Basketball belongs to the "Big 4" of US sports. We explain the most important facts, rules, and moves of the popular ball game.

History of basketball

Basketball was invented in 1891 at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, by Canadian physician and educator James Naismith. His goal was to create a ball game that his students could play as an indoor sport in the winter and that had a low risk of getting injured compared to other US sports such as American Football.

On January 15th, 1892, the Springfield College school newspaper published the 13 basic rules of the basketball sport, which have hardly been changed to this day. The first official basketball game in history was played in Springfield on January 20th, 1892.

The new sport quickly became popular in American universities and colleges. The first professional basketball teams emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1925, the American Basketball League (ABL) was founded, featuring teams mainly from the Northeastern United States but also from Chicago and Cleveland.

In 1946, the ABL was replaced by the Basketball Association of America (BAA). At the same time, a number of teams from the Midwest of the USA played in the National Basketball League (NBL), which had been founded in the 1930s. Finally, in 1949, the two professional leagues, BAA and NBL, merged under the name National Basketball Association (NBA).

Basketball players in action

Basketball: the most important facts

Basketball is a fast and action-packed sport. You should learn some basic information and rules to be able to follow a game well:

The basketball court

Basketball is played on a rectangular court measuring 28 m in length and 15 m in width. It is restricted by the sidelines and the end lines. The basketball may not touch or cross these lines. Also, the player in possession of the ball must stay within the sidelines and end lines.

Various circles, lines, and zones are marked on the playing area. In the center is the center line, which divides the court. The center circle is marked around the center point. It has a radius of 1.80 m and is used to execute the jump ball at the beginning of the game.

Basketball baskets are placed at both ends of the court at the height of 3.05 m. Directly under the basket is an area called the no-charge semi-circle. Here, fouls committed by the attacking players by jostling or pushing (charging) are not penalized.

The rectangular area in front of the baskets is called the lane or zone. Players of the attacking team may not stay in this area for more than three seconds without performing an action on the ball. The semi-circle adjoining the lane marks the area where free throws are executed.

A large semi-circle with flattened sides surrounds the basket at a radius of 6.75 m. This is the three-point line, i.e., the distance from which shots at the basket can be made, which score three points if they are successful.

The basketball court

The basketball equipment

You don't need much equipment to play basketball. Once you have these three things together, you're ready to go:

The basketball

In basketball, only one piece of equipment is needed – the ball. It is made of synthetic material or leather and nylon threads. The official basketball used for professional games has a circumference of 749 to 780 mm and weighs 567 to 650 g.

The clothing

Basketball players wear comfortable, loose-fitting shorts and T-shirts. Some players also wear knee or elbow pads to prevent injuries in the event of a fall.

The basketball shoes

You also need special basketball shoes, where the ankles are protected. They allow maximum stability during abrupt changes of direction and prevent an injury from twisting. The shoes must also provide good shock absorption to reduce the load on the joints when jumping.

The playing time

A basketball game consists of four parts, called quarters. In the North American professional league NBA, the quarters are each twelve minutes long, but in other leagues, they sometimes only last ten minutes.

In basketball, however, only the actual time of the playing is counted. There are numerous interruptions during which the clock is stopped. Including the interruptions, a basketball game actually takes about 80 to 100 minutes.

If the score is tied at the end of the last quarter, the game is extended by five minutes (overtime). There will be as many overtimes played until one team has more points and becomes the winner.

The teams

Two basketball teams meet, each consisting of five players present on the field and seven substitutes. Each of the five field players has a position with a specific area of responsibility.

The player positions in basketball are:

  • Point Guard (PG): also called playmaker, part of the backcourt, usually a smaller player with good ball handling skills who is responsible for the build-up of play
  • Shooting Guard (SG): also called two guard or off guard, part of the backcourt, typically a smaller and quicker player who is specialized in distance throws
  • Small Forward (SF): also called three, wing and part of the frontcourt
  • Power Forward (PF): also called Four, powerful attack player, part of the frontcourt
  • Center (C): also called post player or big man, center player and part of the frontcourt, usually the tallest and physically strongest player on a team

In principle, other combinations of player positions are also possible. For example, some teams use three guards or two centers.

Player positions in basketball

The referee

In professional leagues such as the NBA and international competitions, usually, three referees are used. In smaller leagues, there are mostly two referees on the court. They are assigned to different areas of observation. In addition to the referees, a basketball game is also overseen by the Replay Center, which stops times and records fouls.

The basketball moves

The goal of the attacking team is to place the ball in the opponent's basket. The defending team seeks to prevent the attackers from doing and to win the ball so that they can proceed to the attack themselves. A basketball game consists of the following moves:

The jump ball

The basketball is brought into play at the beginning of each quarter with a jump ball. One player per team, usually the center, stands at the center line. The remaining players are placed outside the center circle in their own half of the court. A referee then throws the ball vertically into the air between the two players at the center line. The team that is able to win the ball then carries out the first attack.


The attacking team moves towards the opponent's basket and has the opportunity to score points. To advance the ball, the attackers can choose from three possible actions.

