Science of Basketball

Basketball is a high energy game that involves immense athletic skill. It is a sport that requires arguably the highest concentration of both athleticism and hand-eye coordination. So, understanding the game from both a physical and mental discipline is essential to success.

On the surface, whether watching a game at an NBA arena or the playground, it seems simple: pass, dribble, run, jump, and shoot. However, each of these practices is a principle of science; specifically, the science of physics, math, and the law of motion. Because of these factors, the game and its equipment has transformed over time.

When the game was invented in 1891, there were only 13 rules. To-date, there are over 100 rules. Significant changes during this time have included: soccer-ball-to-basketball or use of a ball that bounces and easy to control; the number of players on-court; court boundaries; dribbling (versus not dribbling); the elimination of the center jump after a made basket; 3-point line; and no dunking for a period of time.

The soccer-to-basketball change was immediate, and the science behind it makes sense. Particularly, adding bumps to a smooth-surfaced ball to induce friction; subsequently, slowing the ball down and/or creating a ball ideal for players to grip. Moreover, a player can effectively handle the ball without fear of losing control whether passing or shooting to the intended target.

The changes around number of players on-court, center-jump after a made basket, and induction of the 3-point line were certainly momentous factors. Factors to produce organization between the competing players/teams in a concentrated space. In the end, the results have yielded a game enjoyable to players and spectators.

In addition to the above changes, today’s equipment and apparel is light-years from inventor Dr. James Naismith. Players want to maximize their ability to get-off-the-floor and be quick (lateral and unilateral) yet remain comfortable and protected during play. Consequently, the technological advances to shoes, socks, shorts, shirts/uniforms have been immense over the last 3 decades. Advances with the premise to not only regulate a player’s movement and temperature but monitor a player’s heart rate and brain activity so coaches can effectively assess “internal and external” factors affecting players throughout the course of the game.

A piece of technology that has enhanced the game for players and coaches are applications to record, view, and assess. Using a device such as a smartphone or tablet, a coach or player can track and chart shots during an individual workout. One of the most popular applications on the market today is “Home Court”; an application utilized and referenced in the STEM Sports Basketball CurriculumModule 7 – “Tracking with Technology”. It is a productive tool to observe and reflect on a player’s progression and/or areas in which he/she needs to advance their game.  

In sum, the game has significantly changed over its 125-year history. A game comprised of science, technology, engineering, and mathematical components. Subsequently, a game that has transformed over time with the intent to establish continuity, structure, and at times, rapid play. What will the next 125 years look like?