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Basketball Rules & Regulations

Basketball is a dynamic, fast-paced game that has captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. It
produced one of the most electrifying plays in all of sports (the slam dunk) and the one of the worlds most
recognizable athletes (Michael Jordan). Despite the razzle-dazzle now associated with the sport, basketball is
essentially a simple game with a straightforward goal: Put the ball in the opponents basket.
Official basketball games are governed by a general set of rules that regulate the size of the court, number of players,
equipment specifications and game play. Rules, however, vary slightly based on country, region, division, and league.
The information below is a general overview of basic basketball rules and regulations.

Court and Equipment

Basketball is an adaptable game. Because of its simple equipment requirementsall you need is an elevated hoop
(10 feet above the ground) and a ballbasketball can be played in almost any environmental setting: Outdoor,
indoor, at a park, or even at the beach. Formal basketball competitions, however, are generally played indoors on a
hardwood court measuring 94 feet x 50 feet (court dimensions can vary depending on the league and/or level). For
more specific information regarding court and equipment specifications, click here to check out the Court
Dimensions page on iSport.

Principles of the Game

There are two primary objectives in basketball:

Score points by throwing or dropping the ball through the oppositions basket
Stop the opponent from scoring
Rules and regulations are in place to help maintain the flow of the game and to ensure player safety and fair play. It is
important to know and understand the major principles and/or rules of the sport, as they dictate how the game is
played. These rules are outlined below:

Time Limits
A basketball game is essentially a race against time. Most leagues/levels divide games into four equal periods called
quarters (the length of each period differs according to the level). However, it is not uncommon to divide a game into
halvestwo equal segments.
In addition to the game clock, many levels/leagues also play with a shot clocka device that limits the amount of time
a team can have the ball during each possession.


A team scores by throwing or dropping the ball through the opponents hoop from above. An attempt to score is called
a shot. Each time a player successfully puts the ball through the hoop their team is awarded one, two, or three points.
The number of points given for each successful shot depends on the type of shot. Below is a breakdown of the
different shot values:
Foul Shot/Free Throw: The referee will grant a foul shot to a player who is fouled while in the act of
shooting. A successful free throw is worth one point.
2 Point: Any shot taken within the area between the end line and the three point arc is worth two points if it
goes in.
3 Pointer: Any successful shot taken behind the three-point line is worth three points.

And the Winner is...

The team that scores the most points within the allotted time is the winner of the game.

If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, an extra
period is played to determine the winner. This period is
called overtime. The length of the extra period depends on
the league/level.
Overtime begins with a jump ball and ends when the
allotted time has expired. The team with the most points at
the end of the extra period is the winner. If the score
remains tied at the end of overtime, then another period will
be played; this process will continue until a winner can be

Moving the Ball

There are two ways to move the basketball: The pass and the dribble. Passingthe intentional transfer of the ball
from one player to another is the preferred option, because it is the fastest way to move the ball and involves team
work. The dribblethe continuous bouncing of the ball on the flooron the other hand, is an individual act. While it
can be necessary in certain situations, dribbling too often can easily get a player into trouble.

Rough Play
Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, despised the rough-play tactics rampant in sports like football and
rugby. Thus, when inventing basketball he did his best to create a sport that discouraged excessive roughness. The
modern rules reflect his desire.
By rule, basketball is a non-contact sport. This does not mean that any physical contact between opponents is illegal.
What it does mean however, is that players are not allowed to engage in rough/excessive physical contact and/or use
contact to gain a competitive advantage on the opponent.

Referees and Their Duties

The referee(s) are in charge of enforcing the rules. When a rule has been violated, the referee will use a whistle to
stop play and subsequently communicate said infraction using pre-designated hand signals. For a detailed guide to
deciphering the referees hand signals click here. The number of officials presiding over a given game depends on
the level of play. Youth and high school games generally
have two referees, while the college and professional ranks
employ three officials.
Referees are usually dressed in white-and-black stripped
shirts and black pants. Officials in the NBA are required to
wear a gray shirt and black pants.

Game Play
Though it can be played on an individual basiswhen two
people play against each other it is called one-on-one
basketball was designed to be a team sport. Teams can be
made up of anywhere from two to five players, but
traditionally, the sport is played between two teams of five.
Each team can have more than five players, but only five
players per team are allowed on the court at one time. The
five players who are on the court when the game begins are
called the starters. The other players are reserves or substitutes. Substitutions are allowed to enter the game during
dead ball situations (when play is stopped).
Once the starters are on the court and ready to get the game underway, play is initiated by a tip-off (also called a
jump ball). Two opposing players gather at midcourt and subsequently attempt to gain control of the ball after it is
tossed into the air in by an official between the two opposing players.
As soon as a team gains possession of the ball, that team is on offense; that means it will be actively trying to score
points. A team will remain in possession of the ball until it commits a violation/foul, scores, or turns the ball over to the

When a team does not have possession of the ball, it is on defense. In other words, it is trying to prevent the
offensive team from scoring. Defenders are allowed to contest a shot in an attempt to prevent scoring, but are not
allowed to use excessive physical contact. Doing so is a violation of the rules and considered a foul.

