High Horses

The Rules of Basketball

Written by Trevor Lightfoot

Written By: Trevor Lightfoot @TrevorLightfoot

What if you had the power to change any rule in basketball?

Imagine you are the commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Actually, scratch that, you will need significantly greater power and influence for the kind of shenanigans we’re diving into. Instead, imagine you hold the (admittedly fictitious) position of Basketball Emperor for the NBA, nay . . . the world.

Stay with me here . . .

In this fictitious environment, you are burdened with a lot of pressure as Emperor. Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility (thanks, Uncle Ben); it’s not all glitz and glam like one may expect.   In this role you have the tumultuous responsibility of taking decisive action to shape the boundaries of basketball for all who play the game. Your job is to basically control, improve, and create the rules of basketball in a way that allows players, fans, and coaches to play or watch the absolute best version of the sport possible. In other words, your core responsibility is to decide which rule(s) deserve to be written in the official basketball rule book and which ones are simply too ludicrous.

Sounds like a pretty sweet gig right?  But why the hell are we imagining all of this nonsense in the first place?  Well, allow me to add some context before we dive into imagination land any further.

Reason One: Haven’t you ever wanted to change one of the rules to your favorite sport?  Or found yourself yelling at the poor T.V. screen in an effort to somehow plead your case to the referees through the screen?  Haven’t you reached that boiling point where passion simply takes over and your body begins to shake in abstract motions that somehow mean the equivalent of “why is this rule even a thing in the first place? What the hell are you looking at out there ref? Are you kidding me?!”  If this is you in a nutshell, then first and foremost you are not alone. Consider this a support group for overly passionate sports fans who (sometimes) just get a little too involved in the game and may or may not consider a wrongfully called defensive three-second violation a personal vendetta against your own livelihood.

Reason Two: The NBA is without question one of the worst perpetrators of superfluous and preposterous violations in professional sports. Just watch any game for about five-minutes and you’ll be able to see a clear pattern of the same reach-in or over-the-back foul being committed on essentially every single possession, except for fast breaks or one-off plays. What about the infamous traveling violation? We have all heard the banter and most of us have probably witnessed some of the mind-blowing traveling violations that went uncalled. The madness… It’s the National Basketball Anarchy out there when LeBron’s running a fast break.

To compound the problem of superfluous rules, some of these violations make hardly any sense for how the sport is played today. In my humble opinion, a violation should only exist if it improves the game by making it as fair and enjoyable as possible for each team, child, and adult playing basketball recreationally or professionally.  All I’m saying is that some rules in basketball simply do not add value to the game.

Exhibit A

8-second violation: A team shall not be in continuous possession of a ball, which is in its backcourt, for more than 8 consecutive seconds.

First of all, who decided eight seconds was the perfect amount of time for this violation? Why do we play a game called seven seconds in heaven but eight seconds is too long in the back court? Were there studies done or was this just a number pulled out of a hat? Was there an intense deliberation where one side wanted ten seconds and the other side wanted six so the decision got taken to an independent arbitrator who determined eight seconds was the perfect amount of time? Secondly, it would be one thing if the argument for creating the eight-second-violation centered on the fact that every team in the league played ferocious full-court defense. But most of the time defense in the NBA is moderately lax until the last few seconds of the shot clock.   The truth is that this violation is completely unnecessary. It’s rarely called, slows the game to a snails pace when enforced, and is one of the most uneventful change of possession violations the game has.

Exhibit B

Ball in Backcourt: A player shall not be the first to touch a ball, which he or a teammate caused to go from frontcourt to backcourt while his team was in control of the ball.

This rule is just silly. It’s an adult version of the lava game – you know, when our jubilant childhood versions of ourselves would avoid touching a particular part of the floor since it was “lava” – this was awesome as kids, but simply does not belong on an NBA floor. If I’m playing defense and the offensive player is foolish enough to bring the ball up to the top of the key, then turn around and sprint to the opposite baseline, then finally do another 180 just to sprint at full speed back to the correct side of the court only to force up some wild last second shot, then I think I’ll allow it. Again, this is a violation that doesn’t enhance the game in any capacity. Instead, play is halted and the fans are left disengaged.

Reason Four: Most rule changes in the NBA are simply adjustments to current rules: 10-second backcourt violation moving to eight seconds, clear path foul modifications, instant replay usage, etc. Don’t you ever just want something innovative and revolutionary to thrust its way into basketball? Look at what the new Home Run Derby layout did for the MLB All-Star game. I can’t remember the last time there was that much energy and excitement around something that means absolutely nothing in terms of the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. It was just pure innovation at its finest, and the people were captivated. So far in Adam Silver’s tenure he has proven to be good people.   But we have to call out the elephant in the room – the NBA is such a National Bureaucracy Ad Nauseam that they take FOREVER to make even simple rule changes. (For example, we’ve been trying to adopt the international rule for touching the ball above the rim on a rebound for years and it’s only been piloted in summer league….).

So, to summarize: We are using our imagination to create new rules for the game of basketball because sometimes the passionate fan really does know how to improve the game and because nothing exciting or revolutionary ever seems to happen in terms of rule changes during the offseason of the game.

