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Basketball facts for kids

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Quick facts for kids
LeBron James Layup (Cleveland vs Brooklyn 2018).jpg
NBA player LeBron James (far right) attempts a layup shot against the Brooklyn Nets
Highest governing body FIBA
First played December 21, 1891; 132 years ago (1891-12-21) Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Contact Limited-contact
Team members 5 per side
Mixed gender Yes, separate competitions
Type Indoor/Outdoor
Equipment Basketball
Venue Indoor court (mainly) or outdoor court (Streetball)
Country or region Worldwide
Olympic Yes, demonstrated in the 1904 and 1924 Summer Olympics
Part of the Summer Olympic program since 1936
Paralympic Yes
A basketball

Basketball is a team sport in which two teams, usually consisting of five players on each team, play against each other on a rectangular court.

The goal of the game is to throw (shoot) the ball through a hoop mounted high on a backboard on the opponent's side of the court, while stopping the opponent from shooting it into your team's hoop. Each basket made is worth two points, while a basket made from outside the three-point line is worth three points.

The game of basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith. The first public basketball game took place in 1892. Today, it is a very popular sport worldwide, played with a round and usually orange (or orange-brown) ball that bounces.

Basketball players use skills such as dribbling (bouncing), shooting, running, and jumping.

The game lasts for four quarters and the team with the most points at the end of the four quarters wins the game. If the score is tied at the end of the game, there will be overtime, which is additional playtime to allow one team to win the match.

The game is played between men's teams or between women's teams.

Basketball has been played in the Summer Olympic Games since 1936.

The shot clock rule started in 1954.

The history of basketball

Kansas U team 1899
The 1899 University of Kansas basketball team, with James Naismith at the back, right.

In early December 1891, James Naismith (1861–1939), a Canadian physical education teacher at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented an indoor game called basketball. He invented the sport to keep his students from becoming bored during the winter.

The first game of basketball was played at the International Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. There is a sculpture in Springfield, outside where the first game was held. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is also in Springfield.

For that first game of basketball in 1891, Naismith nailed two half-bushel peach baskets onto 20-foot poles, which gave the sport its name. He told the enthusiastic students the rules he had written and began the game. After much running and shooting, William R. Chase made a midcourt shot, which was the only score in that historic contest.

Word spread about the newly invented game, and many associations wrote Naismith for a copy of the rules, which were published in the January 15, 1892, issue of the Triangle, the YMCA Training School's campus paper.

Since the rules had not been formally written, there was no maximum number of players then, unlike today. This also meant that there were no set rules to the game; Naismith only observed how it was played and changed the rules accordingly.


Basketball Goal
An outdoor basketball net

The court, where the game is played, is a rectangle, and at both end lines, there is a goal called a "hoop" in the shape of a circle basket with the bottom cut out.

In each game of basketball these things are required:

  • Basketball
  • Basketball court
  • Basketball hoop and backboard
Johor Bahru District Basketball Association Basketball Stadium
A Basketball arena in Malaysia.


2006 World Championship for Women Australia
The Australian women's basketball team on winning the 2006 FIBA World Championship

Basketball is played with two teams, with 5 players from each team on the court at one time. The maximum number of players on the bench (sitting on the sideline waiting to play) differs by the league. In international play, a maximum of 7 players is allowed on the bench, resulting in a roster of 12 players. The NBA has 13-player rosters; college and high school teams have 15-player rosters. When a player is told to take the place of another player on the court, they let the score bench know. The referees will signal for the player waiting to come into the court. The player that was in the game comes off the court and the player that was sitting on the bench goes onto the court. This is called a substitution. In regional matches, in some areas, a minimum of 3 players are required to be on the bench.

Playing regulations

Basketball shot
Player releases a short jump shot, while her defender is either knocked down or trying to "take a charge."

A game of basketball is made up of four different quarters, each ten (or in the NBA, 12) minutes long. In the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA, there are two 20-minute halves. At the start of every game, the referee throws the basketball up in the air, and one player from each team tries to hit it to their teammates. That is called a "jump ball."

At the start of each quarter, the team who has the possession arrow pointing toward their hoop gets the ball. Then the arrow is switched, and the next team gets the ball the next quarter.

The ball is moved forward by shooting, passing (throwing or handing off), or dribbling it. Players may not walk or run more than two steps without dribbling the ball. If this rule is violated, it is called a travel.

