Basketball Basics

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Anyone who's ever participated in high-school gym class or simply turned on a network television station on a Sunday afternoon is probably already familiar with basketball basics. Compared with the country's "other" national pastime, baseball, basketball basics are quite simple; the object is to put the ball in the opposing basket by either shooting a layup (a shot that's near the hoop) or a jump shot (a shot from far out). Both feats, when successful, earn their shooters two points.

Shots from behind the "arc" that surrounds the key (or "paint") are rewarded with three points, while shots from the foul line (also known as the free-throw line or the "charity stripe") are worth one. The only time that more than three points are awarded on a single play is when the shooter makes a three-pointer and is fouled in the process. This sends the shooter to the line to attempt a single free throw, which, if hit, takes the play's point total from three to four.

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For those just growing familiar with the game, it's important to understand that the basketball is not advanced the same way the football or the baseball is. Players must dribble (bounce the ball) as they run in order to avoid "walking" or "traveling," which is a violation that costs a team its possession. It is worth noting that players who "drive" (dribble toward the basket) are permitted two steps as a continuation of their move. In the NBA, referees largely ignore this rule unless a player commits a flagrant violation (such as taking four steps; three steps may or may not be ignored by the officials).

Depending on the level of play (high school, college, pro), a game can last anywhere from 32 to 48 minutes. In college, the game is divided into two 20-minute halves, while the pros play by 12-minute quarters. In many junior leagues, where kids are just learning basketball basics, games may be as short as 20 minutes. Regardless of the contest's lengths, one essential of the game is having a corps of refs who know the rules and consistently enforce them.

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