At the end of the day, the entire hodgepodge of rules and violations in the NBA is both impressive and haphazard, with the fine line being walked delicately. To me, the most interesting element to all of this is that someone, or a committee or people, had to come up with all of these rules in order to mold the game into the organized sport we know and love today. The 24-second shot clock, the double dribble, three-seconds in the key, etc. Each of these rules has a story behind it and at least in principal, a legitimate reason as to why it was created in the first place. And now it’s your turn (you’re welcome) to create a new rule or a revolutionary new element to the game of basketball. Remember, as Basketball Emperor of the World you have not only the ability, but also the undisputed right to implement new features to the game. Some unsung hero championed the three-point line, another came up with the idea to have two-types of timeouts (20 second and full), and now it’s our turn to bring on the next big change to the game. While you’re pondering this big time decision, let me explicate some of the changes we came up with

Rule Change Number One: The Double Points Button

  • Each coach is given a Jeopardy style trigger-button at the beginning of each game. This trigger-button is VERY important because when pressed, it initiates a period in which ALL points for that particular team will be worth double. Two pointers are worth four, three pointers are worth six, and free throws are worth two points each.
  • The double point value will run for exactly two minutes of game time.
  • The two teams participating in the game do not need to use the button at the same time, giving the coaches more strategic freedom and empowerment in a star and player driven league.
  • The only caveat is that the coach may NOT use the double-points button during the last two-minutes of the 4th and final quarter. However, should the game go into overtime, the button may pressed at any point during the five-minutes of additional playing time.

Rule Change Number Two: The Wager Free Throw

Free throws are boring, there I said it. Unless it’s the very end of the game and a free throw can either make or break a game, it is simply too predictable of a process. Not to mention the hack-a-Shaq/Dwight/Deandre method makes for awful game watching by slowing the game down dramatically. What if instead of shooting two free throws, the team who got fouled had an option, a wager if you will.

  • Option One: Shoot two free throws just likely you normally would.
  • Option Two: Shoot one three pointer for an opportunity.

Just imagine Marv Albert saying, “Steph Curry goes 9-for-10 from free throws resulting in an astounding 27 points!” or perhaps more likely “Dwight Howard goes 2-for-10 from normal free throws and an unexpected 3-for-4 from three-point free throw range.


Rule Change Number Three: The four-point field goal

Why is there no four-point field goal yet? It feels like we are living in the stone ages with our simple mid-range jump shots and measly almost 24-foot three-point line, may as well be a layup for NBA players. Let’s get crazy and see some real distance, I’m thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 31 feet away from the basket. Now obviously this option comes at a price and would have to eliminate certain shot selections such as the corner three, but how awesome would it be to watch Klay Thompson pull up from that far away every once in awhile? I don’t know if you guys have noticed this, but the dude can shoot from just about anywhere.


Rule Change Number Four: NBA Jam

We live in a day and age in which it seems like absolutely anything is possible. We have wristbands that calculate the amount of exercise we get, we have phones that enable an entire world of knowledge, and perhaps most importantly we advanced technology to turn any basketball court into this . . .

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So, with this kind of amazing technology why can’t real life NBA Jam be a thing? It would be TOO awesome you say? On the contrary my friends, please relax that furrowed eyebrow and take a moment to imagine the possibilities.

  • James Harden pulls up from the elbow for a silky smooth left handed jump shot. Money.
  • Next possession he drives to the hoop for a wham-BAM-slam. Do you see that? Is that computer-generated smoke trailing Harden’s as he runs to the other end of the court? Yes. That is exactly what it is.
  • Suddenly the announcer shouts, “Harden steals it, he has numbers but pulls up from downtown and hits it. HE – IS – ON – FIRE!!” The crowd is going absolutely bonkers and a roaring digitally created flame now engulfs the every step Harden takes.


Rule Change Number Five: Three-Seconds Revamp


If you’ve ever attended a basketball game chances are good that you’ve either witnessed an over stimulated fan screaming something like this at the top of their lungs or you’ve actually been that person yourself. We’ve all found ourselves in that aggrandizing moment in which time itself somehow freezes and a player from the other team is able to defy the laws of physics and camp in the lane for what feels like hours while the referee refuses to blow the whistle. It’s a terrible feeling and it is high time we did something about it. Our suggestion? Well, lets go back to that fancy-shmancy idea of the LED basketball courts. What if every player wore some sort of microchip in his shoes (perhaps the chip is even built into the shoe itself) that could sense exactly how much time was spent in the lane at any given time? Immediately when the player crosses the three-second threshold BOOM the lane turns a different color and this alerting the officials that a violation has taken place. No more guessing, no more wrongful accusations, no more sore throats for fans proclaiming the injustices of the hardwood, and no more ten-second campers in the lane. Let’s make it happen people; can someone start a petition or something?

About the author

Trevor Lightfoot

Trevor has a bachelor degree in journalism and a masters in business administration. His specialty is basketball, late night food cravings, obscure movie quotes, and unwavering stubbornness.

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