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Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players compete on a rectangular court with the goal of shooting a basketball through the opposing team’s hoop (a basket 18 inches (46 cm) in diameter mounted 10 feet (3.048 m) high to a backboard at each end of the court) while preventing the opposing team from shooting through their own hoop. Field goals are for two points unless they are made from behind the three-point line, in which case they are worth three points. When a player gets fouled or is called for a technical foul, the clock stops and the player is allowed one, two, or three one-point free throws. The team with the most points at the end of regulation play wins, but if the score is tied at the completion of regulation play, an extra session of play (overtime) is required.
The ball is advanced by players bouncing it while walking or running (dribbling) or passing it to a teammate, both of which demand a high level of ability. On offense, players may make layups, jump shots, or dunks; on defense, they can steal the ball from a dribbler, intercept passes, or block shots; and either offense or defense can gather rebounds, which are missed shots that bounce off the rim or backboard. Lifting or dragging one’s pivot foot without dribbling the ball, carrying it, or holding the ball with both hands and subsequently dribbling is a violation.
Each team’s five players are assigned to one of five positions. The center is usually the tallest player, the power forward is the second-tallest and strongest, the small forward is slightly shorter but more agile, and the shooting guard and point guard are the shortest players or best ball handlers, executing the coach’s game plan by managing the execution of offensive and defensive plays (player positioning). Players can play three-on-three, two-on-two, or one-on-one informally.
Basketball was invented in 1891 by Canadian-American gym instructor James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts, and has since grown to become one of the most popular and extensively watched games in the world. In terms of popularity, wages, skill, and quality of competition, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the most important professional basketball league in the world. Outside of North America, national league champions compete in continental tournaments such as the EuroLeague and the Basketball Champions League Americas. The FIBA Basketball World Cup and the Men’s Olympic Basketball Tournament are the sport’s two largest international competitions, attracting elite national teams from all around the world. National teams compete in regional events on each continent, such as EuroBasket and FIBA AmeriCup.
Top national teams from continental championships compete in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup and Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament. The WNBA is the most popular league in North America (the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship is also popular), while the EuroLeague Women attracts the best European clubs.
On a gloomy day in December 1891, James Naismith, a Canadian physical education professor and instructor at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, was attempting to keep his gym class busy. During the long New England winters, he looked for a rigorous indoor game to keep his students interested and active.
He devised a new game in which players throw a ball to teammates and try to earn points by tossing the ball into a basket installed on a wall after rejecting earlier concepts as too harsh or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums. Naismith devised the fundamental principles and fastened a peach basket on a raised track. The peach basket was first set up with the bottom intact, which meant that the ball had to be physically removed after each “basket” or point scored. After a while, Naismith decided to remove the bottom of the basket and poke the balls out with a long dowel after each scored basket.