Baskets can be worth 1, 2, or 3 points. Each normal score is worth two points; however, if a player throws the ball into the hoop from behind the large arched line on the court, called the "three-point line," the score is worth three points.

If a player does something illegal in the game, it is called a "foul." If a player fouls someone on the other team who is shooting the basketball, the player who was fouled gets to shoot "free throws." If the player was attempting a 2-point shot, he gets two free throws. If the player was attempting a 3-point shot, he gets three free throws. A free throw is shot from the straight line in front of the hoop called the "foul line." No players are allowed to try to block the shot. Each successful free throw is worth one point.

If a player fouls an opponent who is not shooting, the other team gets the ball and can throw it in bounds from the sideline. Players can do three things with the ball: "dribble" (bounce) the ball, "pass" the ball to a teammate, or "shoot" the ball at the hoop. The player with the ball tries to keep the ball and not let the other team get it.

The ball can't be kicked or hit with a fist. If this is violated, the other team gets possession of the ball and gets to throw it in from the nearest out-of-bounds area.

Once a player commits five fouls, he is no longer allowed to play in the game, and a player on the bench must go into the game immediately. If a team commits four fouls, the opposing team gets to shoot a free throw on any next foul that doesn't involve shooting (depending on the league).

After four quarters, the team that scores the most points wins. If the two teams score the same number of points, there is a five-minute "overtime" to see who can score more points. "Overtime" can be played over and over until one team finally scores more points.

Basketball terms

Kids playing basketball in Farah
Kids playing basketball in Farah, Afghanistan

There are some basketball terms that players have to understand when playing the game. Here are some terms:

  • Field goal is any shot made in normal play. Field goals are worth 2 points, unless the shooter was outside the three-point line, in which case it is worth 3 points.
  • Assist is to pass a teammate the ball, which they shoot and score.
  • Rebound is the act of catching the basketball after a shot has been attempted but missed.
  • Personal foul is any contact committed by a player of the other team that is thought by the referee to have caused a disadvantage.
  • Technical foul is a player's violation of certain basketball rules. They include:
    • fighting or threatening to fight with another person,
    • entering the basketball court when it is not a substitution time,
    • being out of bounds (away from the court) to gain an advantage,
    • being one of too many players playing on the court,
    • refusing to sit on the bench,
    • returning to play when disqualified (loses his privileges to play).
    • yelling and/or swearing at another player or an official.
  • Free throw is a basketball throw from the free-throw line from either personal, technical, unsportsmanlike, or disqualifying fouls. Each free throw made is worth one point. The number of free throws attempted is determined by the following:
    • A missed field goal and a drawn foul will result in 2 free throws.
    • A made field goal and a drawn foul will result in 1 free throw.
    • A missed 3-point attempt and a drawn foul will result in 3 free throws.
    • A made 3-point attempt and a drawn foul will result in 1 free throw.
    • A "flagrant foul," (unsportsmanlike conduct) will result in 2 free throws and the same team's possession.
    • A technical foul will result in 2 free throws and the same team's possession. (In the NBA and WNBA, technical fouls result in 1 free throw instead of 2.)
  • Steal is to take the ball away from a person who is dribbling, shooting, or passing without physically touching the person (committing a foul).
  • Turnover is when the team that controls the ball loses control and the other team gains control.
  • Walkover is the automatic victory of a team if the opposing team withdraws, is disqualified, or there is not any competition at all.
  • Substitution (Sub) is the act of replacing a player from the court with another player sitting on the bench.
  • Double dribble is when a player dribbles the ball and picks it up and then dribbles it again without having shot or passed it. Dribbling the ball with two hands is also a double dribble. If a player double dribbles, the ball is automatically given to the other team.
  • Carry is when a player physically turns the ball over with their hands while dribbling it.
  • Travel is when a player in possession of the ball moves both feet without dribbling the ball. If a player travels, the ball is automatically given to the opposing team.
  • Shot clock is a clock designed to limit the time a team has to shoot a basketball. The shot clock is different in different leagues, but it is usually between 24 and 35 seconds. After time runs out, the ball is automatically given to the opposing team unless they shoot before the clock runs out and hit the rim, or the ball enters the basket.
  • Jump ball happens at the start of every game. This is where the ball gets thrown up from the center circle and one person from each team jumps for it, aiming to hit it to one of his teammates. Jump balls can also occur if there is a disagreement among referees, if a situation occurs in which penalties/fouls may cancel each other out, or if a held ball is called.
  • Alternating possession is a way to put the ball back in play using an inbounds pass rather than a jump ball. Each time a situation occurs in which there would be a jump ball, the team with the arrow pointing in their direction gets the ball and the arrow switches direction.
  • Clutch is a shot made at a difficult moment in the game, usually when the shot clock is about to run out, or if the team losing by 1 or 2 points suddenly wins the game because of the clutch shot.
  • Backcourt violation is when a player crosses the half-court line and then walks back over the line while holding the ball or passes to another player who is behind the half-court line.
  • 3-second violation is when a player stands in the lane (an area marked by the big square in front of the basket) for more than 3 seconds. The offensive team that commits a 3-second violation will lose the possession of the ball. The defensive team that commits a 3-second violation will receive a technical foul.
  • 8- or 10-second violation is when the team with the ball fails to advance the ball past the half-court line within the allowed time. The offensive team will lose possession. The allowed time is 8 seconds in international play, the NBA, and WNBA, and 10 seconds in college and high school play for both males and females. Women's college basketball was the last level of basketball to add this violation, only doing so for the 2013–14 season.
  • Draft pick is an eligible player selected to play for one of thirty teams in the NBA.


