Basketball has come a long way since Dr. James Naismith invented the game in the 1890s, and so have the courts that it’s played on! Though now a hardwood gym floor in a stadium-type setting is the standard, throughout the years basketball has been played on everything from cement to fields to running tracks! While the surfaces, rules, and line layouts have evolved over time, the basic basketball court layout remains the same now as it was in the 1940s.

In the beginning… 

Dr. James Naismith, a physical education teacher at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, created the sport in the 1890s when he needed an indoor activity to keep his students in shape. Since courts, greens, and other standard modern athletic surfaces weren’t around yet, he made do with peach baskets as hoops and indoor running tracks as a playing court. 

Early games experimented with rules, and players made do with whatever equipment was available. Team sizes, for example, depended on the number of players present and could range from as small as 5 per team to as many as 50. Since Naismith listed no specific size for a basketball court in his original 13 rules, players adapted their game according to the gym. 

Across the US, YMCA gyms hosted many of the earliest basketball games on their indoor running tracks and other such surfaces, and though the “hoop on either end” layout was the same, most other dimensions of the court (length, width, hoop height, etc.) simply adjusted to the space in which that specific game was played.

Though Naismith had originally written that basketball could be played on ​​“any kind of ground – in a gymnasium, a large room, a small lot, a large field, whether these had uneven or smooth surfaces,” teams came to need standardized surfaces, dimensions, and layouts for the court. In 1924, rules for court sizes suggested that courts could be a maximum of 90 by 50 feet and a minimum of 60 feet by 3 feet. Early courts had no 3-point line. By the 1950s, rules such as backcourt, where players are not allowed to pass the ball back behind the halfway line once crossed, were in place, calling for new lines and markings that would help players, refs, and fans follow the game and its quickly-developing rules.

The History of Basketball Courts

Modern basketball courts & the NBA

During a college basketball exhibition in New York City in 1931, teams played on a concrete floor that had a layer of canvas on top of it. Predictably, this caused trouble and injuries for the players, and drew only a meager crowd. So, before the first official college basketball game in winter of 1934, a 29-year-old newspaperman by the name of Ned Irish, who was moonlighting as the Madison Square Garden’s director of basketball, brought in a gymnasium-style hardwood floor and laid it over the stone floor. This hard maple flooring worked so well that it became adopted as the standard for professional and semi-professional basketball games, though of course most basketballers get their start on either outdoor blacktop courts or cheaper interlocking plastic courts. 

The surface was set for pro games, but the lines and dimensions of the basketball court continued to adjust. In 1951, the NBA widened the area from the free-throw line to the basket, known as the lane, to 12 feet to allow more room for players and make the game fair for players of all heights. Then, in 1979, the NBA established the 3-point line. The line was 22 feet between each corner and 23 feet, 9 inches at the top point, and represented a major turning point in the sport (and the courts!).

In 1997, the NBA expanded the no-charge zone, which protects defensive players from receiving offensive fouls, to stretch in a four-foot radius around the basket. The International Basketball Federation made changes to its official court rules in 2008 for World Championship and Olympic competitions, including the extension of the 3-point line to around 22.1 feet. The official court dimensions for both the NCAA and the NBA are 94 feet long at the sidelines and 50 feet wide. And so, though there is some variance depending on the league in question, modern basketball courts came into being.

The History of Basketball Courts

Make history on your court with Sports Floors, Inc.

Basketball court surfaces have a big impact on the quality and enjoyment of the game. The surface should provide good traction, good bounce, and durability, while also offering your players a comfortable surface on which to jump and run. Whether you’re looking for traditional hard maple flooring, synthetic flooring, or any other type of modern gym surface, Sports Floors, Inc. has your back. 

We’ve installed courts for NBA teams, NCAA teams, local gyms, and community centers across the Mid-South, and though their particular surfaces and dimensions have varied, they do have one thing in common: they’re made of only the best materials and with the highest care, to ensure years of competition, enjoyment, and memories. If you’re looking to have a basketball court, gymnasium floor, or other types of sports flooring installed, maintained, or updated, get in touch with Sports Floors, Inc. We look forward to working with you!