A History Of The Basketball Rules

It has always been the task for the guardians of the game to ensure that the sport remains as attractive as possible for fans, while also allowing the players and coaches as much freedom as possible.

It is a task that is by no means simple. Basketball has evolved at a frenetic pace, since the first rules were introduced in 1932. Players have become larger, stronger, quicker and more athletic, so much so that if a fan went back in time to watch a game in the 1930's, he would hardly recognise it as basketball.

FIBA has had a tough time in keeping up with all the changes. Here is an overview of the evolution of the rules over the past 72 years.


  • The first international basketball rules were introduced. Among the first rules was a ban of all grass courts.
  • The centre line and 10-second backcourt violation were introduced.
  • The three-second and goaltending rules were introduced.
  • Height categories (players below 190 cm and above 190 cm), introduced in 1936, were abolished.
  • In the last three minutes of the game, the clock was to be stopped after every whistle, and every foul resulted in two free throws.
  • The free throw lane was increased to a trapezoid.
  • The 30-second shot clock was introduced.
  • The 1936 rules regarding the 10-second backcourt violation and centre line were deleted.
  • The rules in the last three minutes (as introduced in 1952) were extended to the last five minutes.
  • It was decided that the basketball rules would be valid for men and women (previously women had different rules).
  • The rules were reviewed in their entirety in order to make them more easy to read and follow.
  • The centre line and 10-second backcourt rule were reintroduced, but only valid for the last 3 minutes of the game.
  • The rules in the last five minutes (as introduced in 1960) reverted back to three minutes.
  • The goaltending rule was modified, so that defending and attacking players could touch the ball after it hit the rim.
  • The centre line and 10-second backcourt rule were valid for the entire game.
  • The goaltending rule was changed again, so that both attacking and defending players could touch the ball while it was in contact with the rim (previously, only the attacking player was allowed to do this).
  • Substitutes were reduced to five. Seven were allowed for tournaments with over five games.
  • The team foul rule was introduced and set at 10.
  • The "three-for-two" rule was introduced, where a player had the possibility to shoot a third free throw, if he missed one of the first two.
  • Team fouls were reduced from 10 to 8.
  • Coaches had to be disqualified after receiving three technical fouls (before it was up to the referees to eject a coach).
  • The "three-for-two" rule was replaced with the "one-and-one" rule, where a player had to make their first free throw in order to take the second. If they missed the first, possession would go to the other team.
  • The 3-point shot was introduced.
  • Team fouls were reduced from eight to seven.
  • The number of substitutes was increased to seven for any tournament with more than three games.
  • The shot clock was reduced to 24 seconds and the backcourt rule to eight seconds.
  • Four 10-minute quarters are introduced (as opposed to two 20-minute halves).
  • A smaller sized ball was introduced for women.
  • The three-person refereeing system was introduced as mandatory.
  • Referees may use technical equipment to determine on a last shot at the end of each period  whether the ball has or has not left the player's hand within the playing time.
  • Fouls from behind, or a lateral position, in an attempt to stop a fast break with no opponent between the offensive player and the opponent's basket were to be judged as unsportsmanlike fouls.
  • Jumping from the front to the backcourt, establishing a new team control of the ball and then landing in the backcourt was not regarded a backcourt violation any longer.
  • The court lay-out changed, with the three-point line moving to 6.75m, the restricted area being put into a box format and an additional no-charge semi-circle being introduced