Basketball foul
The referee signals that a foul has been committed.

In a game of basketball, there are officials who are not from either team. They are there to make sure the game runs fairly and efficiently. Here is a list of some of these people:

  • Umpire: There are either one, two, three, four, or five umpires in a game of basketball. It is the umpires' job to make the game more fair by enforcing the rules of the game. In the NBA and WNBA, the term "umpire" is not used; the person who has this role is called the referee.
  • Referee: Under the rules of FIBA (the worldwide governing body for basketball), the NCAA (U.S. college basketball), and NFHS (U.S. high schools), there is one referee in a game of basketball. He is the "head" referee and has all the jobs of the umpires along with a couple more responsibilities. He is also the one that makes the final decision for most problems and is the one who throws the ball up for the tipoff at the start of the match.
  • Timekeeper: There is one timekeeper whose job is to keep track of the time and to tell the referees when time for each quarter has run out.
  • Scorekeeper: There is one scorekeeper whose job is to keep track of and record all points scored, shots attempted, fouls made, and timeouts called.
  • Assistant Scorekeeper: There is one assistant scorekeeper. His job is to assist the scorekeeper by telling him the players who score points and to hold up a number for each foul called, showing everyone the number of fouls the specified player has for the game.
  • Shot Clock Operator: There is one shot clock operator and his job is to keep resetting and holding the device when needed or told to by a referee. This person needs to have good reflexes and quickness, as he has to quickly reset the timer when the game starts again.

Fans and media in North America will often use "referee" to describe all on-court officials, whether their formal titles are "referee," "umpire," or "crew chief."

Positions in basketball

Basketball positions
Basketball positions in the offensive zone

In professional basketball teams, each player has a position. A position is a job or role that a player has in the game. If everyone is doing their job correctly, the team is usually successful.

  • Point guard (PG) (1) - Point guards are responsible for leading the team on offense. It is their job to take the ball out (to dribble the ball halfway across their team's court side into the opposing team's court side). They also have to plan an "attack" or "play" - a series of movements and passes a team will use to score. Point guards can be small, but they have to be very fast and possess good ball-handling skills. The most important thing for the PG is a wide view. PG should control the game when on offense. This is why PG is called "the coach on the court."
  • Shooting guard (SG) (2) - Shooting guards generally are a little bit taller and slower than point guards. They have to make good shots from far distances (like the three-point line).
  • Small forward (SF) (3) - Small forwards are usually taller than both point guards and shooting guards. They are the team's most versatile player, doing everything from rebounding and assisting to scoring.
  • Power forward (PF) (4) - Power forwards are usually one of the strongest players who play inside the 3-point line. Their job is to rebound and score in the opposing team's basket, although it is unusual for a power forward to score the most points for the team.
  • Center (C) (5) - Centers will usually be the tallest player on the team. They score close to the basket, rebound, and block shots on the defensive end. They also start the game in the tipoff.

Other positions, more usual in professional basketball teams, are used in basketball.