Action Description
Dribble The player runs while dribbling the ball with one hand.
Pass The ball is thrown to a teammate.
Shoot The ball is thrown to the opponent's basket.

Time limits

Basketball is a very fast sport. The attacking players have little time to complete their moves. If they do not comply with the time limits, the play is stopped, and the opposing team is allowed to throw the ball in from the sidelines.

These time limits exist in basketball:

Violation Description
24 Second Violation / Shot Clock Violation An attack must be completed within 24 seconds, i.e., a throw must be made at the opponent's basket.
8 Second Violation The ball must be brought into the opponent's half of the field within eight seconds during an attack.
5 Second Violation / Out-of-Bounds Violation / Throw-In Violation A player may not hold the ball for more than five seconds when taking a throw-in. In the game, too, a player may hold on to the ball for a maximum of five seconds, e.g., if he is being pressured by an opponent. After that, an action (dribble, pass, or shoot) must take place.
3 Second Violation / Lane Violation An attacking player may not be in the opposing lane for more than three seconds at a time without actively attacking the basket. A defending player may also not be in the lane for more than three seconds at a time unless he is covering the player with the ball.

Other rule violations

In addition to the various timeouts, there are a number of other rule violations in basketball that must be avoided:

Violation Description
Out-of-Bounds A ball is out of bounds as soon as it or the player in possession of the ball touches the end line or sideline or the ground behind the end line or sideline.
Double Dribble If a player picks up the ball with both hands after dribbling, he is not allowed to dribble it a second time but must make a pass or a shoot. It is also not allowed to bring both hands to the ball at the same time when dribbling.
Traveling / Walking / Steps A player with the ball commits an error called “traveling” if he runs more than two steps without dribbling the ball.
Backcourt Violation If the team in possession of the ball is already in the opponent's half during an attack, the ball must not be brought back into the own half.
Goaltending After a basket throw, the defending player may only catch or block the ball in the air as long as it is in an upward motion. After the ball has reached the apex of the trajectory and is in descent, the ball must first touch or miss the basket before it can be played freely again.
Basket Interference As soon as the ball touches the hoop, the ring, or the net of the basket, neither the attacking nor the defending player may intervene to change the outcome of the basket shot. For example, the defender must not knock the ball off the basket's edge to prevent the shot from going in.
Foot contact Intentional touching of the basketball with the foot, knee, or leg is not allowed.


In basketball, there are personal, technical, unsportsmanlike, and disqualifying fouls. They are caused by errors of substitution (e.g., too many players on the court at the same time), violent complaining, insulting, disturbing the opponent, or gross unsportsmanlike conduct (e.g., risking injury to the opponent).

One disqualifying foul, two unsportsmanlike fouls, or five (six in the NBA) personal or technical fouls will result in a player or coach being excluded from the current match. He must then leave the arena immediately. However, this is a personal penalty. Another player may be substituted, as there must always be five people per team on the court.

Scoring and match decision

In basketball, up to three points are awarded when a shot is successfully placed in the basket. The number of points scored depends on the position from which the ball is thrown into the basket.

Points are awarded for successful hits after the following moves:

Move Points
Basket shot beyond the three-point line 3 points
Basket shot inside the three-point line 2 points
Free throw after a foul from a distance of 4.6 m (15 ft) 1 point

The team that has scored the most points at the end of the game time is the winner of the basketball match.

Basketball courts and players

Professional basketball in the USA

Basketball is one of the "Big 4" American sports, along with American football, baseball, and ice hockey. The popular ball game is played in the USA at schools, colleges, universities, and on public basketball courts outdoors. The best players are signed to the NBA.

The professional basketball league NBA

The North American professional league NBA is considered the strongest basketball league in the world. It is the ultimate goal of basketball players' careers not only in the US but also for talented players from all over the world.

The NBA teams

A total of 30 teams compete for the NBA crown. They are divided into two conferences, East and West, which in turn are divided into three divisions each. Five teams play in each division, which is each assigned to a geographic region: Atlantic, Central, Northwest, Pacific, Southeast, and Southwest.

The teams play permanently in the NBA; there is no promotion or relegation. However, it is possible that clubs move to another city, thus changing the composition of the divisions.

The most successful teams in the North American professional basketball league NBA to date are:

Team Merits
Los Angeles Lakers 17 NBA titles, 32 final participations
Boston Celtics 17 NBA titles, 21 final participations
Golden State Warriors 6 NBA titles, 11 final participations
Chicago Bulls 6 NBA titles, 6 final participations
San Antonio Spurs 5 NBA titles, 6 final participations

The basketball season

The NBA season begins in October with the regular season and ends in June with the playoffs.

Regular Season

The NBA regular season comprises a total of 82 games – 41 home games and 41 away games. The clubs play 16 games against teams from their own division, 26 games against teams from the other two divisions in their own conference, and 30 games against teams from the other conference.


After the end of the regular season in April, the strongest teams of the season meet in the playoffs. The eight best teams from each conference qualify. The playoffs are played in a knockout system and as a best-of-seven series. The teams play a maximum of seven games against each other. The first team to win four games advances to the next round.

