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25 Greatest Contributions to the Game of Basketball

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25 Greatest Contributions to the Game of Basketball

Image Courtesy - Basketball Hall of Fame

As a sports, basketball has evolved over the course of the centuries since it was founded in the 1880s by Dr. James Naismith, originally a physical education teacher, who introduced the game to his P.E. students as a form of exercise. The original game was bound by 13 rules which changed drastically over the course of time, morphing with the modern age into the game we all know and love today.

It wasn't only rule changes that had a substantial impact on the changing nature of the game. Leagues, legislative measures and non-traditional teams also had just as much of one as the actual nuts and bolts of the game's proceedings.

It wasn't just men who were able to enjoy the game thanks to women like Sanda Berenson who introduced the game to women at Smith College in the early 1890s, and those who also worked tirelessly to create and implement Title IX in the 1970s, allowing women equal opportunity to compete in the sport on college campuses.

While it wasn't an easy task, we have whittled down all of these substantial developments in the game of basketball to the 25 we see as the greatest contributions the game has seen. Enjoy!

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Elimination of the Center Jump After Each Basket - 1938


Prior to 1938, each basket culminated in a jump ball at center court to determine who retained possession. Due to how slow this made the game, the rule was overturned in 1938, leading to higher scoring and more free-flowing contests.

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Introduction of the Three Second Rule - 1938

Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY SPORTS

In correspondence with the center jump being eliminated, the three seconds in the lane rule was also introduced in 1938. This prevented bigger players from clogging the lane for as long as they wished and allowed for smaller players to be more competitive in the open court.

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Open Nets First Used in Games - 1906


Prior to 1906, closed baskets ruled the day. After each basket was made, the ball had to be fished out of the closed net before play could continue. With the addition of open nets, the ball could be retrieved by the defensive team and inbounded to keep the action flowing.

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Players Can Be Disqualified by Fouling Out

Jesse Johnson - USA TODAY SPORTS

In the early days of basketball, things were rough. Players were consistently injured by their more aggressive opponents -- especially when the game was still played with a court surrounded by wire cages before the introduction of boundary lines. When players could be disqualified by fouling out, the game became calmer and less overtly aggressive.

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Introduction of the Shot Clock - 1953


Prior to 1953, it was common coaching philosophy to run the four corners or a similar slow down offense in an effort to keep the ball out of the hands of a more talented opponent. With the introduction of the shot clock in both the college and pro game in 1953, this was no longer available and as a natural side effect, scores were higher, making the game more enjoyable for spectators.

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Ten Second Free Throw Time Limit

Image Courtesy - Basketball.com

In the early days of the game, there was no limit on the amount of time a fouled player could take at the free throw line -- and in the days of a constantly running clock -- wasting time at the free throw line was a great strategy when in the lead. With the addition of the 10 second free throw time limit, this ended.

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Elimination of Defensive Hand Check - 2000


After the 2000 NBA Finals, David Stern and his brass had seen enough hand checking for their lifetimes. Due to excessive hand checking which led to an extremely boring finals between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers, Stern deemed the practice illegal and it's still called closely to this day on the perimeter -- especially when a point guard is being hounded.

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Unlimited Substitutions


Beginning in 1945, coaches had the ability to use free-flowing substitutions to determine who they wanted in the game at different times -- substitutions became unlimited. Prior to 1945, substitutions were limited, and in some leagues, a player taken out of a game could not re-enter regardless of circumstances.

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Clock Stops on Dead Balls


In basketball's early days, there was a constant running clock. The argument against this, finally, is that players needed more in-game time to develop their games, and accordingly, the clock stopping on all dead balls became commonplace. You still see running clocks in some recreational and summer leagues, but hardly ever in organized competition.

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The Three Point Shot

Anthony Gruposso - USA TODAY SPORTS

Enough can't be said in regards to how the three point shot changed the game of basketball. Introduced largely as a gimmick to the college game in the early 1960s which those discussing it at the time didn't think much of, the three pointer has become the backbone of the modern offense and many teams live and die by it night in and night out.

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Zone Defenses

Image Courtesy - Queen of Sports

Before the introduction of zone defensive principles, smaller teams had little luck defending larger opponents. Now, size can be neutralized through an effectively run zone defense, forcing larger teams to beat smaller teams on the perimeter and giving coaches a multitude of matchup options.

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The Widened Interior Lane

Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY SPORTS

At one time, the "paint" -- the interior lanes -- were so small that bigger players could essentially plop themselves down and become immovable under the basket. With the introduction of the three second rule and the slow widening of the lane to what we see in today's college and NBA game, this was equalized and big guys have to keep moving or pay the price.