Breaking the Rules

Rule infractions generally fall into one of two categories: Fouls or violations. The penalty for a violation is less severe
than the penalty for a foul. Also, a player may commit any number of violations, but only five fouls (six in the NBA)
during a game.
For a better understanding of the difference between a foul and a violation (and a few examples of each), see the
descriptions below.



A foul is a breach of the rules concerning illegal contact between opponents and/or unsportsmanlike conduct. There
are two distinct types of fouls in basketball: The technical foul and the personal foul.
A technical foul is issued when a player, coach, or team commits an infraction of the games administrative
rules (any rules that have to do with equipment specifications, sportsmanship, or game procedure). These fouls
generally do not involve live-ball infractions, but can be issued in response to physical contact between two
opponents during a dead-ball situation. Examples of actions/behavior that may result in a technical foul include:
Unsportsmanlike conduct by either a coach or player. Inappropriate language is not tolerated and
will be penalized with a technical foul.
Submitting an incorrect roster.
Wearing uniforms that do not comply with regulations outlined in the rules.
Because the rules regarding the administration of technical fouls are fairly cut and dry, much of the focus here will be
on the personal foul.
A personal foul is a player foul that involves illegal contact with an opponent while the ball is live. The
offender is charged with one foul per violation, and if it is the players fifth foul he/she is disqualified from the game (in
the NBA players are allowed six fouls before disqualification). One of the officials main duties is to ensure that the
game is always played fairly and they have to think about the effect of player contact when determining its legality. If
the contact creates a disadvantage for either player, then it is called a foul. If it does not, no violation has occurred.


In basketball, a violation is when a player breaks one of the non-foul related rules. Violations can be called on both
the offense and the defense, but are most commonly called on the offensive team. An offensive violation results in the
loss of possession.
Here is a breakdown of a few of the most common violations:
Traveling: It is illegal to take more than one step while holding the ball doing. Players are allowed to
establish a pivot foot, but once a pivot foot is determined it cannot be lifted off the ground before the player shoots,
passes, or dribbles the ball.
Illegal dribble: A player shall not dribble a second time after his/her first dribble has ended.
Carrying/palming: Allowing the ball to come to a rest in one or both hands while dribbling.
Out of bounds: The court boundaries are marked by a sold line that is at least two inches thick. It is a
violation if a player contacts a boundary line while in possession of the ball.
Backcourt violation: Once a team establishes possession in the frontcourt, no person from that team may
be the first person to touch a ball that is knocked into the backcourt.

Read more at:

Official (basketball)
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An official making a call in a 2008 college basketball game

In basketball, an official is a person who has the responsibility to enforce the rules and maintain
the order of the game. The title of official also applies to the scorers and timekeepers, as well as
other personnel that have an active task in maintaining the game. Basketball is regarded as
among the most difficult sports to officiate due to: the fast speed of play, the complexity of rules
that must be followed, the unique case-specific interpretations of rules, and the instantaneous
judgement required.[citation needed]
Officials are usually referred to as referees; however, generally there is one lead referee and one
or two umpires, depending on whether there is a two- or three-person crew. In the NBA, the lead
official is called the crew chief and the other two officials are "referees".[1] In FIBA-sanctioned
play, two-man crews consist of a referee and an umpire, and three-man crews contain a referee
and two umpires. Regardless, both classes of officials have equal rights to control almost all
aspects of the game. In most cases, the lead official (In FIBA, the referee) performs the jump ball
to begin the contest, though NFHS and NCAA recently has allowed the referee to designate
which official (referee or umpire) shall perform the jump ball.


1 Equipment

2 Positions and responsibilities

3 Difficulty

4 Duties

4.1 Violations

4.2 Fouls

5 References

In American high school and college basketball, the officials generally wear black and white
striped shirts with black side panels(as pictured above), black pants and black shoes. Some state
high school association allow officials to wear grey shirts with black pin strips instead of the
black and white striped shirts. NBA officials wear gray shirts with black slacks and black shoes.
The NBA shirt is grey with black colored shoulders and sleeves, and the NBA logo above the
breast.[2] The WNBA referee shirt is similar to the NBA referee shirt, except that its shoulder and
sleeve colors are orange and the WNBA logo takes the place of the NBA logo.[3] FIBA officials
wear a grey (torso) and black (sleeves) official referee shirt, black trousers, black socks and black
shoes. Officials in competitions organized by Euroleague Basketball (company)the Euroleague
and Eurocupwear an orange referee shirt. Officials in the Israel Basketball Association
generally wear the Euroleague's orange uniform shirt, but on occasion, don a royal blue referee
shirt for contests between two Israeli teams. Most officials' slacks are currently belt-less, while
most officials' shirts are collar-less, V-neck shirts.
All officials wear a whistle that is utilized to stop play as a result of a foul or a violation on the
court. In all instances of officiating, hand signals are utilized to indicate the nature of the
infraction or to administer the game.
In higher levels of college and professional ball, all officials wear a timing device on the belt-line
called PTS (Precision Timing System). The device is used by on court officials to start and stop
the game clock in a timely manner, rather than waiting for the scoreboard operator (Time keeper)
to do so. The first official recorded was Peter Vanloon.

