The Rules of Basketball
Boy, How They've Changed!

early 1900s photo Basketball, Columbia Univ.

These rules of basketball may surprise you.

See how NCAA and high school basketball rules have changed over the years from the original 13 rules into the fast-paced game we know today.

It's easy to think that the game we enjoy today is the way it's always been played.

Not true!

Take a look at this basketball history timeline and see the major rule changes over the past century. I think you're in for some surprises!

Interested in current rules? Click on official rules of basketball to find more in-depth information about youth, high school, NCAA, NBA, WNBA, and international basketball regulations.

You might also be interested in these links:

Basketball History Timeline: Major Rule Changes

The Rules of Basketball (1891-1900)

Dec 1891

Dr. James Naismith invents basketball

Jan 15, 1892

First printed basketball rules appear


Cylindrical baskets of woven wire are introduced to replace the peach baskets


First backboards introduced, 6 ft by 12 ft in size, to stop fans in the balconies from interfering with the ball


First basketball invented to replace soccer balls that were being used

Free throw line shortened from 20 ft to 15 ft


Free throw first introduced as a penalty for fouls

Field goal was changed from 3 points to 2 points

Free throw changed from 3 points to 1 point

Backboard officially reduced in size to 4 ft by 6 ft


Player could not dribble with 2 hands more than once

1899 photo Female students playing basketball in a gymnasium, Western High School, Washington, D.C.

The Rules of Basketball (1901-1939)


Dribbler could not shoot for a field goal; the ball had to be passed to another player


Player committing 5 fouls (including traveling and other violations) was disqualified from game


Glass backboards approved for use

Player was disqualified from game after fourth foul


Bottom of basket must be left open so ball could fall through


Player could only re-enter a game once

Backboards moved 2 feet away from walls to stop players from jumping up walls to shoot


Traveling was changed from a personal foul to a violation


Player fouled had to shoot free throw; ended designated free throw shooter


Use of wire or rope cage around court to keep ball in play was ended

Games started using 2 referees instead of 1


10-second line created at half-court to stop stalling

No player with ball could stand in free throw lane more than 3 seconds


Circumference of ball reduced from 32 inches to between 29.5 and 30.25 inches


Greatest year of all for rule changes

No player on offensive team, with or without ball, could stay in lane more than 3 seconds

Number of team timeouts increased from 3 to 4

Center jump after each basket eliminated

Defensive player prohibited from touching basket while ball was on the rim

Basketball without laces made legal


The Rules of Basketball (1940-1979)


Backboards moved from 2 ft to 4 ft away from end line to allow more movement under basket


Fan-shaped backboards made legal


Number of timeouts increased from 4 to 5

Players allowed unlimited substitutions

Number of personal fouls leading to disqualification increased from 4 personal fouls to 5

Goal-tending rule expanded. Defensive player could not touch ball on its downward flight


Rectangular glass backboards became official in college games

Coaches finally allowed to speak to players during a timeout

1948 TITLE: U.S. wins over Mexico in basketball, Action scene at semi-final Olympic basketball game.


Molded basketball became official ball


Free throw lane widened from 6 ft to 12 ft

Oct 30, 1954

24-second clock used first used in NBA game


Bonus free throw introduced, allowing a team to shoot a free throw once opponent commits 7 fouls in a half


Players called for personal fouls were asked to raise their arms


Dunk shot banned from college basketball


Number of players on women's basketball teams was reduced from 6 to 5


Freshmen allowed to play major-college basketball for the first time


Dunk shot allowed once again in college basketball


NBA added a third referee

basketball history

I got a lot of my information from The Amazing Basketball Book: The First 100 Years by Bob Hill and Randall Baron.

If you're a fan of the game, I highly recommend reading this book.

It's full of fascinating basketball facts about the origin of basketball, the inventor of basketball, and other interesting basketball trivia.

The Rules of Basketball (1980-Present)


NBA added 3-point shot

NBA returned to 2 referees

Mandatory 30-second shot clock goes into effect for NCAA women


Alternating possession rule introduced. Jump balls restricted to start of game and overtime periods only, and teams alternate taking balls out of bounds on other jump-ball situations


NCAA officially approves a smaller basketball for women's basketball, 29 inches in circumference


NCAA approves a 45-second shot clock for all men's games


3-point field goal introduced for NCAA men


3-point shot goes into effect for women's and high school basketball


NBA add a third referee again


Beginning with a team’s 10th personal in a half, two free throws were awarded for each personal foul

3 free throws awarded when shooter fouled during unsuccessful 3-point attempt


Shot clock for college men reduced from 45 seconds to 35 seconds


Teams had to warm up and shoot at end of court farthest from their bench for the first half; they couldn’t choose


No players can occupy 2 free throw lane spaces closest to the free throw shooter


No players can occupy the first lane space nearest the basket on either side during a free throw


3-point was line extended to 20 feet, 9 inches for college men

First space in the key under the basket eliminated in the free throw shooting line alignment. Changed the number of players lining up around the lane from 8 to 6


If player who is fouled is not able to shoot the free throw, the opposing coach selects the free throw shooter from the 4 players on the floor. The coach of the fouled player used to be able to select any player from his roster.

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.
>> >> Rules of Basketball: Major Changes