How to Play 21 in Basketball (With Variations)

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Would you like to know how to play 21 in basketball? Have you ever been invited to play 21, but didn’t know what you need to do? You may also have seen others play this basketball game and notice that it is different from the traditional form.

Twenty-one is a type of basketball game that is quite fun and exciting, but it may be confusing to those who haven’t played before. Twenty-one can also be difficult to win if you don’t have a strategy as the game, even though fun, maybe a bit complicated.

Today, we will explain how 21 works and the various strategies that can be implemented to help you win this game.

What is a Game of 21 in BasketballWhat is a Game of 21 in Basketball?

This type of basketball game is played with two or more players. Ideally, you would like to have three or more players. However, you can also play the game with two players. Twenty-one is a popular street basketball game and driveway basketball game.

As the name suggests, 21 is a basketball game where the players aim for a score of 21 to claim victory. Some various rules and strategies can be implemented in the game to achieve your score while preventing your opponent or opponents from accomplishing theirs.

It is pretty much like a game of chess. In the game of 21, players to not play with each other as teammates, but instead, everyone plays for themself. Due to the nature of the game, many skills can be developed, such as dribbling, shooting, agility, rebounding, and hustle.

Because of these benefits that can be obtained while playing the game of 21, many coaches use this type of basketball to train their players in these areas. When 21 is played during training, coaches try to encourage their players to try new things and work on the individual aspects of their games.

On the flip side, some coaches do not like it when their players play 21. This is because they believe 21 encourages selfishness. You cannot blame them; after all, it is a game that promotes self-reliance in basketball. For coaches to get the best out of their players, they should mix 21 with other training activities.

On the playground, 21 is a game played for the primary purpose of having fun while being competitive. Sometimes 21 is played with some rules that may be considered weird as they are not regular rules in basketball. This amplifies the fun aspect of the game. A lot of times, 21 is also played out of necessity as there may not be enough players to form teams, so the next best option is to play 21, so everyone can be a part of the game.

Twenty-one is also enjoyed by many players that can form teams, but because they want to focus more on having fun and individual effort, 21 is often suggested and played.

Who Invented the Basketball Game of 21Who Invented the Basketball Game of 21?

It is not entirely clear how the game came about and who it was that brought it to us. Even though we are not entirely sure of its origins, we are grateful for it. 21, like so many other forms of basketball, has brought so many people together while demolishing boundaries. Let’s appreciate the game and teach others so that it can live on forever.

How Many Players Are in Game of 21How Many Players are in Game of 21?

How Many Players are in Game of 21

The more, the merrier. Twenty-one can be played with any amount of players starting from two upwards. If there are only two players on the court, it is just another variation of a one on one basketball game, but it still qualifies as 21 if the rules are adjusted accordingly. The game of 21 is more enjoyable with many persons.

Twenty-one is a game that focuses on individual skills, but for those particular skills to be challenged and enhanced, there has to be competition. And the competition will be better if many persons are playing. In the game of 21, once a player has the ball, they immediately become an offensive player just like in other forms of the sport, but all the other players on the court immediately become defensive players.

If you are facing more players on the defense, you can progressively enhance your skills faster than facing fewer players. If you have a large number of players on the court playing 21, say, for example, 10, the game will last longer, so the fun will last longer. The only time there is a limitation of the number of players allowed to play in the game, will be when the court is too full for players to navigate safely while playing.

What are the Rules for Playing 21 in BasketballWhat are the Rules for Playing 21 in Basketball?

One of the reasons why 21 is such an exciting and fun game is because of the rules. 21 is a game that is open to customization by the players that are on the court. Wherever you go to play 21, you will encounter different rules than the ones you already know.

The rules in the game of 21 will vary by region, country, city, and even court. Some places will play 21 with no rules except out of bounds. Unfortunately, this type of basketball game promotes hostile plays as fouls can intentionally be used to regain possession of the ball. In these situations, the game can get quite rough. Some places play the game with regular basketball rules.

Most times, these are organized teams trying to work on specific training elements, and 21 is used to do this. On the playground, there are many different variations to the rules of the game from how it starts through to how it is won.

Here are some of the various laws of 21.

Starting the Game

The game can be started in a variety of ways such as a player banging the ball off the glass, and the ball is live on the rebound, players shooting from the free-throw or three-point line and the first person to make the shot regain possession of the ball, a shot can be taken from anywhere on the court which is to be intentionally missed off the rim, and the ball is live off the rebound.

Some places will honor the shot made to start the game as a point for the player that scored the shot. Scoring can vary based on where you play and with who you play.

Gameplay Rules

Sometimes scoring is done normally with twos and threes, or it can be done with ones and twos. Some people also play with a reversed scoring system where free throws are worth two points, and field goals are worth one point.

After a shot is made from the field, the player that made the shot is given at three free throws. The ball is live after a free throw is missed, but if the player makes all three free throws, the ball is returned it to them, and the play resumes. For advanced players, the free throws after a field goal are replaced by three-point shots.

If many people are playing, the field can be reduced if one player gets to 13 points, and others are at zero points. The players that did not manage to score is asked to leave the court for that game. In some variations, if a player is on 11 points but misses the next shot, they take they are sent back to zero points.

What are the Rules for Playing 21 in Basketball


There is also an optional rule for taps or tips. This rule stipulates that if a player grabs a rebound in the air and can score the ball before landing, the player that missed the original shot is sent back to 0 or 11, whichever is closer.

There is another variation of this rule where the player that scored is the tap steals five points from the person who shot the original ball. Players can also opt to use the rule where if a player gets tapped three times the and player is at the zero when they are tapped then they are eliminated from the game and can only return if another player on the court shoots an airball and they catch it from behind the backboard.

Ending the Game

At the end of a game, players that are on 11 points are allowed to carry their points into the next game that will be played. This is a kind of handicap system for players of less talent. There are many ways in which the game can end.

Some courts require that a player must score exactly 21 points, and if they score above 21 points, their score is reset to a preset amount, usually 11. After a player reaches the 21 points, they are sometimes required to make a final three-pointer or a last free throw. 

If they miss this three-pointer or free throw, their score can also be reduced. If two or more players are tied at 19, the first player to reach 21 should make two additional points to win. There is also a rule where a player is penalized for going over the 21 points, but they do require the player to shoot a free throw and a 3-pointer to win the game.

3 Tips on Playing 21 in Basketball3 Tips on Playing 21 in Basketball

1. To be successful while playing 21, try to get a quick start. Having an early lead or a good score, in the beginning, can take some of the pressure off you as the game progresses.

2. If you are playing taps, focus on making your free throws and only take good field goal attempts.

3. When you are close to 21, try to rest a little in the game so that you have enough energy to make good final shots.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Play 21 in Basketball

After Kobe passed in 2020, some players changed the game to 24 in his honor. The game of 21 is played with an overall aim of getting to 21 points, but there are many variations of how this can be achieved. When you play with your friends, try to play with fun in mind while working on your individual skills. Until next time ballers, play safe!

Did you find this post helpful? Then you may also like our other basketball FAQ articles here.

> How to Play Horse in Basketball

> What is a Pickup Game of Basketball?

> How Long is a Basketball Game?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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