Issue 4: The NBA Season is Back On! Let’s Revisit the Original Basketball Rules

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With the NBA season officially tipping back off tonight, all eyes are on the bubble in Disney World. Games will be played and playoff positions earned, but there won’t be fans in the stands.

It’s gonna be strange — though will it be as strange as the original rules of basketball?

Yes, we’re going way back in time to January 15, 1892, the day Dr. James Naismith published the first basketball rules in The Triangle, the Springfield College school newspaper.

Let’s take a look at five of the more interesting rules and see how they’ve changed in the modern era.

Rule #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 who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

The first part of this makes sense; it’s basically that you can’t travel. That’s fine. But the rest of this reads like a game of hot potato. No dribbling! Just pass or bat the ball when it comes your way.

I’m also curious about arguments that ensued over what constitutes a “good speed” and if certain players would try to take an extra step or two to gain an advantage. “No, young Jeremiah, I was merely using my allocated allowance. Didn’t you see the good speed with which I was running?”

Rule #5: No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player 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 substitute allowed.

To this day, shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, and striking are all fouls (whether or not they’re called by the officials is another matter).

But today, you get six fouls in a basketball game before you’re eliminated. In Naismith’s version, your second foul removes you from the action until the next basket.

With how low scoring these early games were, you could be hanging out on the sideline for several minutes. But I suppose that gave basketball players a chance to interact with fans and use quill pens to sign parchment paper autographs.

The “evident intent to injure” another player still results in being ejected from the game nowadays, as it should. We’re trying to have fun out here, not get hurt.

Rule #8: A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

It’s not until Rule #8 that we learn how to score. You may have heard about basketball originally being played with peach baskets. Well, here’s the rule in all its glory.

I’m very curious how many balls either rested on the edges or bounced in the basket but then popped back out. We do still have “in and out” shots in today’s game, when the ball rattles around the rim and maybe even goes halfway in the hoop before coming back out. But is that more frequent than how it was in the late 1890s?

I also appreciate the emphasis on batting the ball. We really need to see more of that. Can you imagine Steph Curry swinging his hand like a cricket bat and knocking it into the hoop from 35 feet out? The crowd would go wild!

Rule #9: When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a 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 that side.

I’m impressed that the five-second throw-in violation was a thing nearly 130 years ago. That’s still present in the modern NBA (or any level of basketball, really).

The first part of this rule fills me with glee, too. It sounds like it’s basically a free-for-all to try and get the ball after it goes out of bounds. Lots of short shorts attacking each other.

Rule #11: The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball 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.

Most basketball games now have three referees, or officials. Back then, there was one to rule them all.

Do you think the referee ever went rogue? The ball goes in the peach basket, but he doesn’t count it. “Nuh-uh, you didn’t sing the special ‘The Referee is the Bestest’ song I taught you in the first half!”

Or what if he got tired and wanted to catch a late-night movie? Maybe he really hoped to see Pauvre Pierrot or A Hand Shake, two of the top films of that era.

There might still be 14 minutes left in the game, but the last showing is in 10 minutes and the cinema is a furlong and a half away! All of a sudden, the referee determines there are now only 23 seconds remaining, so you better hurry things along.

Basketball has come a long way in the 128 years since it was first introduced. But it’s still super cool to see some of the traces from the original game in today’s sport.

And Now, for Something Cool…

Hear Me Draw creates digital art primarily for musicians, but he’s dabbled in the sports world, too. He’s also started branching into cutouts and they’re all super impressive. Check out this Kobe Bryant cutout rearing back for another dunk and stop by his Instagram to see a lot more cool designs.

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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