First, the teams from the same conference compete against each other. Finally, in the finals, the best team from the East Conference battles the best team from the West Conference. The winner of the NBA Playoffs is awarded the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

All-Star Game

A highlight for all basketball fans is the annual NBA All-Star Game, for which league play is interrupted in February. The best players from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference compete against each other. Most of the All-Star starters and the captains of the conferences are selected in advance via online voting by sports fans from the USA and Canada. The NBA coaches also select a few more All-Star players.

Legends of basketball

As an aspiring basketball fan, you should know the most talented players in the history of the sport. These five professional basketball players are legendary:

Player Merits
LeBron James (NBA player 2003 - today; Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers) 4x NBA Champion, 4x NBA MVP, 2x Olympic gold medalist
Michael Jordan (NBA player 1984 - 2003; Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards) 6x NBA Champion, 6x NBA MVP, 2x Olympic gold medalist
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA player 1969 - 1989; Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers) 6x NBA Champion, 6x NBA MVP
Shaquille O’Neil (NBA player 1992 - 2011; Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics) 4x NBA Champion, 3x NBA MVP, 1x Olympic gold medalist
Larry Bird (NBA player 1979 - 1992; Boston Celtics) 3x NBA Champion, 3x NBA MVP, 1x Olympic gold medalist

Basketball fun facts

Your thirst for knowledge about basketball is not yet satisfied? You probably didn't know these exciting facts yet:

  • The basket height of 3.05 m, which is still in effect today, was determined purely by chance, as the janitor at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, where the sport was invented, installed two baskets at that height on the school's practice court.
  • The nets of the first basketball hoops were closed at the bottom. After a successful shot, the ball had to be retrieved with the help of a stick.
  • NBA professional basketball players have only been allowed to participate in the Olympics since 1992. The 1992 Olympic squad around Michael Jordan, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and Larry Bird also became known as the "Dream Team."
  • Players, teams, coaches, referees, and promoters who have made special contributions to the sport of basketball have been honored in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, the American Basketball Hall of Fame, since 1959.

Basketball live streams

You have caught the basketball bug and don't want to miss a single game? The encounters of the North American professional league NBA will be streamed live to your home via various streaming providers.

Streaming via the NBA webseite

You can stream the regular season games and the play-offs live via the NBA’s official website. Choose between a classic League Pass for $ 14.99 per month and a League Pass Premium for $ 29.99, which allows you to stream on two devices at the same time. In addition to the games, the NBA website always offers you the latest basketball news and exciting background reports.

Streaming via DAZN

The British streaming service DAZN is one of the largest platforms for sports broadcasts. Its broad range of sports includes soccer (various international leagues), tennis, baseball, boxing, handball, American soccer, wrestling, cycling, motor sports – and of course, basketball.

DAZN broadcasts 182 matches of the regular season and at least one play-off match per matchday live. In the USA, you can access the world of sports on DAZN with an annual subscription for $ 149.99 ($ 12.50 per month) or a monthly subscription for $ 19.99.

NBA merchandise

On the next TV night with your friends, do you want to cheer for your favorite team in the appropriate jersey? We recommend the following online stores to supply you with NBA merchandise:

Buying NBA tickets

The 30 teams in the six NBA divisions are located all across the United States and Canada. So no matter which part of the USA your next trip takes you to, you'll find an exciting NBA game nearby!

Book a cheap flight, reserve your ticket on Ticketmaster, apply for your ESTA, and off you go to the land of unlimited sports opportunities!

Find the right NBA game here:

Team Arena Tickets
Atlanta Hawks State Farm Arena Find tickets
Boston Celtics TD Garden Find tickets
Brooklyn Nets Barclays Center Find tickets
Charlotte Hornets Spectrum Center Find tickets
Chicago Bulls United Center Find tickets
Cleveland Cavaliers Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Find tickets
Dallas Mavericks American Airlines Center Find tickets
Denver Nuggets Ball Arena Find tickets
Detroit Pistons Little Caesars Arena Find tickets
Golden State Warriors Chase Center Find tickets
Houston Rockets Toyota Center Find tickets
Indiana Pacers Gainbridge Fieldhouse Find tickets
LA Clippers Arena Find tickets
Los Angeles Lakers Arena Find tickets
Memphis Grizzlies FedExForum Find tickets
Miami Heat Kaseya Center Find tickets
Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum Find tickets
Minnesota Timberwolves Target Center Find tickets
New Orleans Pelicans Smoothie King Center Find tickets
New York Knicks Madison Square Garden Find tickets
Oklahoma City Thunder Paycom Center Find tickets
Orlando Magic Amway Center Find tickets
Philadelphia 76ers Wells Fargo Center Find tickets
Phoenix Suns Footprint Center Find tickets
Portland Trail Blazers Moda Center Find tickets
Sacramento Kings Golden 1 Center Find tickets
San Antonio Spurs AT&T Center Find tickets
Toronto Raptors Scotiabank Arena Find tickets
Utah Jazz Vivint Smart Home Arena Find tickets
Washington Wizards Capital One Arena Find tickets

More US sports

Do you want to dive deeper into the world of US sports? Then check out our articles on American football, baseball, and ice hockey.

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