The Rules They Are A ‘Changin’

Basketball Rules Changing

Rule Changes

They are not –  “ blowin’ in the wind“ , but as Bob Dylan did say  – “ the times they are a changin’ “ , well the rules are anyway.

Basketball rules have been constantly changing since the games inception in 1891, the list of changes is quite remarkable, some changes were good and some, well you have to wonder who in the hell came up with it, someone who obviously had not played the game.

3 Second Rule

Surprisingly some individual players became so dominant, that they had to change the rules to diminish their dominance, rules such as the 3 second rule, the width of the Key Way and Goal Tending.

Wilt “ The Stilt “ Chamberlain at 7’1 ¼ “ didn’t really need to jump

One of those players responsible was Wilt Chamberlain, probably the greatest athlete of all time , who was named in both the USA Basketball and Volleyball Hall of Fame. He was also both a High School and College athletic champion predominantly in 400 metres and High Jump.

Wilt “The Stilt“ Chamberlain at 7’1 ¼“ didn’t really need to jump.

He was a notoriously poor foul shooter ( career 55% ) and resorted to using the very old fashioned two hand underhand shot.  

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt , showing his two handed underhanded Foul Shooting style

Let’s not forget that he scored a record 100 pts in a single NBA game, including a surprising 28 from 32 foul shots.

The Rules of basketball are sanctioned by the FIBA Central Board which receives recommendations from the FIBA Rules Advisory Board which in turn co opts members from FIBA, the NBA and the NCAA.

World Cup And Olympics

Rule changes normally accompany a World Cup or Olympic games event.

These international rules however are often supplemented by other Rules already adopted by various basketball Associations such as the NBA and the NCAA.

Rules such as the NBA with 4 x 12 minute quarters and the NCAA with 2 x 20 minute halves.

The NBL and basketball Australia, always follow the FIBA International Rules.

Basketball Invention

The game of basketball was invented by Canadian Dr James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts in December 1891 as a way that Footballers could keep fit in the harsh winter months exercising indoors.

Dr James Naismith

He was involved with the International YMCA Training College, which was later to become Springfield College.


Because the YMCA ( Young Mens Christian Association ) was an International organisation, the game spread very quickly to other Nations around the world . It is estimated that 450 million people worldwide play Basketball in some 185 different countries.

The influence of the YMCA was huge, I remember in Adelaide that they had large premises in Flinders Street in the City with a Hostel and a full Indoor Court on the top floor , plus many branches with indoor courts spread throughout Adelaide. That influence has waned today although there are still a number of venues operating such as Walkerville, Kensington and Holdfast Bay.

I remember training in several of them.

The YMCA became very famous in 1978 with the release of the classic song by the Village people, most of whom might I say were not sporting inclined.

This new game became very popular very quickly and a fully fledged sport in it’s own right, adopted as a Winter College Sport by several colleges as early as 1892.

The actual date of the first intercollegiate game is contentious, but certainly games were taking place regularly by 1896.

Women took up the sport very quickly as well, with the first game being played at Smith College in 1893 and the first Intercollegiate game also in 1896.

At some stage in the 1920’s they started building a cage around the court to stop the ball from flying into the crowd, consequently players became known as Cagers, a name that stuck for several decades , well after they removed all of the cages.

Basketball Court Cage
Showing a game being played in a Cage in the early 20’s

The Basket

When Naismith first developed the game, he used Peach Baskets as the goal, although they required Officials to retrieve the Ball following each made Goal.

Eventually they cut out the bottom of that Basket which allowed the Ball to fall freely. The term Basket stuck after the goal was modified to it’s present design and because of that peach basket, the name of the game became known as  –  Basket Ball.

Naismith also developed 13 original rules and with no running or dribbling with the Ball, or backboard, it must have more closely resembled Netball.

Basketball for men first appeared in the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936 and was won by the USA defeating Canada in the Final 19-8 and Mexico beating Poland for the Bronze medal 26 – 12.

Gold Medal winning USA team at Berlin Games
Gold Medal winning USA team at Berlin Games

You will notice that the games were played outside on Grass tennis courts, which became a real problem when it rained. 

Basketball first appeared in the Olympic games in Berlin 1936
23 Nations competed

Dr. James Naismith’s 13 Original Rules of Basketball   

  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 if he tries to stop.  
  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must 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 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.  
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3 and 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 mean time 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 edges, 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 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.  
  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 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between.  
  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.   

These Original Rules however quickly changed and were updated to make the game look much more like the game that we recognise today.

