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How to Play 21

Often used to settle scores, 21 is a continuous, fast-paced version of basketball with few rules and little room for error.


  • Step 1: Decide who starts with the ball Decide who starts with the ball. Flip a coin, shoot for it, whatever. To make it easy, let’s assume you’re starting with the ball.
  • Step 2: Starting player is offense, other two are defense Take the ball to where the three-point line is and put it in play. You are now on offense, and the other two players are on defense.
  • Step 3: There are no out-of-bounds or fouls Play as though it is a two-on-one game, and try to score. There are no out-of-bounds or fouls.
  • TIP: Use common sense about fouls and out-of-bounds. For example, if the ball rolls out into a street, then you can stop play.
  • Step 4: Whoever has control of the ball is offense If you miss a shot or turn the ball over, whoever gets control of the ball becomes the offensive player, and the former offensive player switches to defense.
  • Step 5: Shots are worth normal point values When you make a shot, it counts for as many points as it would in a normal game – two points typically, but three points from behind the three-point line.
  • Step 6: Play stops & you shoot free throws After you make a shot, play stops and you get to shoot additional free throws for one point each.
  • Step 7: Shoot again or game continues If you make a free throw, you get another -- up to three. If you miss, the ball is live and the game continues.
  • Step 8: If you make all three free throws ... If you make all three free throws, you get the ball back and start over from the three point line.
  • TIP: When someone else gets control of the ball, he has to dribble past the three-point line to establish possession before he can shoot.
  • Step 9: The game goes to 21, win by two The game goes to 21, but the winning player must win by at least two points. If two people are tied at 20, then whichever player gets a two-point lead first wins.
  • FACT: There are many regional variations of the 21 rules, often requiring players to score exactly 21 to win, and making anyone who goes over go back to 11 points.

You Will Need

  • Three players
  • A basketball
  • A hoop or half of a court

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