  • Swingman - a basketball player who can play both small forward and shooting guard positions.
  • Stretch four (also cornerman) - a basketball player who can play both power forward and small forward positions.
  • Point forward - a basketball player who can play both point guard and forward (either small forward or power forward) positions.
  • Forward-center - a basketball player who can play both forward (usually power forward) and center positions.


Slow-motion animation of a dunk

There are many types of basketball. Some are for people with disabilities, others are played more by a specific group, some are played using only half the court, and some are for when there are fewer players.

Wheelchair basketball

Wheelchair Basketball Team
Wheelchair Basketball Team

In this variation, the players are all seated in a wheelchair. This is often played by people who cannot walk or are unable to play normal basketball. The rules are altered slightly, but the game follows the same general concepts.

3 on 3

Basketball at Simiyu Tanzania 48
Kids playing basketball in Simiyu Tanzania

This is the most popular "pick-up game" variation of basketball. Pick-up games are when teams are chosen on the court instead of having official teams. Because pick-up games have no referee, this more casual game has more relaxed rules than official games. Instead of 5 players, there are only three players on each team, hence the name.

While the exact rules vary from place to place, there are several common rules typically found in most games, including:

  • The game is played on a half-court instead of a full-court.
  • Players call their own fouls and violations.
  • Players inbound the ball from the top of the three-point line.
  • After a turnover, the team that gets the ball must take it out past the free-throw or three-point line before trying to score.
  • On any foul, the ball is inbounded. There is no foul shot.
  • Normal shots are worth one point, and shots beyond the 3-point arc are worth 2 points.
  • The game is played to a pre-determined set score rather than being timed.
  • First possession is decided by one or more players shooting 3-point shots to see who goes first.

There are officially sponsored 3-on-3 tournaments, though the game is mostly played without an official league.

Variations with 2-player and 4-player teams often follow this same format.


Twenty-one (21) is a variation of basketball that does not include teams. It is often played with odd numbers of players or when there are too few players for 3-on-3 games.

The object of 21 is to score exactly 21 points. Players keep track of their own scores and call out their points after making a basket. All players play defense against all other players and compete for the rebound on a miss.

When a player makes a shot, he or she scores 2 points and is then awarded a chance to score an additional 3 points by attempting a series of free throws. If a player makes a free throw, he or she is awarded an additional point and an additional free throw. If a player makes three straight free throws, they are then given the ball at the top of the key and the other players may then defend.

One special rule is that if a player gets 20 points and then misses a free throw, or scores 17 points and then makes all three free throws, their score is set back to 15. This is because their next basket would put them over 21 points, and the object of the game is to get exactly 21.

Because there are no teams, there are special rules to 21:

  • The game is played on a half-court instead of a full-court.
  • There are no fouls, traveling violations, or out-of-bounds. Play continues despite any of these. However, flagrantly breaking the rules by not dribbling, intentionally double dribbling, or fouling too harshly is not accepted and is dealt with by the other players.
  • Some players use an honor system, returning the ball to a player who was fouled too hard.
  • The defenders do not usually all gang up on the person with the ball. Instead, the last person to shoot and miss defends while the rest look for the rebound.


The game H-O-R-S-E, (pronounced horse) is played by two or more players. The player in control of the ball tries to make a shot however they want. If they succeed, the other players have to repeat the shot. If they miss, they get an H on their imaginary scorecard. If the player with the ball missed their shot, no letter is added, and control moves to the next player. Players are allowed to play until they have all 5 letters of the word horse.

Interesting facts about basketball

  • Basketball was played with a soccer ball until 1929.
  • Slam dunks were made illegal from 1967–1976 because of injury concerns.
  • Bob Kurland was the first person recognized to do a slam dunk.
  • According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest basketball shot of 112 ft 6 in (34.29 m) was made in September 2014 by Elan Buller in the USA.
  • Some basketball sneakers have been banned by the NBA because they can give the player an advantage when playing, like helping them jump higher.
  • The first backboards were made from chicken wire. These were made to stop people who were watching the game from interfering with the ball when a player took a shot.
  • Basketball has over 1 billion followers around the world.
  • The top four countries in which basketball is most popular are the United States, the Philippines, Australia, and Canada.
  • Basketball is the highest-paid sport in the world. The average salary for an NBA player in 2023 is $8.5 million!
  • An NBA player can run over 4 miles (6.4 km) in a game.

Related pages

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See also

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