Basketball - An Introduction

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world, and you'd be hard-pressed to name a country that doesn't have a basketball court of some description. The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the biggest basketball league around, and it's also home to some of the most famous names in sport.

Given all of that, it's no surprise that basketball is also one of the most popular sports to bet on. However, if you want to bet on basketball successfully, you first need to understand the game. And that's where we come in.

In this guide, we'll tell you all you need to know about basketball so that you understand what's happening. We'll tell you how the sport got started and what the main rules are. We'll also provide information about team structure and player positions. You'll then learn a little about strategy and tactics and which basketball statistics tend to be most useful for bettors.

While an official basketball game is five players against five players, there is also one and one, two on two, three on three, and four on four variations.

In basketball, a field goal, called a basket, is worth two points, and behind the further three-point line, a field goal is worth three points. Players can also take free throws from the free-throw line when a team commits a foul, and a free throw is worth one point. 

The team that has the most points at the end of the game is the winner, and if the game is tied, there is an extra overtime period. 

Movement of Players

Players move the ball by dribbling the basketball with one hand or passing the ball to a teammate. Players can use different shots such as a jump shot, layup, or dunk to score the ball and put points on the scoreboard. 

The defensive players can steal the ball and block shots. If a shot goes off the basketball rim, a defending player can grab the ball and go on the offense. 

If the defensive player fouls an offensive player with contact, the player fouled either takes the ball out of bounds or, if they are in the process of taking a shot, they will get two free throws. They will be awarded three free throws if they are fouled while attempting a three-point shot. 

When a player dribbles in the game of basketball and stops doing so, they cannot begin to dribble again, as they must pass or shoot the ball. If a player is not dribbling, one pivot foot has to stay in place. If they move that foot, they are said to be traveling, and the opposing team gets the ball.

The game starts at the center of the court, with the referee tossing the ball up between two opposing players called the opening tip with them trying to control the ball to get the first possession. 

Player Positions

Players have designations that mostly reflect their positions on the court during the game, as follows: 

  • Center: Usually the tallest player that plays 'in the paint'. That is a term that refers to the area from the free-throw line to the basket. 
  • Power Forward: Usually big players that play in the paint. 
  • Small Forward: Smaller and more agile players that play in the paint and outside. 
  • Shooting Guard: Usually shorter players that play outside the paint. 
  • Point Guard: A kind of quarterback of basketball, who handles the ball often. In the game of basketball, the point guard is often called the floor general. 

In modern times, especially in NBA basketball, the game has transitioned to what is called positionless basketball with more and more players playing outside and shooting three-pointers. 

Fouls and Penalties

There are many common rules for basketball and also ones that differ depending on the league. For example, in NBA basketball, if a player collects six fouls, they 'foul out', which means that they are out for the rest of the game. However, in college basketball, a player fouls out after collecting five fouls. 

There are three types of fouls in the game of basketball, which are: 

  • Personal Foul: This is the most common foul where a player illegally contacts another player. Typically a personal foul is called on the defensive player, but there are offensive fouls that can be committed by the player on offense. 
  • Flagrant Foul: This is where the player is called for unnecessary contact where the referee sees the foul as excessive. If a player has two flagrant 1 fouls, they are thrown out of the game and immediately thrown out for a flagrant 2 foul, which is more brutal and dangerous to the player fouled. 
  • Technical Foul: This foul is not related to the physical nature of the game. Some of the ways a team can get a technical foul are arguing excessively with the referee, unsportsmanlike conduct, calling a timeout when the team has none left, and illegal gamesmanship. 

Game Length

The times for basketball games also differ. For recreational games, such as those played on the blacktop or in a gym, teams play to a certain amount of points with no eye on the clock. However, the length of league games is determined by time.

For example, in NBA basketball, there are four 12-minute quarters. In FIBA and college women's games, there are four 10-minute quarters. And n college men's basketball games, players are on course for two halves of 20 minutes each.

There is also a shot clock where a team has to attempt a shot in a certain time period. Again, as an example, in NBA basketball, the shot clock is 24 seconds, while for college basketball, it is 30 seconds. 

Strategy and Tactics 

Strategy and tactics are important in basketball. We have discussed the topic of basketball betting strategies separately, but here we're talking about the strategies and tactics employed by teams to maximize their chances of winning a game.

Typically a basketball team can use a defensive strategy, which relies on defending and then counterattacking to win the game, or an offensive strategy, which focuses on attacking the opposition and scoring a lot of points. For example, if a team likes to 'run and gun', it means they want to get out and run and score a lot of points. 

For strategy and tactics, a lot relies on the coach and how he substitutes players and shifts them around to try to get an advantage over the opponent. It is important to know a team's strategy when betting on them. 

For example, if both teams tend to have a defensive style, the total number of points scored in the game is likely to be lower than if both preferred to play offensively. That has to be taken into account if you want to bet the total of the game. 

Naismith came up with basketball rules and nailed a peach basketball to an elevated track. Players would shoot the ball trying to make it in the peach basket, which they would have to retrieve. 


At first, dribbling was not part of the game. Instead, the ball only moved around the court by players passing it to teammates. However, by 1896, dribbling had become common in the game. At the YMCA at the time, there were soccer teams with 10 players, and when they came inside the gym, that team was split into two teams of five players, which has stuck. 

Naismith is also credited with establishing college basketball. He later coached at the University of Kansas for five seasons. The first intercollegiate game was played on Feb. 9, 1895. 

