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7 surprising things to know about basketball

 

(David Leeds/Allsport)

Game on! The NBA All-Star Weekend is taking place this year from February 16 to 18. It gets rolling with a skills challenge and ends with the All-Star Game, where the cream of the NBA crop give it all they’ve got. Before tip-off, we rounded up some surprising facts about the game of basketball. Have a look!

Stop those pesky fans

A historic basketball court, complete with a peach basket for the net.
A historic basketball court, complete with a peach basket as the net. Public doman via Wikimedia Commons

The first basketball nets were made of a peach basket attached to a huge pole. There was one big problem with the nets. Fans watching from the balcony would interfere with players’ shots to prevent a point being scored. To fix this, backboards were added to the nets. The backboards were originally made of chicken wire and they did two things. First, they kept the fans from interfering with the play. And secondly, they caused rebounds to become part of the game. 

Be careful out there

 Cleveland Cavaliers' center Andrew DeClercq (L) dives to save the ball.
Cleveland Cavaliers' center Andrew DeClercq (L) dives to save the ball. (DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)

In its early days, basketball was a much rougher sport. That’s because there were different rules for balls that went out of bounds. When a ball landed out of bounds, the ref tossed it down the court, and the first team to touch it got possession. That led to players racing to be first to the ball. And this ended up with players getting injured as they scrambled down the court and tackled each other to get it. By 1913, the rule was changed to make things safer for the players. When a ball bounced out of bounds, the team that touched it last lost possession.

Nothing but net

Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a 3-pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2017 Summer League.
Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a 3-pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2017 Summer League. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Three-Point Contest is another popular event in the skills challenge. Officially called a three-point field goal, the three-pointer is a basketball shot that’s made from beyond the three-point line. That’s the arc found on the court that surrounds the basket. If you sink a shot from there, you’ll nab three points. It turns out the three-pointer hasn’t always been a part of basketball. In fact, when the NBA began in 1946, the three-pointer didn’t exist. It wasn’t until the 1979-80 season that the NBA adjusted their rules to include the three-point shot.


Want to read more? Check out Cool facts about the most popular hoop sport — basketball.


Don’t dribble

 Ron Artest #15 of the St John''s Red Storm dribbles the ball.
Ron Artest #15 of the St John''s Red Storm dribbles the ball during the 1999 game against the Duke Blue Devils. (David Leeds/Allsport)

Imagine a game of basketball without dribbling. (That’s when you bounce the ball on the floor with one hand while racing down the court. But you probably already knew that!) Believe it or not, dribbling wasn’t part of the rules of the first basketball games. The moment you caught a ball, you had to throw it to another player to move the game along. That changed in 1897, when a college basketball team introduced dribbling to the sport. Even then, players could only use one bounce before passing the ball to another player. It took four more years before full-on dribbling became an official part of basketball.

Let’s hear it for teamwork

Seattle Supersonic rookie Rashard Lewis (top) slams home two points after an alley-oop pass from teammate Detlef Schrempf.
Seattle Supersonic rookie Rashard Lewis slams home two points after an alley-oop pass from teammate Detlef Schrempf. (Dan Levine/AFP/Getty Images)

It may not sound like a basketball term, but “alley-oop” is a part of the sport. It’s the name for a play when one player jumps and catches a pass from another player and immediately slams it into the net before touching the ground. As for its unusual name? It’s believed to come from the French term “allez-oop,” which is the cry a circus acrobat makes just before they leap. It means “go up.” The play itself is said to have got its start with two brothers who played basketball in the 1960s. Al and Gerald Tucker began using the alley-oop move to rack up points for their Oklahoma team.

A smaller squad

Women's university basketball team.
Women's university basketball teams play on the court. Photo by Mike Boening Photography licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the game of basketball, each team has five players on the court at one time. But it wasn’t always that way. When basketball was first invented back in the late 1800s, there was no rule on the number of players allowed on the court. That meant teams could play with any number of players. Some teams had 50 players each and would send out nine players at a time. That changed in 1897, when the new rule of five players per side was finally established.

Do the dunk

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls does a slam dunk to the joy of the crowd at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois during the game against the Seattle Supersonics.
Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls does a slam dunk during the game against the Seattle Supersonics. (Jonathan Daniel/Stringer)

The Slam Dunk Contest is one of the highlights of the NBA Skills Challenge. You’re probably familiar with the slam dunk — a player leaps into the air above the net’s rim and drives the ball straight into the net with one or both hands. Boom! This popular play was originally known as a dunk shot. Then, at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 1972, an American announcer named Chick Hearn used the phrase “slam dunk” for the first time. And the name stuck. As for the first ever slam dunk? That’s a tough one to figure out. But a basketball player named Robert Kurland, who played the sport in the 1940s, is said to be the first person to ever dunk in an official game.