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The History of the Basketball Court

author image Peter Mitchell
Based near London, U.K., Peter Mitchell has been a journalist and copywriter for over eight years. Credits include stories for "The Guardian" and the BBC. Mitchell is an experienced player and coach for basketball and soccer teams, and has written articles on nutrition, health and fitness. He has a First Class Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from Bristol University.
The History of the Basketball Court
Most indoor basketball courts are polished wood. Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

From gyms surrounded by metal cages to sprung hardwood floors in indoor stadia, basketball courts have come a long way since the late 1800s. While the rules and exact line layouts have evolved over time, the basic basketball court layout remains the same in 2011 as it was in the 1940s.


The first basketball court was limited to the size of the college gym in which it lay. In 1891, physical education teacher James Naismith invented the game at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Naismith used peach baskets for the hoops. Naismith listed no specific size for a basketball court in his original 13 rules. Instead, players adapted their game according to the gym. YMCA gyms across the USA hosted many of the earliest basketball games.


As basketball grew in popularity, teams needed standardized dimensions for the court. In 1924, rules for court sizes suggested that courts could be a maximum of 90 by 50 feet and a minimum of 60 feet by 3 feet. The basket rim height was 10 feet and remains that way in 2011. Early courts had no 3-point line. By the 1950s, rules such as backcourt where players are not allowed to pass the ball back behind the halfway line once crossed were in place.

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In 1951, the NBA widened the area from the free-throw line to the basket, known as the lane, to 12 feet. This allowed more room for players and helped combat the dominance of taller players such as center George Mikan. In 1979, the NBA tested and then installed the 3-point line. The line was 22 feet between each corner and 23 feet, 9 inches at the top point.

Modern Changes

In 1997, the NBA expanded the no-charge zone. Defensive players cannot receive offensive fouls in this area, which stretches in a four-foot radius half-circle around the basket. The International Basketball Federation made changes to its official court rules in 2008 for World Championship and Olympic competitions. Part of these changes included the extension of the 3-point line to 6.75 meters, or around 22.1 feet. The official court dimensions for both the NCAA and the NBA are 94 feet long at the sidelines and 50 feet wide.

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