Here are some other key dates in the history of basketball:

1891James Naismith invents basketball 
1896First intercollegiate basketball game
1896First professional basketball game 
1936Basketball is added to the Olympics 
1938National Basketball League (NBL) is established 
1946Basketball Association of America (BAA) is established 
1949Six teams from the NBL join the BAA, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) is established 
1951First NBA All-Star Game 
1954 - 1955NBA adds the shot clock 
1967American Basketball Association (ABA) is established 
1976ABA merges with the NBA
1979The three-point line is added in the NBA
1996The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) is established 
Key Dates in Basketball History

Wall of Fame

The wall of fame in basketball is extensive. That isn't surprising, considering the popularity of the sport and the many great players that have been involved throughout the years. While there is always debate on who the greatest player of all time (GOAT) is, Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the key contender. 

Other players that are considered some of the best of all time are LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Oscar Robertson, and Tim Duncan. 

Some of the legendary coaches in basketball include Naismith, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Wooden, Dean Smith, and Mike Krzyzewski, to name just a few. 

There is not only the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame but also the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and, for international players, the FIBA Basketball Hall of Fame. 

50th Anniversary All-Time Team

In 1996, the NBA had its 50th anniversary, and they selected the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. While there are sure to be players on the next top 50, such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Tim Duncan, the 50 players on the 1996 list were: 

Kareem Abdul-JabbarGeorge GervinBob Pettit
Nate ArchibaldHal GreerScottie Pippen
Paul ArizinJohn HavlicekWillis Reed
Charles BarkleyElvin HayesOscar Robertson
Rick BarryMagic JohnsonDavid Robinson
Elgin BaylorSam JonesBill Russell
Dave BingMichael JordanDolph Schayes
Larry BirdJerry LucasBill Sharman
Wilt ChamberlainKarl MaloneJohn Stockton
Bob CousyMoses MaloneIsiah Thomas
Dave CowensPete MaravichNate Thurmond
Billy CunninghamKevin McHaleWes Unseld
Dave DeBusschereGeorge MikanBill Walton
Clyde DrexlerEarl MonroeJerry West
Julius ErvingHakeem OlajuwonLenny Wilkens
Patrick EwingShaquille O'NealJames Worthy
Walt FrazierRobert Parish 
50th Anniversary All-Time Team

Distinctive Elements 

There are many distinctive elements to basketball. Perhaps the most obvious one is the simplicity of the game, with both teams trying to score points while at the same time preventing their opponents from doing the same.

The global reach of the game has exploded in the last couple of decades, with many European players playing in the top league in the world in the NBA. The WNBA is also very popular, as is the college game for both men and women. 

This is especially the case with the NCAA Tournament. Widely referred to as March Madness because of the month in which it takes place, this competition culminates in the crowing of the college season champions.

One of the reasons why basketball is so popular is because you only need a ball and a hoop to play. From the top leagues in the world to playing one-on-one on a playground, the game has many facets and can be played anywhere. 

On top of that, there are so many betting options when it comes to wagering on hoops. Many online sportsbooks cover many leagues from around the world, with many betting markets to take advantage of. 

Basketball Statistics

Basketball statistics can be useful for both team coaches and those who like to bet on the sport. There are many different stats that summarize team and player performance, and these are often helpful for coaches who want to develop strategies and bettors who want to make comparisons.

When it comes to the team stats for basketball, the key ones are winning percentage, home winning percentage, away winning percentage, points per game, and opponents' points per game. 

These are also all key factors for basketball betting and something that bettors need to look at when wagering on games. 

Even though basketball is a team sport, player stats are also important when it comes to the game and for betting purposes. This is especially the case if you are making proposition bets for players and how they will perform in a game. The key players' stats are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. 

Other important basketball stats are player efficiency, personal efficiency rating, and performance index rating. These can be good tools for bettors as well. However, they tend to be more complex, and are therefore best left alone until you have some experience with the simpler stats mentioned previoously.

Popularity and Cultural Impact 

After soccer, basketball is the most popular sport on the planet, both for spectators and bettors. Some of the biggest sports icons in the world play basketball, and the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan have all become household names. 

On top of that, the global cultural impact of the game is getting bigger every year. Not only are there many international players in the NBA, but the reigning MVP of the NBA is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was born in Greece.

Luka Doncic is a former European MVP that has taken the NBA by storm, and the Slovenian was the Rookie of the Year and an MVP candidate in the 2020 season.

The cultural impact of basketball can also be seen in basketball shoes of all things, which are now both a fashion statement and collector's items. The game is growing by leaps and bounds the world over, and it looks like that will continue to happen with the massive popularity of the sport. 

Basketball FAQ

Who invented basketball?
Basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891
When was basketball invented?
Basketball was invented in 1891.
How many players on a basketball team?
There are five players on a basketball team.
How long is a basketball court?
An NBA basketball court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide.
How long is a basketball game?
An NBA basketball game has a duration of 48 minutes, divided into 12-minute quarters. A half-time break is 15 minutes long. Having said all of that, an average game tends to take around 2.5 hours to play due to stoppages.
About Ayden Fahlstrom
Ayden Fahlstrom author profile

Ayden loves sports. There is no doubt about that. He is a walking calendar when it comes to the latest events in sports. He has grown into the passion of writing about them, and settled into his role as a writer after many freelancing jobs. He can write about any sport out there! This is the guy!

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