Basketball Rules

Here are the very basic basketball rules. I'll sum them up here to get you off to a quick start. As with everything else, it's easier to learn by doing!

So here goes...

In A Nutshell

The game is played with two teams of a number of players, but only five of which are allowed onto the court at any one time during the game. There are also between one to three referees, also called "the official," officiating the game; making sure all rules are complied with by both teams.

The game is played on a rectangular floor called "the court." The court has two symmetrical ends split by a center court line. Each end has a 10-foot hoop.

The game officially begins in the middle of the center court line. When the official throws the ball into the air where each player from each team is positioned around center court. This determines which team gaines possession of the ball first.

The objective of the game is to get the ball into the hoop to score points for your team. The ball is moved down the court towards either end by dribbling or passing between players. Each time the ball enters into the hoop it is worth between one to three points.

The duration of the game is broken up into four ten minute quarters seperated two halves. This varies from league to league. The team with the most point by the end of the fourth quarter wins.

This is essentially how the game is played in a nutshell. I'll go into further detail of the basketball rules below.

Basketball Rules


Recreationally, there is no minimum or maximum number of players required to make up a team. The number of players that make up the team is entirely left up to the coach's discretion. So if you're looking to start a team, you have the power to coach as many players as your imagination can come up with! But also be mindful of the fact that you have to interact with all of these players so choose wisely!

Although you have a large team comprised of only the best MJ equivalents or better; you definitely can't play them all at once!!! There can only be five players on the court at any one time throughout the duration of the game. The rest of the team have to sit out as substitutes until called in to swap positions with another player. Usually only coaches make this call. Some teams don't consider themselves to have a coach and strategically give each of themselves a set number of minutes of play per quarter. Some even just know themselves very well and automatically know when to sub in and out for whatever purpose they choose. In recreational basketball it doesn't really matter, just as long as you are following the rules of engagement!

The teams are referred to as the offense (the team with possession of the ball) and the defense (the team that doesn't have the ball).


Anytime the ball goes into either hoop a score is recorded for the scoring team. A score is either a one, two, or three point shot. Usually, a team will score more two point shots than either the three point shot or one point free throw (we'll get more into free throws later), simply because it is the most common shot taken. We will get more into the dimensions and make up of the court later as well, but for right now just remember a two point shot is any shot made inside the arc and a three point shot is any shot made outside the arc (fair enough?).


Even though it's a recreational sport and it isn't all that serious, you still can't break the rules!

A violation is any breach of any set rule during the game. They can be committed by either team, the offense or the defense.

Offensive Violations:

Traveling/Walking-when the ball handler takes too many steps without dribbling the ball.

Backcourt-occurs when the ball handler crosses the half court line and steps back over it in the opposite direction or passes to a teammate on the other side of the line.

Double Dribble-occurs when the ball handler either dribbles with both hands or dribbles, picks up the ball and dribbles again.

Offensive Foul-occurs when the ball handler drives to the basket and runs directly into a defender with an established defensive stance.

Five-second Inbound-happens when the inbounder can't pass the ball to a teammate after five seconds.

Three-second Violation-is called when the offensive player stays inside the paint for 3 seconds.

Ten-second Backcourt Violation-occurs when the offensive team isn't able to cross the ball to the mid-court within 10 seconds.

Defensive Violations

Foul-is called against the defensive player if he makes an illegal contact with the ball handler. A foul can also be called even if the player involved is away from the ball. A foul can be caused of blocking, holding, pushing, charging, and tripping.

Intentional Foul-is an intentional foul used to stop the clock or to send the opposing player to the free throw line. These fouls are usually committed in the final seconds of a really close game (crunch time!).

Goaltending-is a violation where the defending player interferes with the ball on its way down to the basket or while it is on the rim regardless if it is going to go in or not. The point counts for two if goaltending is called.

Illegal Defense-is also called 3-second defensive violation. It is used to keep the defensive team from using the zone defense and hogging the lane!

The Free Throw Shot

The free throw shot is exactly what the name suggests; a FREE shot! Anytime a defensive player commits any shot violation against an offensive player during the time the player is in shot motion, the shooter is awarded a free throw. The free throw is worth one point.

The Court

The dimensions and measurements of the basketball court varies from league to league and facility to facility. So I'm going to give you the basic dimensions of the basic basketball court. Keep in mind that these dimensions are relevant to the standard basketball court rather than the court used for a specific league such as the NBA or the NCAA.

A standard basketball court usually measures anywhere from a mere 74 feet by 42 feet to a larger 94 ft by 50 ft.

Here is a diagram of what a court can measure.

The Positions