Streetball rules vary widely from court to court.
Players typically divide into teams by alternating choices.
No referees are employed, so almost invariably a “call your own foul” rule is in effect, and a player who believes he has been fouled, simply needs to call out “Foul!”, and play will be stopped, with the ball awarded to the fouled player’s team (free throws are not awarded in streetball).
Calling fouls is generally disfavored. The etiquette of what rightly constitutes a foul, as well as the permissible amount of protestation against such a call, are the products of individual groups, and of the seriousness of a particular game.
Other violations which are enforced include traveling, double-dribble, carrying, kicking, goal tending, and backcourt.
Since there are not always enough players to play on a full court (typically 4-on-4 is a minimum for full court) and full-court games are more physically demanding, the majority of Streetball games are played on a half court. Special rules have been developed for half-court play:
At the beginning of the game and after each made basket, play begins at the top of the key. A “checking” system is used to ensure that both teams are ready to begin play. This involves the offensive player saying “check” while throwing the ball to his defender. The defender then makes sure his/her team is ready and then throws the ball back to begin play.
If the ball goes out of bounds, the ball can either be checked from out of bounds near where the ball went out or at the top of the key, depending on the rules established before the game.
FIBA recently had to add the ‘check clock’ rule into play in their streetball tournaments due to some players taking excruciatingly long amounts of time to check the ball, interrupting the flow of play. This ‘check clock’ means that when the defending player has been checked the ball, he has to return it within 5 seconds.
If a player hits the rim or backboard (sometimes only rim qualifies) with their missed shot and the defending team rebounds the ball, the ball must be taken out to beyond the three-point line before that rebounding team can score a basket. This does not need to be at the top of the key and no checking is required.
A common feature of street basketball is the pick up game. To participate in most streetball games around the world, one simply goes to an outdoor court where people are playing, indicates a wish to participate, and from all the players who were at the court before one has played, one will get to pick their team out of the players available and play a game. Generally, the team captains alternate their choices, but different courts have differing rules in regards to player selection. Many games play up to 7, 11, 13, 15, or 21 points with baskets counting for 1 and 2 points. It is possible to do (1’s only), (2’s only), (1’s and 2’s), (2’s and 3’s) or (1’s, 2’s and 3’s) 1’s only – each basket counts as 1 point 2’s only – each basket counts as 2 points 1’s and 2’s – each basket counts as 1 point if inside the arc, or 2 points if outside the arc 2’s and 3’s – each basket counts as 2 points if inside the arc, or 3 points if outside the arc 1’s, 2’s and 3’s – You need at least 3 teams for this, baskets count as 1 or 2 points until one of the 3 teams score a certain number of points, then the other 2 teams play for second place with baskets counting for 2 and 3 points Players often play ‘win by 2’ which, as in tennis, means that the team has to win by a margin of at least 2 points. Sometimes a local “dead end” limit applies; for instance a game may be played to 7, win by 2, with a 9-point dead end, (referred to as “7 by 2’s, 9 straight”) which would mean scores of 7-3, 8-6, or 9-8 would all be final, while with scores of 7-6 or 8-7, play would continue. The most common streetball game is 3 on 3 played half court, though 5 on 5 full court can be found. Another common variation to the rules is the “skunk” rule. This merely means that if a player reaches a certain point without the other player scoring, the game is over. The skunk rule limit can vary, but is often used at the score 7 to 0.
Sometimes in a half-court game, a “winner’s ball” or “make it, take it” rule is used. This means that if a team scores, it gets the ball again on offense; one team could end up never getting the ball on offense if the other team scores on every possession. Full court basketball is not played with these rules, but, in most instances, the winning team gets to choose which basketball and usually which direction (which basket) they get to use. Also, if the ball goes out of bounds players must check up.
Another possible streetball feature is having an MC call the game. The MC is on the court during the game and is often very close to the players (but makes an effort to not interfere with the game) and uses a microphone to provide game commentary for the fans.
If the player loses the match of a 1v1, the losing player is given a second chance to shoot a shot at the three point line. This either results with the match continuing or if the match is close enough resulting in a tie.
In a game of 1v1, in a close game the game cannot end on a bank shot. If a bank shot happens on the last point of the game it is a replay of possession.
A popular variation of street basketball is 21, also known as Hustle, American, St. Mary’s, a V or Varsity, Roughhouse, 33, 50 or Crunch, or “New York.” 21 is played most often with 3-5 players on a half court, typically when not enough players have arrived at the playground to “run 3’s” (play 3-on-3). However it is possible to play “21” with only two players, or more than 5.
Further, in some forms, players can freely enter the game after it has begun, starting at zero points or being “spotted” the same number as the player with the lowest score. “21” is an “every player for himself” game, with highly variable rules. The rules of “21” are usually agreed by the players at the beginning of the game.
The typical rules of “21” are:
one player “breaks” to begin the game by shooting from 3 point range. Sometimes players agree that the “break” must not be a successful shot, in order to give every player an equal chance at rebounding to gain the 1st possession of the game
the normal foul rule is in effect
baskets are scored as 2’s and 3’s (as opposed to 1’s and 2’s like Streetball)
after a successful shot, the shooter can take up to three 1-point free-throws (or play the “shoot til you miss” variation, where the shooter continues to shoot the ball until he misses), but as soon as he misses, the ball may be rebounded by anyone; conversely, if he makes all three free throw shots, he then gets to keep the ball and “check up” or start play again at the top of the arc
In some games 1 point free throws start at the charity stripe and then move to the 3 point line at the score 11 and so on (called 11 long or if at the 3 point line from the first score for free throws is called “long all day”)
the last person with a shot attempt should be the first person to step out on defense
after any change of possession, the ball should be cleared past the 3 point line (or at times just out of the key)
in order to win, a player must make exactly 21 points; if he goes over then he restarts back at either 11, 13 or 15 points, depending on the rules in use
whoever wins the game starts with the ball at the beginning of the next game
only serious fouls are called (commonly referred to as “No blood, No foul”)
other typical basketball rules, such as out-of-bounds, are also frequently ignored in the game “21”; this is to avoid confusion on possession of the ball
Common additional rules include:
a player can attempt a 5-pointer in lieu of attempting three free-throws
if a missed shot is “tipped in” to the basket by another player without their feet touching the ground, then the shooter’s score reverts to zero (or thirteen if their score was over thirteen); this rule may not apply on free-throws. This is referred to as “playing with tips”
if a player who has 13 points misses their next shot, regardless of whether it is a free-throw, then their points revert to zero. This is referred to as “poison points”
whoever wins the game must shoot a three-pointer in order to start with the ball at the beginning of the next game; if he makes it, he gets the three points, but doesn’t have to take free-throws, and starts with the ball
players with less than 13 points at the end of a game keep their points into the next game (a sort of handicap system for when there is a wide variation in skill amongst the players)
“21” is considered a very challenging game, especially because the offensive player must possibly go up against several defenders at the same time. For this reason, it is exceedingly difficult to “drive to the hole” and make lay-ups in “21.” Therefore, and also because of the emphasis on free-throws, “21” is very much a shooter’s game, and because a successful shot means you keep the ball, it is possible for there to be come-backs when a player recovers from a large deficit by not missing any shots (this can also result in failure when they miss their final free-throw at 20 points and revert to 13 or 15 etc.).
“21” is popular because it allows an odd number of people to play, unlike regular basketball or other variants.