The Original 13 Rules of Basketball

James Naismith created basketball rules that survive today

basketball
Jacinta Lluch Valero//Creative Commons.

Basketball is an original American game invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. When designing it, Naismith focused on creating a non-contact sport to be played indoors. He developed the rules and published them in January 1892 in The Triangle, the school newspaper of Springfield College.

The initial rules of basketball laid out by Naismith are familiar enough that those who enjoy basketball today—over 100 years later—will recognize it as the same sport. While there are other, newer rules, these original 13 still form the heart of the game.

Original 13 Rules of Basketball by James Naismith

The following list shows the original 13 rules of basketball as defined by Naismith in 1892. Modern rules are added so you can see how the game has changed over time—and how it's remained the same.

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
    Current Rule: This rule still applies, with the exception that now a team is not allowed to pass the ball back over the midcourt line once they have taken it over that line.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).
    Current Rule: This rule still applies.
  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
    Current Rule: Players can dribble the ball with one hand as they run or pass, but they cannot run with the ball when catching a pass.
  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
    Current Rule: This rule still applies. Doing so would be a traveling violation.
  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.
    Current Rule: These actions are fouls. A player may be disqualified with five or six fouls, or get an ejection or suspension with a flagrant foul.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3, 4, and such as described in Rule 5.
    Current Rule: This rule still applies.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
    Current Rule: Instead of an automatic goal, sufficient team fouls (five in a quarter for NBA play) now award bonus free throw attempts to the opposing team.
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do no touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
    Current Rule: This rule no longer applies as basketball is now played with a hoop and net, not the original basket. It has evolved into goaltending and defense pass interference rules, including that defenders cannot touch the rim of the hoop once the ball has been shot.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.
    Current Rule: The ball is now thrown in by a player from the opposite team of the player who last touched it before it went out of bounds. The five-second rule still applies.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.
    Current Rule: In NBA basketball, there are three referees.
  11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.
    Current Rule: The referee still determines ball possession, but timekeepers and scorekeepers now do some of these tasks.
  12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes' rest between.
    Current Rule: This varies by the level of play, such as high school versus collegiate formats. In the NBA, there are four quarters—each 12 minutes long—with a 15-minute halftime break.
  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In the case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.
    Current Rule: The winner is now decided by points (which does not equate goals made). In the NBA, five-minute overtime periods are played in case of a tie at the end of the fourth quarter, with the point total at the end determining the winner. If still tied, teams play another overtime period.

More: The History of Basketball and Dr. James Naismith