James Naismith – The 13 Rules of Basketball


Dr James Naismith was a Canadian born physical education instructor.


In 1890, Naismith moved to Springfield, Massachusetts to work at the YMCA International Training School.

He was given the task of designing a new indoor game to provide an “athletic distraction” for a rowdy class of students to help survive the harsh New England winter. He had 14 days.

The challenge was to develop an activity that would work on a wooden floor in an enclosed space. After studying various sports, he realized that a game based on horizontal passing wasn’t going to work – but a vertical pass would.

After hanging two peach baskets ten feet in the air as the goals, Naismith wrote up 13 rules and basketball was born.

James Naisbith - The 13 Rules of Basketball
Photo by Fabio Jock on Unsplash


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

2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (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 who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.





At first glance it might seem a little strange to think of the rules of a sport as a manifesto, but here’s how I think it fits…

A manifesto is a public declaration of your intent.

If we are going to play a sport, a game or literally any activity together we’d need some sort of agreement about what we intend to make happen. This might be loose and informal or tight and formally written down.

In sport, we need to firstly define the aim of the game. In particular, how do we win? If we don’t do this publicly, it would mean some players might be doing basketball while others would be doing football. That would be confusing!

Then it follows to define some rules of behaviour.

In sport, this includes the boundaries of play – we need to decide where the rules apply and where they don’t. Or, like in basketball the ball is ‘in play’ or ‘out of play’.

Plus, this also includes the more obvious rules of play. Can I run with the ball? Can I tackle someone? What happens when someone doesn’t follow the rules?

For me, sport provides the classic Rules Based Manifesto, which has two distinct parts:

  1. A unique context – Basketball is a unique situation compared to football or tennis.
  2. Specific rules for success – how you play to win at basketball is completely different to football or tennis.