Do you love to see a slam-dunk, a fade away jumper, or an alley-oop pass? How about a three-pointer, which the announcer says is from “way downtown”? If you do, you’re a basketball fan. Perhaps you’ve tried some of these plays yourself. Basketball is a limited contact sport played on a rectangular court.
Basketball is one of the world’s most popular sports. It’s played in more than 200 countries, in playgrounds, school gyms, and sports arenas. All you need is a ball and a hoop.

Basketball is played by two teams of five players. Players score points by throwing a ball through a hoop 10 feet (3.1 meters) above the ground. The team that scores the most points wins.

Players move the basketball by dribbling (bouncing) it or by passing it to another player. In college and professional basketball, teams have a limited time in which to try to score. Then the other team gets the ball.
Shooting the ball through the basket usually scores two points. The basket scores three points if the shooter is beyond a line on the court called the three-point line. A player gets to shoot one or more free throws after a foul (illegal contact) by an opposing player. A successful free throw scores one point.
Basketball is a fast-moving and high-scoring sport. It has exciting shots like the slam-dunk, when a player leaps high into the air and slams the ball through the hoop from above. A fadeaway is a shot taken while the player is moving backward, away from the basket. Another exciting play is the alley-oop—a pass way up near the basket. The player leaps and attempts to catch the pass and score before returning to the floor.

A team plays a basketball game with five players on the court. These players have different roles, or positions. The standard positions are two guards, two forwards, and one center. Different skills are required for each position.
The center is usually a team’s tallest player. The center usually plays near the basket and shoots from there. When the other team has the ball, the center tries to block shots and rebound the ball when it doesn’t go into the basket.
There are two kinds of guards. The point guard is usually the team’s best ball handler and passer. The shooting guard is often the highest scorer on the team. Guards shoot from near the basket and from the three-point line.
There are also two kinds of forwards. A small forward is quick and nimble in getting to the basket. A power forward is strong and grabs rebounds—unsuccessful shots that bounce back. But any player may play anywhere on the court.
Each team is led by a coach. The coach plans the team’s strategy. Basketball involves teamwork. When a team has the ball, it tries to get a player open for a shot. When it doesn’t have the ball, a team tries to make an opponent miss a shot or lose control of the ball.
One or more referees keep order. They make sure that rules are followed and play is fair.

In the United States, most high schools and colleges have basketball programs. At the end of the season, the best teams compete in local, state, or national tournaments.
There are men’s and women’s professional teams as well. The highest level of play for men is in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and for women is in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The best teams compete in playoffs for the championship.

Michael Jordan is generally regarded as the greatest basketball player ever. He led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during the 1990s. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, with 38,387 points. Other leading NBA stars of the past include Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson.
Today’s NBA stars include Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James. Leading players in the WNBA include Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Lauren Jackson.

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