A Historical Study on the Positions in Basketball:
The Transition of the Duties
Nobuyuki OKAWA (Toyama University)
In the early process of evolution of basketball, it became customary
for two men to
be placed near the opponent's basket and called forwards; for two men to be placed in
front of their own basket and called guards; and for a player called the center to be
stationed in the middle of the court.
The forwards were supposed to be better at shots and do most of the scoring. The
guards were supposed to keep the opponents from scoring as much as possible. The cen-
ter, usually tall, was supposed to obtained the tip-off for his team. Although these
names have remained for the respective positions, the present-day style of play de-
mands players to be versatile in their duties. For example, all players should be able
to handle the ball and shoot, and are required almost equal ability in guarding.
The purpose of this study is to clarify the transition of the duties of the positions.
The following conclusions can be drawn.
1. In the history of basketball, nine, seven, and finaly five men have constituted the
team. The number to nine on a side, the players were appointed as follows: home,
right and left wings, center, and two side centers, goalkeeper, and two guards. The du-
ties of players were clearly divided here.
2. Within five years, five-man team became the norm (five-man team was introduced
from 1893), and this was the occasion that lets duties of players diversify. The first
change appeared in forwards and center. The forwards caught a ball after the tip-off.
The center attacked with fowards.
3. About 1900, there was introduced into basketball a style of play called the five-man-
one-line-defense. This defense was a direct effort to meet a running-guard. Before this
time, the real offense and defense was played with 3 on 3, but, by an appearance of
these tactics, it was turned into 4 on 4.
4. The prototype of present-day play spread already in 1930's. It was because of a
vogue of five-man-offense system and a zone-defense. After this time, all players are
versatile in their duties.