An NBA game has 48 minutes of playing time. It is divided into four quarters of 12 minutes each.
There is a break of two (2) minutes between the 1st & 2nd quarter, and between the 3rd and 4th quarter, while halftime at an NBA game is 15 minutes long.
Incase a game goes into overtime, each overtime period is 5 minutes with a break of two (2) minutes between each overtime period.
Basketball is a stoppage-time game, i.e. the clock stops when there is a foul, or the ball goes out of bounds. Due to this, modern NBA games last up to two and a half (2.5) hours including breaks and entertainment, while an overtime game can last up to three (3) hours.
Click to jump to a section:
How long was the first basketball game?
Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball, decided that a game should be no more that 35 minutes long.
A basketball was divided into two halves of 30 minutes each, and a five (5) minute break between the halves.
12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.Rules of basket ball – Dr. James Naismith, inventor of basketball
Since the game was invented to his students active, he felt 35 minutes of activity was long enough for his students to get a good workout, yet short enough so they did not get too bored.
College basketball vs. the NBA – Two halves vs. Four quarters
Basketball was soon adopted by colleges as a part of their sports calendar.
They increased the length of each half to be twenty minutes. The five (5) minute break in between remained the same. This took the total playing time to forty minutes and a full game to forty five minutes.
When the BAA or Basketball Association of America (as the NBA was called at the time) it decided to increase the length of a full game experience to two hours. They felt two (2) hours was the perfect amount of time for a fan and his or her family to enjoy a game of basketball.
To do this, the BAA decided to:
One, divide the game into four quarters instead of two halves.
Two, increase the length of each quarter to twelve minutes.
Three, keep a break of two minutes between the 1st & 2nd, and the 3rd & 4th quarters.
Four, to increase the halftime break to 15 minutes.
That took the total playing time to 48 minutes, and the length of a full game to 1 hour 7 minutes including breaks.
However, since in basketball is a stoppage game, i.e. the time stops when the ball goes out of bounds or a foul is committed. This takes the total time from the opening tip-off to the final whistle to about two (2) hours.
How long is a live NBA game?
The length of a full NBA game has not changed.
It is still four quarters of 12 minutes each with two minute break between quarters and a 15-minute break between halves.
However, as the NBA grows, it has a host of partners and entertainment events during live games.
In the arena, fans are entertained with team dancers, mascots, partner or sponsor activity, and popular performers and music artists.
For the fans watching at home, they get to see advertisements, and sometimes the entertainment at the venue as mentioned above.
This has taken the total time of a modern NBA game to two and a half hours.
In addition to what was discussed above, the modern NBA game also allows fans to watch pre-game warmups, and an elaborate player introduction.
In case an NBA game goes into overtime, the a modern NBA game can last up to three (3) hours.
The longest NBA game ever played
The Indianapolis Olympians and the Rochester Royals hold the record for the longest game ever played. It was game that lasted six overtimes, and finished with a score of 75-74. In fact the teams shot more free throws (75) than they made field-goals (34).
The contest was among a handful that convinced the NBA that something needed to be done about the duration of games. It led to the discussion about a “shot” clock in 1953, and eventually the introduction of the 24-second shot clock in 1954.
Basketballbaba.com is a free-to-read resource on the NBA. You may consider showing your appreciation by buying something from Baba’s store. It is a combination of affiliate links to basketball books and gear, and also some exclusive BasketballBaba merchandise. for every purchase you make, 5% of the profits go towards the Dribble Academy Foundation.