Home"Basket Ball" HistoryEvolution of the Rules

Evolution of the Rules

While there have been many developments to basketball since Dr. James Naismith invented the game so many ago, most of the Original Rules are still used in modern games.

Of Dr. Naismith’s 13 rules, 11 are similar to, or the same as current rules.

The two rules that are no longer in play, (3 and 7), were made in an effort to prevent the sport from getting too rough, a major reason Dr. Naismith invented basketball to begin with. 

Click here to see the Original Rules which are currently on display at the University of Kansas.

Many aspects of the game that were not included in the Original Rules were created shortly after.

Following the sport’s creation, as its popularity rapidly spread across the United States and Canada, athletic administrators saw the need to develop a comprehensive guide to inform spectators, officials, and participants about the game’s ethics, rules, the different positions and strategy to be used, as well as illustrating how far the game has reached.

These books were initially authored by Luther H. Gulick and other administrators at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College), before becoming a joint committee publication consisting of members from the YMCA, AAU, and NCAA.    

The first of these publications that the Springfield College Archives has in its collections is the 1896-1897 season book.

Among the changes in this book come important standardizations of team, ball, and basket sizing, as well as significant changes in timing in scoring. 

Spalding's Basket Ball Guide 1896-1897 

1896 1897 Spaldings Cover.pdfThe Ball - Balls used in games had to be round rubber with a circumference no larger than 32’ and no smaller than 30.’ This is larger than current balls (29.5’ NBA, 29/30’ for college men's and women’s respectively). They had to weigh between 18-20   ounces (currently between 20-22 ounces).   

Team size - Each game had to be played with five starters on a team. This is one area that Dr. Naismith initially disagreed with, as he first saw basketball having the potential to be played with as many as 50 people on each team in an outdoor setting. 

Baskets - The rim of the basket had to be 18 inches wide (which has never changed). It must extend 6 inches off whatever rigid surface it is attached to and have a hammock fashioned net attached to it.

Captains - The captains had many responsibilities that coaches now have, including providing the referee with a team’s list of players and their positions. They were also the only players allowed to address officials in a game. Any other player talking to the referee would result in a foul. 

Timing - The duration of games changed from two, fifteen-minute halves, to two, 20-minute halves of playing time. This meant that for the first time, the game clock would be stopped during play stoppages. This is the same format that NCAA men's games now use.

Scoring - All baskets became worth 2 points, excluding free throws, which are worth one point each. Free throws are one element of basketball that Dr. Naismith was not in favor of, but they have certainly become the best solution to shooting fouls. 

Jump ball - Jump balls took place at center court at the beginning of the game, the second half, and after each made basket. This rule was not changed until the 1891-1892 season, when a team got the ball after the opposing team scored.

Spalding's Basket Ball Guide 1903-1904 

1903 1904 Spaldings Basketball Cover.pdfThe First Backboards - The rim was required to extend off a “flat, perpendicular screen or other rigid surface measuring at least 6 feet horizontally and 4 vertically”. This surface could not have any holes in it, so spectators could not alter the ball through the surface, as was common in many early games. A year later, the rules required these surfaces to be made of wood.

Ball out of Play - When the ball went out of bounds the referee resumed play by tossing a jump ball between the two players closest to the ball.

Free Throw Violation - If the player passes the line before the ball goes in the hoop, the point doesn’t count if it goes in, and the ball is dead and put in play in the center.

Spalding's Basket Ball Guide 1922-1923

1922 1923 Spaldings Mens Basketball.pdfCourt dimensions- Maximum court size became 90x50 ft and a minimum of 60x35 ft. This rule has not changed much since the 1922-1923 season, as current basketball courts are 94x50 ft. 

Backboard Standardization - 4x6 ft backboards must be provided, painted white glass/wood. Current backboards are 3.5x6 ft and made of Plexiglas or tempered glass.

Want more information on the evolution of basketball? 

To learn how “Basket Ball” got its name, click here!

To learn about the first point in basketball history, click here!

To hear James Naismith describe how he invented basketball, click here!