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Kareem Abdul Jabbar's Sky Hook

Image Courtesy - Total Pro Sports

Probably the most deadly single weapon in the history of organized basketball was the famous Sky Hook shot developed by Hall of Fame Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Often duplicated, but never replicated, the shot made Kareem one of the greatest scorers in the history of basketball at any level.

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Offensive & Defensive Goaltending Become Illegal

Image Courtesy - Forbes

While they happened at different times -- 1944 on the defensive side of the ball, and 1958 on the offensive side -- the addition of the rule making goaltending illegal greatly changed the game. No longer could bigger players just swat the ball off the rim on defense or dunk it in on offense when over the cylinder. Today, goaltending is still legal in the international game and is one of the most difficult adjustments NBA players have to remember to make when playing against international opponents.

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Five Second Closely Guarded


Along with the Four Corners and Spread offenses that were designed to kill time prior to the introduction of the shot clock, point guards and other ball-handlers could dribble around in perpetuity killing clock at their leisure without penalty. With the addition of the five second closely guarded rule, this ended, as players being closely guarded had to get rid of the ball within five seconds.

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One and One Free Throws Introduced

Image Courtesy - Hoop Source

As free throws became a bigger part of the game, a new skill element was introduced in the form of the one-and-one free throw series on a team's seventh foul-- rather than two free throws being guaranteed on all fouls. As we all know, some of the most tense moments in big games can come on these one-and-ones.

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The Harlem Globetrotters

Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY SPORTS

What's there to say about the Harlem Globetrotters that hasn't already been said. Abe Saperstein's bunch started to bring the entertainment element of basketball to the masses in the 1930s in Harlem and haven't stopped yet, entertaining millions of fans around the globe.

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10 Second Backcourt Rule Introduced - 1932

Cary Edmonson - USA TODAY SPORTS

In 1932, the ten second backcourt rule was introduced, the first of many rules intended to speed up the game. Prior to 1932, teams would linger in their own end to kill clock with no real incentive to advance play and make an effort on offense when in the lead.

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Alternate Possession - 1981

Image Courtesy - All Around Sports

In 1981, alternate possession was introduced into the game, eliminating jump balls on each tie-up. This is still a part of the NBA game, but in college ball the arrow flips with each tie-up.

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Dunking Was Legalized, for the Second Time - 1971


The so-called "Lew Alcindor" rule -- named after Kareem Abdul Jabbar -- and his propensity for throwing down slam dunks, was overturned in 1971 and dunking was again legal. This ushered in some of the most creative dunkers in the history in the 1970s in both the NBA and the ABA -- adding an entertainment and flash element to the game which we all enjoy today.

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The American Basketball Association

Image Courtesy - Gamedayr

While it was relatively short-lived, the American Basketball Association capitalized on the feeling among NBA fans that the league had become stagnant, and gave fans in non-NBA cities another option to watch some high-quality professional basketball. Several ABA teams, including the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks were merged into the NBA when the league finally called it quits in 1976. A new version of the league was kick-started in 2000, but it has struggled to gain any traction.

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Senda Berenson Introduces the Game to Women - 1892

Image Courtesy - Smith College Archives

Senda Berenson first introduced basketball to women at Smith College in 1892, and adapted Dr. Naismith's original 13 rules to women in 1899. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985, Berenson was credited with being the mother of women's basketball and having the greatest influence on the women's game of any early figure.

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Title IX Introduced - 1972

Image Courtesy - Yale Herald

NCAA Title IX was introduced in 1972, allowing women equal access to intercollegiate athletic competition determinant on the size of the student population. Loosely-organized collegiate competition became more formal under the NCAA, and women had a chance to play in well-funded and well-respected programs, ultimately opening the door to women's pro basketball in the 1990s and on to today in the WNBA.

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Coaches Can Coach In-Game - 1949

Image Courtesy - NBA Fans

Could you imagine Bobby Knight or Phil Jackson tethered to their seats? This was the order of the day prior to 1949, when coaches were first allowed to roam the sidelines and coach in-game. Prior to that time, the only discussions coaches could have with their players were prior to and after games, and in the locker room at halftime. Strange, I know.

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The Original 13 Rules by Dr. James Naismith

Image Courtesy - The History Blog

Without Dr. James Naismith's 13 Original Rules of Basketball there would have been no structure to the game in its infancy and it might have failed as a recreational activity, much less a competitive one. The game is owed to Dr. Naismith and without his rules everything else we just discussed may have never happened to begin with.