Know your sport: Basketball

Know your sport: Basketball
Action from the Kenyan Basketball league

A basketball team consists of five players per side and is divided into different positions. Like most sports the team has very clear roles to support their overall success:

Basketball is played by two teams of five players, with the aim of shooting a ball through the opposing team’s hoop, which is positioned ten feet above the ground.

Basketball brings together a combination of speed, skill, agility, balance, and tactics. The game is contested by two teams of five players and involves one team invading another team's territory, with the aim of shooting a basketball successfully through their opponent's hoop.

Basketball is different to most invasion games as, in some versions in North America, it utilises a shot clock to force teams to shoot within 24 seconds of gaining possession. This makes basketball action-packed and very enjoyable for spectators.


Unlike most invasion sports, the origins of basketball can be clearly traced to Dr James Naismith. In 1891 the physical education teacher was asked to create an indoor game for energetic students.

The very first game did not have the equipment of today. In fact it used a soccer ball and two peach baskets nailed 10 ft high. Originally the baskets did not have the bottom removed and required a pole to push the ball out each time a team scored.

However, the game has been a resounding success with both children and adults competing ever since its inception

Playing area

A competitive basketball match is played on a large rectangular court and is usually made of highly polished hardwood. Basketball courts come in different sizes but an official NBA (National Basketball Association) court is measured at 28.7 m (94 ft) long and 15.2 m (50 ft) wide, while youth courts should be 26 m (84 ft) long and 15 m (50 ft) wide.

Although the court has no definite size, the inner markings are very precise:

  • The baseline - this is the end line of a basketball court.
  • The free throw line – this line marks the end of a 3.7 m (12 ft) wide and 4.9 m (16 ft) long rectangle. However, at all other levels the line is only 4.6 m (15 ft) long.
  • The basket - the basket hoop is measured exactly 0.5 m (18 in) in diameter and hangs 3m (10 ft) above the ground. The hoop is mounted to a backboard and is used by the players to deflect the ball into the net.
  • Sideline - this line marks the court out both sides.
  • The three-point line - the three-point line was moved back to 7.2 m (23 ft 9 in) for the NBA 1997-1998 season. However, for schools, the distance is 6 m (19 ft 9 in), and for international games it is 6.2 m (20 ft 6 in).


A basketball team consists of five players per side and is divided into different positions. Like most sports the team has very clear roles to support their overall success:

  • Point guard - this is usually the smallest player on the team and has outstanding passing and handling skills. Their role requires them to move the ball up court and begin all attacking positions.
  • Shooting guard - this player is normally quite tall in stature but is required to have great distance-shooting skills. A basketball team will usually try to set an attacking screen and allow the shooting guard to come off teammates and shoot, pass, or drive at the basket.
  • Small forward - this player has a versatile role and is required by the team to be strong, athletic, have good handling skills, and the ability to shoot effectively from short and long range.
  • Power forward - as the name suggests this player is required to be very explosive and powerful to ensure they are able to catch passes and hit shots near the basket.
  • Centre - this player is usually the tallest player and is required to post up in attacking positions. Their height allows them to receive the ball with their back to the basket and deploy basic skills to make a shot.


In a game of basketball there are three clear ways to score points.

  1. If a shot is successfully scored from outside of the three-point line, three points are awarded.
  2. If a shot is successfully scored from inside of the three-point line, two points are awarded.
  3. If a team is awarded a technical foul then they will receive between one and three free shots. Each shot scored will be awarded with one point.


  • A basketball team can have a maximum of five players on the court.
  • Player substitutions can be made at any time and there is no restriction on the number of substitutions made.
  • A ball can travel through dribbling or passing.
  • A player is no longer able to dribble with the ball once the player puts two hands on the ball. This does not include catching. At this point, a player must either pass or shoot.
  • If a team wins possession back in their own half, they have ten seconds to get it into their opponent's end or a foul will be called.
  • An attacking team has 24 seconds from gaining possession of the ball to shoot at the basket.
  • After the shot is taken, the clock is restarted for another 24 seconds.
  • After a team scores a basket, the ball is returned back to the opposition to start again.
  • All fouls that are committed throughout a game are to be accumulated and when a certain number is reached, the umpire will award a free throw.
  • Depending on where a technical foul is committed, the umpire may award a number of free throws a player will receive.
  • Violations can be awarded by the officials in basketball for player handling errors. These include travelling, double dribble, goal-tending and back court violation.


During a competitive game of basketball there are two referees, a scorekeeper, timekeeper and a shot clock operator. To ensure that everybody is aware of a decision made, the referees perform a series of hand and arm signals.