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Basketball Essay, Research Paper

Basketball is an athletic sport, usually played on an indoor court in which two competing teams of five players each attempt to score by throwing an inflated ball so that it descends through one of two baskets suspended, at each end of the court, above their heads. The team scoring the most such throws, through field goals or foul shots, wins the game. Because of its continuous action and frequent scoring, basketball is one of the most popular spectator as well as participant sports in the world.

Court and Teams

The measurements of American and international basketball courts differ slightly. The basketball court is a rectangular area ranging in size from about 94 ft by 50 ft to about 74 ft by 42 ft. At each end of the court is a vertical backboard, measuring usually about 6 ft by 4 ft. Each backboard is anchored to a wall, suspended from the ceiling, or otherwise mounted so that its lower edge is about 9 ft above the court. Backboards originated to keep spectators from interfering with the game. The baskets are attached firmly to the backboards about 10 ft above the playing surface. Each basket is about 18 inches in diameter and consists of a horizontal hoop, or metal ring, from which a fringe of wide-meshed white netting is hung. The regulation basketball is an inflated, leather- or nylon-covered sphere that weighs from 20 to 22 oz and has a circumference of about 30 in.

A conventional basketball team, which is directed by a coach, is made up of two forwards, two guards, and a center. At the beginning of play, called the opening jump, the forwards of one team are stationed in the forecourt that is, the half of the playing area containing the basket at which their team is shooting. The two guards stand in the backcourt. The center, usually the tallest player on the team, stands inside a circle that has a radius of about 24 in and is located midway along a line painted across the center of the court.


Basketball rules change frequently with the intent of speeding its action, increasing the scoring, and offsetting the advantages given to teams with extremely tall players. Slightly different regulations govern international basketball and the college, scholastic, professional, and women’s games in the United States. In 1971 rules for women’s basketball were redrawn, making it more like the men’s game. Games are supervised by referees, umpires, official scorekeepers, and timers.


The game commences with the tip-off, when the referee tosses the ball into the air over the center circle, in which the opposing centers stand face to face. The centers then leap into the air and attempt, with their hands, to tap the ball to their teammates. The team that gets the ball attempts to advance it toward the basket defended by the opposing side, in order to try for a field goal, or basket, scoring two or three points, depending on the player’s distance from the basket. A player may advance the ball by passing it to a teammate or by bouncing (dribbling) it continually along the floor while running toward the basket. If a player walks or runs with the ball without dribbling it a violation called traveling that player’s team surrenders possession of the ball. After a basket is scored, the opposing team puts the ball into play from behind its end line and in turn tries to move the ball upcourt to score.

Penalties and Free Throws

A player subjected to illegal body contact, termed a personal foul, receives one or two free throws, from a foul line about 4 m (about 15 ft) from the basket. Each successful free throw counts for one point. Typical fouls include pushing, holding, charging, and tripping. A player fouled in the act of shooting, but scoring the basket, receives one free throw in addition to the basket; this is called a three-point play. In professional basketball, excessive fouls are penalized by granting the opponents extra free-throw chances. A player who exceeds the maximum number of personal fouls allowed (in amateur play, five; in professional play, six) is eliminated from the game. Interference with certain shots that are near or about to drop through the basket is called goaltending on defense, and basket interference on offense. The basket is ruled good after goaltending and disallowed after basket interference.

Amateur games usually are divided into two halves, each containing 20 minutes of actual play; professional games are divided into four quarters, each containing 12 minutes of play. An added feature of college and professional games is the rule that a team must shoot at the basket within a certain time limit after putting the ball in play. In college basketball, the time limit is 35 seconds in men’s games and 30 seconds in women’s games. Professional games have a 24-second limit.

Professional Competition

In recent years almost all professional basketball players in the United States have come from the college ranks; professional teams conduct annual drafts to select promising players. The principal professional league in the United States is governed by the National Basketball Association (NBA), formed in 1949. With the addition of 2 new teams in 1994, the NBA grew to 29 teams, in 2 conferences (Eastern and Western) made up of 4 regional divisions. Play-offs are held at the end of each 82-game season to determine the league champion. The NBA also gives a number of annual awards, including awards for most valuable player and rookie of the year.


Basketball was invented in December 1891 by the Canadian clergyman, educator, and physician James Naismith. Naismith introduced the game when we was an instructor at the Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the request of his superior, Dr. Luther H. Gulick, he organized a vigorous recreation suitable for indoor winter play. The game involved elements of American football, soccer, and hockey, and the first ball used was a soccer ball. Teams had nine players, and the goals were wooden peach baskets affixed to the walls. By 1897-1898, teams of five became standard. The game rapidly spread nationwide and to Canada and other parts of the world, played by both women and men; it also became a popular informal outdoor game. U.S. servicemen in World War II (1939-1945) popularized the sport in many other countries.

A number of U.S. colleges adopted the game between about 1893 and 1895. In 1934 the first college games were staged in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, and college basketball began to attract heightened interest. By the 1950s basketball had become a major college sport, thus paving the way for a growth of interest in professional basketball.

The first pro league, the National Basketball League, was formed in 1898 to protect players from exploitation and to promote a less rough game. This league only lasted five years before disbanding; its demise spawned a number of loosely organized leagues throughout the northeastern United States. One of the first and greatest pro teams was the Original Celtics, organized about 1915 in New York City. They played as many as 150 games a season and dominated basketball until 1936. The Harlem Globetrotters, founded in 1927, a notable exhibition team, specializes in amusing court antics and expert ball handling.

In 1949 two subsequent professional leagues, the National Basketball League (formed in 1937) and the Basketball Association of America (1946) merged to create the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Boston Celtics, led by their center Bill Russell, dominated the NBA from the late 1950s through the 1960s. By the 1960s, pro teams from coast to coast played before crowds of many millions annually. Wilt Chamberlain, a center for the Los Angeles Lakers, was another leading player during the era, and his battles with Russell were eagerly anticipated. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a center, came to prominence during the 1970s. Jabbar perfected his famed “sky hook” shot while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and dominated the opposition.

The NBA suffered a drop in popularity during the late 1970s, but was resuscitated, principally through the growing popularity of its most prominent players. Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers are credited with injecting excitement into the league in the 1980s through their superior skills and decade-long rivalry. During the late 1980s Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls rose to stardom and helped the Bulls dominate the NBA during the early 1990s. A new generation of basketball stars, including Shaquille O’Neal of the Orlando Magic and Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets, have sustained the NBA’s growth in popularity.

In 1959 a Basketball Hall of Fame was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts. Its rosters include the names of great players, coaches, referees, and people who have contributed significantly to the development of the game.

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