What is the Key in Basketball?

basketball key

The key is a rectangular region of the basketball court with a perimeter extended from the baseline to the top of the free throw circle. The free lane’s lines serve as the side boundaries. It can also be referred to as “the paint” because this area is typically painted a different color from the rest of the court, depending on the court’s theme. A basketball court contains two keys under each backboard and has a three-second violation rule connected to it.

Dimensions of the Key

The NBA basketball key measures 16 by 15 feet, measuring from the baseline to the top of the free throw line. Meanwhile, NCCA courts have a different size, usually smaller than the NBA Standards, measuring 12 by 15 feet.

History of the Key

The key was part of the original basketball court’s design. Initially, it measured six feet, but at the beginning of the 1951-1952 NBA playoffs, it widened to 12 feet, considering the dominance of the centers like George Mikan. Further, the NBA approved widening the width to 16 feet in the 1964-64 season as players like Wilt Chamberlain still dominated the region. Meanwhile, the FIBA used to have a trapezoid-like shaped Key before changing it to a rectangle in 2010.

Three in the Key

The “three in the key” is a three-second violation imposed on players who stays in the key for longer than three seconds. There is a whole section in the NBA rulebook dedicated to this defiance which states that: 

“Section VI—Offensive Three-Second Rule 1. An offensive player shall not remain for more than three seconds in that part of his free throw lane between the end line and extended 4′ (imaginary) off the court and the farther edge of the free-throw line while the ball is in control of his team. 2. Allowance may be made for a player who, having been in this area for less than three seconds, is in the act of shooting at the end of the third second.

Under these conditions, the 3-second count is discontinued while his continuous motion is toward the basket. If that continuous motion ceases, the previous 3-second count is continued. This is also true if it is imminent the offensive player will exit this area. 3. The 3-second count shall not begin until the ball is in control in the offensive team’s frontcourt. No violation can occur if the ball is batted away by an opponent. 1. PENALTY: Loss of ball. The ball is awarded to the opposing team on the sideline at the free-throw line extended.”

The only practical way to avoid this violation is to leave the key before the referee blows his whistle. However, the players can exit and re-enter the key as many times as they like.

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