Positions and responsibilities[edit]

A diagram of the relative positions of basketball officials in "three-person"

mechanics. The lead official (L) is normally along the baseline of the court. The trail
official (T) takes up a position approximately level with the top of the three-point
line. The center official (C) stands across the court near the free throw line.

The officials must ensure that the game runs smoothly, and this encompasses a variety of
different responsibilities, from calling the game to player and spectator management. They also
carry a duty of care to the players they officiate and to ensure that the court and all equipment
used is in a safe and usable condition. Should there be an issue that inhibits the safe playing of
the game, then it is the job of the officials to rectify the problem. Quite often, the job of an
official surpasses that of the game at hand, as they must overcome unforeseen situations that may
or may not have an influence on the game.
There are two standard methods for officiating a basketball game, either "two-person" or "threeperson" mechanics depending on how many officials are available to work the game. In "twoperson" mechanics, each official works either the lead or the trail position. The lead position is
normally along the baseline of the court, with the trail position having its starting point at the free
throw line extended on the left side of the court facing the basket. Officials do change position a
lot during the game to cover the area in the best possible way. As the game transitions from one
end of the court to the other, the lead becomes the trail and vice versa. Between the two
positions, each is responsible for a specific part of the court as well as two each of the side, base
or back court lines. Officials change position after certain calls (mostly when the lead official
calls a defensive foul). This allows officials to alternate between positions to increase the speed
of play; one official will approach the bench whilst another, usually the closest to the bench at
that time, will move to occupy his position. This also prevents one official from always working
one particular team's basket throughout the course of the game.
In "three-person" mechanics, the court is further divided among three officials, with the lead
(baseline) official determining the position of the other two officials. Normally, the lead official
will move to the side of the court in which the ball is located (strong side), particularly if there is
a "post-up" player in that position. The official that is on the same sideline as the lead official
then takes up a position approximately level with the top of the three-point line and becomes the
"trail" official, while the third official will stand across the court near the free throw line in what
is called the center position. This creates a triangle coverage of the court. Often, the lead will
switch sides of the baseline during a play, requiring the trail to move down to be level with the
free-throw line and become the new center, while the center will move up and become the trail.
As the ball moves to the other end of the court in transition, the lead will become the trail, the
trail will become the lead, and the center official will remain in the centre (unless the new "lead"
moves across the baseline to cover the strong side, in which case the center official and trail
would then switch positions.)


NBA referees Monty McCutchen (center), Tom Washington (#49) and Brent Barnaky
reviewing a play.

Basketball is regarded as among the most difficult sports to officiate. Usually basketball officials
have only a brief moment to determine if an infraction has occurred, due to the speed of play of
the game and the officials proximity to the action. Especially difficult is the "charge/block" call
as to which player is responsible for contact. Officials often rely on instant replay to review
Despite the misconception that basketball is a non-contact sport, officials often let a large amount
of marginal or incidental contact pass uncalled. An official must always be wary of not just what
is happening around the ball, but the roughness of play going on around the whole court, adding
to the job of the official.
Further complicating the job of an official is the proximity to the crowds. Unlike football or
baseball, the crowd is nearly always located within a few feet of the official, as are coaches and
other players on the bench. To combat this, officials are able to remove fans from the arena with
an ejection.


When a violation occurs, game action is immediately stopped. These include traveling, illegal
dribbles, out-of-bounds, and other violations. The official is required to blow the whistle and
immediately stop play and award the ball over to the opposing team.

A foul normally occurs when a player physically impedes the action of a player of the opposing
team. Examples include blocking, hand-checking, illegal use of the hands and pushing is one of
the more discretionary calls. A player may legally gain possession of a rebound over an
opponent, provided they do not physically displace them. The proper foul, if one occurs in this
situation, is normally a "push foul" for displacing the other rebounder.
If for some reason a player or team member (or in rare cases a spectator) behaves with disorderly
or offensive conduct, officials often charge a technical foul or unsportsmanlike foul against that
person. If a player or team member displays further inappropriate behavior, officials may eject
the person from the court. This adds to the stress load of the official; these types of fouls often
aggravate players and spectators, often resulting in rough play, leading to more technical fouls
and/or ejections.[citation needed] Coaches, particularly in higher levels of basketball, will sometimes
intentionally behave inappropriately in order to receive a technical foul, with the aim of "firingup" players and spectators.[citation needed]