Issue 61: Are You a Rule Breaker?

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Way back in Issue 4 of Crisp Bounce Pass, I took a look at some of the original rules of basketball. These are the very same ones Dr. James Naismith published in the Springfield College newspaper The Triangle.

The date was January 15, 1892, the way we played sports was different, and the air was crisp because it was wintertime (though with slightly higher temperatures and precipitation than January in Massachusetts typically sees).

In Issue 4, we covered five OG rules. Here are the remaining eight. How do they hold up today?

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

Yes, this one still makes sense in modern times. However, I do like the idea of teams back then just constantly throwing the ball backwards, or even into the bleachers, particularly if they were folded up and acting as deflective bumpers. Bonus points for doing it with one hand.

Rule #2: The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).

HOW DARE YOU clench your fist when trying to bat a ball. What do you think this is, volleyball? It is not. It is basketball.

It’s unclear whether players would set up fun little combinations, like one player throwing the ball to another player who bats it into the basket. But with that terminology, we’re starting to sound like baseball, so let’s just move on.

Rule #4: The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.

Oops. Guess all the point guards that catch the ball and then hold it against their hip while they use their other hand to call out a play have to find a new strategy.

How far up is considered part of your hand? Would cupping the ball between your wrists still count or is that more arm? I bet you thought you wouldn’t ponder such a philosophical question today. I know I sure didn’t. But I’m glad we can consider this together.

Rule #6: A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3,4, and such as described in Rule 5.

Rule #3 says a player can’t run with the ball. Rule #5 disallows “shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way.” And we just saw what rule #4 is all about.

Rule #6 pretty much reiterates what we already know: there are a lot of ways to commit a foul.

However, these rules don’t really differentiate between a foul and a violation, which is something today’s game does. For example, hitting someone on the arm is a foul, while a violation would be something like a travel or a double dribble.

But back in the OG days, everything is a foul. And after two fouls, a player had to sit out until the next basket was made.

Rule #7: If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).

I kinda like this one. Penalize the team that’s too aggressive with their fouling! This would be especially useful in late game situations during close games, when the team that’s trailing sometimes fouls in order to get the ball back.

That strategy relies on the team being fouled then missing their free throws, but with this rule? They’d just automatically get two points. I approve.

What I’m more curious about is this definition of “consecutive.” Was this a new word? Surely, James Naismith did not make up the word “consecutive,” right? Perhaps his last name should be James Wordsmith, eh?

Or perhaps he was just clarifying it so young rapscallions weren’t arguing so much while the ball lay gently in the peach basket.

Rule #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 power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

The other part of Rule #5 states that a player will be disqualified if “there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.”

No substitutions? What is this, Gjelina?

While a baseball umpire serves as the game’s referee, in basketball the umpire was basically a scorekeeper, noting fouls and alerting the referee to issues on the court.

But I like this description much better. “Judge of the men” is such a badass term.

Rule #12: The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between.

This isn’t much different than a college basketball game, except those have 20-minute halves. And a longer rest in between, so we can watch more commercials. The NBA, meanwhile, has 12-minute quarters.

On a semi-related note, while watching basketball games over the course of my life, I’ve encountered multiple people who have posed the question, “how many quarters are in this game?”

Don’t be that person. Even if you know nothing about basketball, surely you know that a quarter is one-fourth of something.

I wonder if there was halftime entertainment in the 1890s. Nowadays, you have something like a bunch of kids playing a scrimmage, or acrobats jumping off trampolines and dunking the ball, or something entirely unrelated, like the Red Panda or the Quick Change folks, which involve a woman balancing many dishes on her foot and head while riding a unicycle and a couple that changes clothes extremely fast, respectively.

Quick Change is also a great Whose Line Is It Anyway? game, though that has less to do with basketball.

Did the 1890s have similar entertainment for the folks in the crowd? Or was the halftime entertainment merely getting to watch the referee quietly review the scorecard, perhaps with a pencil behind his ear?

On a somber note, David Maas, the husband of the Quick Change duo, died of Covid-19 in November 2020. But dang, what a spectacular career.

Rule #13: The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

As is the case with most sports, the highest score wins. That’s not a surprise, but the last half of this rule is far more entertaining. Let’s bring back SUDDEN DEATH.

Overtime these days is fun for the fans at the game—free basketball? Cool!—but how much more exciting would it be knowing that the next basket wins? The intensity level would be palpable. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

I used to play in a basketball league that operated this way. I thought it was fun until one time when we started overtime with a jump ball, and their taller player smacked the ball all the way by their basket.

They scored before I could even say, “wait, I’m not ready to jump!”

Sudden death is stupid in that scenario, but every other time it’s great.

I also like the idea of one captain not agreeing to this. Like, the first one goes, “Sudden death?” And the other says, “Most certainly not. I’m taking my ball and going home.”

Need more background on Naismith and the invention of basketball? Check this out.

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


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