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21 is a popular variation of street basketball. It is played most often with 3-9 players on a half court and is a "one against all" game with much looser rules than even streetball.
Rules are fluid and are often different regionally and/or court
specific. It is popular because it allows an odd number of people to
play which is not possible in regular street basketball and it is very
challenging because it is one player against the world.




The General Rules

Scoring is recorded differently than regular basketball. In 21, field goals count as two points (rather than one in normal streetball) after which the player must shoot free throws, and in other regions three pointers, for 1 point apiece. If a free throw is missed the rebound
is in play, much like a "1 and 1" situation in regular basketball. If a
player makes his free throw he shoots until he misses. If he misses and
the other people tap it in, the player that shot the ball loses all his

The game is won by the first person to score 21 points exactly. If
there is no "win by two" rule (see below) on that court or in that game
then the first party to score 21 exactly without going over is the
winner. If the first party reaches 22 then this is called a bust or
marky and still enforced. For example, if a player gets a traveling
violation the person guarding him gets the ball. Thus if a player makes
an attempt and the ball goes out of bounds the first player to get the
ball takes it into play. If a player dribbles out of bounds there is no
penalty. The player simply brings the ball back in bounds. Often the
ball is "checked" after an out of bounds by giving the ball to a
defender who then gives it back to the ball handler. This gives the
defense a chance to ready themselves. Carries and travels are not often
called as long as the ball carrier is making a good faith attempt to
maintain a semblance of basketball dribbling rules and not gaining
advantage through circumventing the rules. This often allows a player
who has lost their dribble in an awkward place and become surrounded to
continue dribbling to get out of the situation and attempt a shot. This
does not allow a player to trick opposing players by losing his dribble
and suddenly regaining it or other such trickery. Rather, the rules are
fluid to allow for situations which are not covered by normal
basketball rules.

are often not called unless they are particularly brutal or obvious.
The player with the ball often never calls the foul as a point of
pride. Therefore, all fouls are conceded by the defense. On many courts
it is expected that after a rebound the player must dribble out beyond
the three point line or free throw line extended before attacking
(called "checking the ball". Sometimes the defensive team has to touch
the ball before it can be played again) but it is just as often the
case that rebounds can be immediately put back.

Regional Variations

The win by two rule is not as common as straight "21" but it is
played in some areas. "Win by two" comes into play if the game is tied
at 20. After that, one team or the other can only win if they are ahead
by 2 points. It is possible, then, to play forever, though usually the
game will end at some point by agreement if the players get tired of

A "break the ice" rule is common in the Northeast United States,
where players must first sink a shot from the foul line before they are
eligible to earn points from rebounds.

On some courts freethrow rules are "all day" in which the shooter
continues shooting freethrows until he misses and play continues on the
On other courts, the scorer can shoot three free throws and if he makes
all of them, he gets to take the ball out again. Often all baskets are
counted as two points regardless of if they are made from behind the
three point line or not. This is often decided before the game and also
depends on if the outdoor court has a three point line or not.


Many times the option of playing "tips" or "tip in's" is discussed
at the beginning of the game of 21. In these rules if a player tips in
another players shot (Jumping and tipping the rebound into the basket
while in the air as in an "Alley Oop") the player who's shot was tipped
goes to a score of zero. Often this is not done as the game is
significantly lengthened. "Tips" seems to be a more recent phenomenon
and more popular with young teenage players (written 2005). It changes
the tactics of the game as medium range jumpers are dangerous due to
short rebounds and thus more chance for tips. This puts more emphasis
on drives to the hoop (and higher percentage shots) or long three point
shots which often bounce further from the rim and thus diminish the
possibility of tip in's. Some people even play with tips in play after
a missed free throw, often argued over because it promotes either a
successful free-throw, or a completely off one.

On courts where "tips" rules are used, there is commonly a problem
with defense. Many players, instead of guarding the player with the
ball, will congregate under the basket. This is often seen as
unsportsmanly, which has led in some places (California in particular)
to a new rule, commonly called "you miss it, you guard it". This rule
states that if you shoot the ball and miss, and another player rebounds
it, it is your responsibility to guard that player. This stops players
from having wide open shots and drives to the basket.

Also, on some courts if the shooter is at 20 and misses the last
free throw, he must go back to 13. If the shooter is at 20 and makes a
field goal putting him over 20, he must go back to 13. This causes some
people to deliberatly miss the 20th free throw and thus allow them to
go stay at 19 and win the game with the next basket.

A regional variation played in El Paso, Texas, during the 1980s,
specified that a one-handed tip-in would send a player back down to
zero, while a two-handed tip-in would send him back to eleven. After a
player was "tipped" a certain number of times (agreed upon before the
game), he was out of the game. In this variation of the game, a player
who had 20 and missed a free throw went back down to 11. Also, a player
always had the option of shooting his free throws from the three-point
line; these longer free throws counted as two points each.

Another regional variation is that the player, upon reaching 21
points, must make a "prove-it" shot. This is a shot from the
three-point line and it is required to actually win the game.

In Seattle, Washington, a regional variation of this game has
existed for quite a while. There it is known as "Booties", where the
person left with the fewest number of points at the end of the game
must line up under the basket. The player with the most point is
allowed to throw the basketball at that player, aiming for his behind
(hence the name "booties"). This version has caused frequent worry
among teachers and parents for the danger in losing.

In Topeka, Kansas, a regional variation of this game has existed for
at least 30 years that is similar to the Seattle game. There it is
known as "Booty Green," where the winning player is allowed to throw
the basketball at the behinds of the losing players, though in practice
this ceremony is typically not performed. Scoring rules are similar to
other variations listed above: a player gets two points for a field
goal, and gets to shoot one-point free throws until missed. A score of
13 will bust a player back to 0, and a score of 20 will bust a player
back to 13, making it common for players to intentionally miss their
13th or 20th point free throws. When games include players of a wide
range in ages (and/or height), a rule against tip-ins is common in
which a player must take the ball "back court," behind the free throw
line, before attempting a shot.

See also

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