule still exists today and if a player does not throw the ball in within five seconds, the ball is turned over to the other team. The five-second rule also states that a player who is in-bounds must pass, shoot or dribble within five seconds or he will lose possession of the ball.

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.

Current: In the NBA today there are three referees who call fouls and determine ejections.

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.

Current: NBA referees still determine possession of the ball. However, there are separate timekeepers who monitor the game clock and check substitute players into a game. A scorekeeper keeps the statistics of a game such as the score, individual statistics and fouls.

12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between.

Current: This has changed, as NBA games currently include two halves consisting of four 12-minute quarters. Games that are tied as time expires go into a five-minute overtime period. There is a 15-minute halftime break between the two halves.

13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

Current: The team with the most points at the end of the game is declared the winner. If a game is tied, it goes into overtime, which continues until one team has more points at the end of a five-minute overtime period.

Note: These original rules were published January 15, 1892 in the Springfield College school newspaper, The Triangle.


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