20th Century Team
A team at the turn of the 20th Century

Dates And Rule Changes

Below is a list of the important dates and changes to the Rules  –

  • 1892 – First printed rules appear
  • 1892 – Baskets  of woven wire are introduced
  • 1893 – First backboards  –  6 ft  x 12 ft are introduced
  • 1894 – First actual basketball invented to replace the Soccer balls being used
  • 1894 – Free throw line shortened from 20 ft to 15 ft 
  • 1896 – Field goal reduced from 3 pts to 2 pts
  • 1896 – Free throw reduced from 3 pts to 1 pt
  • 1896 – Backboard  officially reduced to  6 ft x  4 ft
  • 1901 – Dribbler could not shoot for a basket , had to pass to another player
  • 1908 – Player committing 5 Fouls including travelling was disqualified from the game
  • 1909 – Glass backboards approved  –  much earlier than I would have thought
  • 1910 – Player disqualified after 4 fouls
  • 1913 – Bottom of Basket left open
  • 1920 – Player could only re enter game once
  • 1921 – Backboards moved 2 ft away from wall , to stop players from jumping up walls to shoot
  • 1922 – Travelling was changed from a personal Foul to a violation
  • 1923 – Player fouled had to take the free throw , ended designated  free throw shooter
  • 1929 – Use of wire or rope cage around court to keep ball in play was ended
  • 1930 – Games started using 2 referees instead of 1
  • 1932 – 10 second line created at half court to stop stalling
  • 1932 – No player with ball could stand in free throw lane more than 3 seconds
  • 1934 – Circumference of ball reduced to between 29.5 and 30.25 inches
  • 1936 – Greatest year of all for rule chnages  –
  • No offensive player could stay in lane more than 3 seconds
  • Timeouts increased from 3 to 4
  • Centre jump after each basket eliminated
  • Defensive player prohibited from touching Ball while on the rim
  • Basketballs without laces approved
  • 1939 – Backboards moved to 4 ft from end line
  • 1944 – Timeouts increased to 5
  • Players allowed unlimited substitutions
  • Number of fouls increased to 5 before disqualification
  • Defensive player could not touch the Ball on it’s downward flight
  • 1948 – Rectangular Glass backboards become official for College games
  • 1949 – Coaches finally allowed to speak to players during timeout
  • 1952 – Free throw lane widened from 6 ft to 12 ft
  • 1957 – Bonus free throws awarded after opposing team commits 7 fouls in a half
  • 1963 – Players committing a personal foul were asked to raise their arms
  • 1967 – Dunk shot banned from College Basketball – How stupid was that ?
  • 1972 – Freshmen allowed to play College basketball – previously they played in an all Freshman competition
  • 1976 – Dunk shot allowed again in College basketball
  • 1979 – NBA allowed a 3 pt shot
  • 1981 – Possession arrow introduced
  • 1985 – NCAA approves 45 second shot clock
  • 1986 – NCAA introduces 3 pt line
  • 1990 – 3 free throws awarded when shooter fouled shooting outside 3 pt line
  • 1993 – Shot clock reduced to 35 seconds for NCAA men
  • 2008 – College 3 pt line extended to 20 ‘ 9 “

Please be aware that these rules are essentially for NCAA & NBA, but most were eventually adopted internationally and not every rule change has been included, but it does give a guide as to how the game slowly morphed into what we know today.

Generally the rules have made common sense, although the passing back rule is a dinosaur and should be removed.

With a 24 / 30 second shot clock, it no longer serves the purpose for why it was introduced, plus they have to get the ball into the front court in 8 seconds, which is rarely ever called .

Plus teams protecting a lead nearly always get a shot up before the shot clock expires, although sometimes not a very convincing shot.

The only time that a team is penalised for passing back is when they accidentally cross back over the half court line or step on the line unintentionally.

The other rule which I personally particularly don’t like , is when a player intentionally throws the ball off of an opponent when going out of court. In my opinion this is very dangerous especially when thrown with force and should be stopped. If you were to throw the ball intentionally at an opposition player in general play, then you would be ejected. 

Now if you’re wondering why the Keyway is called – Keyway , then as you will see in the attached photo, it’s shape originally resembled a Door Key Hole , but even though that shape has changed several times since, the name has stuck.

Intercollegiate game
Showing the original Keyhole design , giving the Keyway it’s name

Comments would be most welcome especially suggestions as to rule changes that would change and improve the game.  

The Rules They Are A ‘Changin’

One Response

  1. Hello Mal, like your business webpage.
    It was a thinking mans game: Keith Miller called it high speed chess; Keith taught me both games.
    The rules to me have ben changed to protect the stupid….my view.
    What the rules have changed: tempo, there is only one tempo today up and back in less than 20 seconds.
    The three-point shot: I am guessing that someone said we need to stop the big men dominating Not thinking that big man can shoot long shots.
    To me those two rules have completely changed the game.
    Why: some teams love to play fast and have the ball in hand [most like that] if I were coaching against a team like that, I would slow the game down, make them wait, make them lose concentration, in other words use tempo against them. If the team wanted to slow the game down I would full court press, make them hurry. Coaches today do not have chance to do that the rules stop the chance to outthink the other coach.
    The three-point shot: this has changed the game. I now see kids and NBL players being coached to drive to the bucket and jump stop like as if they then had a triple threat and passing to the corners for a three-point shot, what rubbish. One: why the jump stop they cannot dribble again so NO triple threat. Two: drive to the bucket score [so many of them cannot do that] and get fouled, and score from the foul line, three points.
    To me the hard drive to the bucket was and is the showpiece of the game it takes the most skill to time your jump and know how you put the ball to the ring softly so it goes in or dunk it.
    The rules to change to me are:
    1. 30 or 35 second clock.
    2. No three-point shot
    3. Keep the passing back so it can be used to trap on the press
    4. Up the height of the ring. I am surprised this did not happen years ago.
    5. Call the carry the ball
    6. Call the travel.
    I can see a split coming in the game just like with Rugby it is only a matter of time.

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