Basketball - Informational Text and Activity Pack


One of the most popular sports at every level, basketball is the only major American sport with a clearly identifiable inventor. James Naismith wrote the sport’s original 13 rules in December 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts as part of a class assignment at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The assignment was to create a game that could be played in YMCA gyms during the winter. Born and educated in Canada, Naismith had gone to the YMCA training academy (now Springfield College) as a graduate student to pursue his interest in the ministry and in physical education.

Dr. Naismith spent a great deal of time designing the game. It had to be playable indoors or on any kind of ground and by a large number of players all at once. It should provide plenty of exercise, yet without the roughness of football, soccer, or rugby since that would risk bruises and broken bones if played in a confined space. It should be easy to learn but complex enough to be interesting. The game Naismith created became an adaptation of many games of its time, including American rugby (passing), English rugby (the jump ball), lacrosse (use of a goal), soccer (the shape and size of the ball), and “Duck on a Rock”, a game Naismith had played with his childhood friends in Bennie’s Corners, Ontario.

The first games featured nine players per side, attempting to toss a soccer ball into peach baskets nailed to the balconies at the ends of a gymnasium. Unlike open modern basketball nets, this peach basket retained its bottom. When a basket was made, the game paused while a man with a ladder retrieved the ball. This proved to be inefficient, and later the bottoms were removed from the baskets.

After its first public match in 1892, Naismith’s game spread quickly through the global network of YMCAs. The first intercollegiate match, between the Minnesota School of Agriculture and Hamline College, was played in 1895. The earliest women’s match, in which Stanford beat U.C. Berkeley, took place a year later.

James Naismith spent a decade as the University of Kansas’s founding basketball coach, losing more games than he won. Today the sport’s leading historic organization, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., stands not far from where the first peach baskets were nailed up.

American Colleges Fuel Basketball’s Popularity

By 1897, the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) had taken over oversight of basketball activity from the YMCA. In April 1905, representatives of fifteen colleges separately took over control of the college game, creating the collegiate "Basket Ball Rules Committee.” The Committee was then absorbed in 1909 into what would later become the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The extremely popular NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament was started in 1939.

The first balls made specifically for basketball were brown, and it was only in the late 1950s that the orange ball in use today was introduced. Dribbling was not part of the original game except for the "bounce pass" to teammates. Passing the ball was the primary means of ball movement. Dribbling was eventually introduced but limited by the asymmetric shape of early balls. Dribbling only became a major part of the game around the 1950s, as manufacturing improved the ball shape.

The NBA and ABA

Basketball’s first professional league was founded in 1898, seven years before nets finally replaced the sport’s original peach baskets. This league, made up of six teams, was abandoned in 1904. There were later attempts to establish leagues, but it wasn’t until the owners of ice hockey arenas in major U.S. Northeastern and Midwestern and Canadian cities joined together that a lasting organization was formed. This league was founded in New York City on June 6, 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The league adopted the name National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League (NBL).

The American Basketball Association (ABA) was founded as an alternative to the NBA in 1967 at a time when the NBA was experiencing a lot of popularity. The ABA offered an alternative game style as well as some changes in the rules, such a the three-point shot. Julius Erving was the leading player in the league, and he helped launch a modern style of play that emphasizes leaping and play above the rim.

The ABA did not prove to be as successful as the NBA, and merged with the NBA in the summer of 1976. Its four most successful franchises (the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs) were incorporated into the NBA. The aggressive, loose style of play and the three-point shot established by the ABA were taken up by the NBA.

Playing the Game

Two teams of five players each try to score by shooting a ball through a hoop elevated 10 feet above the ground. The game is played on a rectangular floor called the court, and there is a hoop at each end. The court is divided into two main sections by the mid-court line.

A game is divided into sections. All levels have two halves. In college, each half is twenty minutes long. In high school and below, the halves are divided into eight (and sometimes, six) minute quarters. In the pros, quarters are twelve minutes long. There is a gap of several minutes between halves. Gaps between quarters are shorter. If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, then overtime periods of various lengths are played until a winner emerges.

Each team is assigned a basket, or goal, to defend. The other basket is their scoring basket. At halftime, the teams switch goals. The game begins with one player from each team at center court. A referee will toss the ball up between the two. The player that gets his hands on the ball will tip it to a teammate. This is called a tip-off.

The ball is moved down the court toward the basket by passing or dribbling. The team with the ball is called the offense. The team without the ball is called the defense. The defense tries to steal the ball, block shots, deflect passes, and gain rebounds. If the offensive team puts the ball into play behind the mid-court line, it has ten seconds to get the ball over the mid-court line. If it doesn't, then the defense gets the ball. Once the offensive team gets the ball over the mid-court line, it can no longer have possession of the ball in the area in back of the line. If it does, the defense is awarded the ball.

When a team makes a basket, it scores two points and the ball goes to the other team. If a basket, or field goal, is made outside of the three-point arc, then that basket is worth three points. A free throw is worth one point. Free throws are awarded to a team according to fouls. Fouls occur when one player makes illegal physical contact such as hitting, holding, pushing, slapping an opponent, or when an offensive player sticks out a limb and makes physical contact with a defender in an attempt to block the path of the defender.

Beyond fouling an opponent, there are other violations of the rules that can result in penalties. These include:

Walking/Traveling: Taking more than 'a step and a half' without dribbling the ball is traveling. Moving your pivot foot once you've stopped dribbling is traveling.

Carrying/Palming: When a player dribbles the ball with his hand too far to the side of or, sometimes, even under the ball.

Double Dribble: Dribbling the ball with both hands on the ball at the same time, or picking up the dribble and then dribbling again is a double dribble.

Held Ball: Occasionally, two or more opposing players will gain possession of the ball at the same time. In order to avoid a prolonged and/or violent tussle, the referee stops the action and awards the ball to one team or the other on a rotating basis.

Goaltending: If a defensive player interferes with a shot while it's on the way down toward the basket, while it's on the way up toward the basket after having touched the backboard, or while it's in the cylinder above the rim, it's goaltending, and the shot counts. If committed by an offensive player, it's a violation and the ball is awarded to the opposing team for a throw-in from the sideline.

Backcourt Violation: Once the offense has brought the ball across the mid-court line, they cannot go back across the line during possession. If they do, the ball is awarded to the other team to pass inbounds from the sideline.

Time Restrictions: A player passing the ball inbounds has five seconds to pass the ball. If he does not, then the ball is awarded to the other team.

Player Positions

Center: Centers are generally the tallest players. They are usually positioned near the basket. The center's goal is to get open for a pass and to shoot. They are also responsible for blocking defenders, known as picking or screening, to open other players up for driving to the basket for a goal. Centers are expected to get some offensive rebounds and put-backs, in which he immediately scores on a rebound. On defense, the center's main responsibility is to keep opponents from shooting by blocking shots and passes in the key area. Centers also are expected to get a lot of rebounds because they're taller.

Forward: The next tallest players will most likely be forwards. While a forward may be called upon to play under the hoop, they may also be required to operate in the wings and corner areas. Forwards are responsible to get open for a pass, take outside shots, drive for goals, and get rebounds. Defensive responsibilities include preventing drives to the goal and rebounding.

Guard: These are likely the shortest players and are very good at dribbling fast, seeing the court, and passing. It is their job to bring the ball down the court and set up offensive plays.

They also need to be able to drive to the basket and to shoot from the perimeter. On defense, a guard is responsible for stealing passes, blocking shots, preventing drives to the hoop, and for boxing out, a maneuver in which he positions his body against an opponent, in an optimal space on the floor between the opponent and the basket, in order to secure a rebound.