Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Rules of Basketball

I'm going to end my series of mini-posts by discussing the rules of basketball.

On a basketball blog - on a WNBA basketball blog, no less- this might seem like a candidate for Dumbest Post of the Year. If you're reading about the Atlanta Dream, then the WNBA, then the basketball universe in that order, most people would assume that readers would actually know the rules of the game they're reading about.

However, one of the goals of this blog is to make the fan experience as easy as possible. A lot of people who might consider going to an Atlanta Dream game or a WNBA game might be intimidated because - well, they don't know the rules of the game. They feel overwhelmed by the technical terms used to describe the game, they don't understand the insider commentary on television or don't know how to watch a game on television because they don't know what they're seeing.

So to any readers out there who might be in that boat, let me tell you: I was in that boat. I was in that boat until just a few years ago. I didn't follow basketball all that closely until a year ago, when I began to follow it intensely - but not as intensely as those out there who are basketball mavens. I found the plunge into the basketball world fairly confusing. There was no "one place to go" to learn about basketball, and as a result I had to patch my knowledge together from a multitude of sources. I was left to follow my own interests, which means that my knowledge is deep in some places and shallow in others.

When you go to places on the internet to learn "the rules of basketball", the descriptions are horribly wordy. But this wasn't always so.

Back in the day, a man named Dr. James Naismith was a teacher at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. One of the problems with the PE courses was that there was lots to do outside but there were no interesting games to play inside. Naismith was asked to create a new indoor game. Inspired by some games he played with his friends during childhood, he attached a peach basket to the wall and created a new game.

This game only had 13 rules. That's it. Here they are. The rules aren't as important as the commentary below, because those rules have changed/been added to in the last century. However, the rules provide the framework of the discussion.

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1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.

If you've watched basketball, it's a game of ball movement. The object is to get the ball in the basket (duh) and the best way to do that if that if you can't get there yourself, you give it to someone else.

2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.
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 running at good speed.
4. The ball must be held in or between the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.

There are very special rules for moving the ball. Note Rule #3, that the ball must be "thrown from the spot". In ye ancient days, you could only pass the ball back and forth. Then one player thought, "why can't I just pass the ball to myself by bouncing it against the floor?" and the dribble was born.

Without getting into the complicated rule of the pivot foot, the idea is that you move the ball down the court by dribbling it, and when you stop moving, you have to pass the ball to someone else. If you stop with the ball - if you hold the ball "in or between your hands" - you either have to pass the ball or take the shot. A "double dribble" means that you have tried to start the dribble again, and must give the ball up to the other team.

5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person 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 substitution shall be allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 4 and such as described in Rule 5.

Basically, any infraction of the rules where you make contact with another person is a foul. Theoretically, this is a non-contact sport. If you pick up six of these fouls in a WNBA game, you are removed from the field of play and can't return.

7. If either side make three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).

If a player is fouled while in the act of making a shot, she gets to go to the "free throw line", the line that's in the middle of something that looks like a cylinder. If she made the goal but was fouled doing so, she gets one extra shot. Each free throw is worth one point. If she didn't make the shot because she was fouled, she gets two extra shots at the free throw line, possibly earning two points.

"Big deal. I'll just get my worst player to beat up the best players on the other team. Who cares if she 'fouls out'?" The problem is any foul a player makes is also charged to the player's team. Whenever a team's players rack up five fouls in a quarter, on the fifth foul the opposing team is awarded an extra free throw for that infraction and for any subsequent infractions. Don't foul!

8. Goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponents move the basket, it shall count as a goal.

A field goal is worth two points. If it's a long field goal, it's worth three points if it's made from beyond that big arching parabola drawn on the court.

9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the first person 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 them.

Believe it or not, this rule has remained mostly intact. Players have five seconds to bring the ball in after it goes out of bounds; if they cannot they must turn over the ball.

10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have the power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

There are three referees in the game, and they have the right to call fouls. As for disqualifying players, they are "high level" fouls like technical fouls (get two of those and you're out) or "flagrant fouls" which are so bad that sometimes even if you get just one, you're out.

11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and decide when it 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.

There's a whole bevy of support persons now - referees don't have to do the whole job anymore. But yes, their word is law.

12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves with five minutes' rest between.

A WNBA game is divided into four ten-minute quarters. There is approximately two minutes of rest between quarters one and two and quarters three and four. The time between quarters two and three is "halftime" which I believe is 15 minutes in the WNBA.

13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners.

These days, it's "whoever scores the most points before time expires wins".

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All of the other rules are just modifications of the ones above. You now know the basics of basketball. Now go out and cheer!

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