Magoosh English Class: Hoops, Dribbling, and Basketball!

In lesson three of our Sports in America free English class series, we will look at one of the most popular sports in the United States: basketball!


  • Learn about basic rules and concepts in basketball
  • Learn new basketball-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to use the narrative present tense
  • Learn about some of the greatest basketball players of all time

Difficulty Level:



Approximately 15 minutes

Hoops, Dribbling, and Basketball!

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Though basketball is a popular sport around the world, the most well-known players and teams reside in the United States. Like many other American sports, basketball is played at both the collegiate and professional levels. However, professional players are paid millions of dollars, while college players are often compensated with scholarships.

In college, the best teams compete to enter the playoffs, which consist of two initial rounds, followed by the Sweet 16 (the top 16 teams compete), the Elite 8 (the top 8 teams compete), the Final 4 (the top 4 teams compete), and finally, the National Championship (the top 2 teams compete).

In the NBA (National Basketball Association), the playoffs consist of 4 rounds: First Round, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals, and NBA Finals.

Whether it’s collegiate, professional, or recreational, the rules of the game are pretty much the same. Two teams compete to score the most points by shooting (throwing) the basketball through a hoop that stands about 10 feet off the ground. There is one hoop on each end of the basketball court, each designated for one of the teams. The game is divided into four, 12-minute quarters (plus timeouts and possibly overtime).

When a player is holding the basketball, they can essentially do one of three things: pass, shoot, or dribble. Players are required to dribble the basketball while they walk or run. The number of points that a player scores when they make a shot will depend on where they are standing when they shoot the ball.

There is a semicircle surrounding each hoop known as the “three-point line.” If a player shoots from inside this line, they can score two points; if they shoot from outside this line, they can score three points. If a player is fouled, they can also get the opportunity to shoot from the free-throw line, which earns them one point for each successful shot.

Professional basketball began in the United States in the 1940s, though the sport dates back to the 1890s. Since professional basketball began, it has grown in both size and popularity. Originally, there were 8 professional teams that competed every year. Today, there are 30 NBA teams representing cities all over the country.

Thanks to its widespread popularity, the NBA has produced a number of high-profile athletes. While many fans and sports commentators argue about the best player of all time, there are a few names that consistently make the list. Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant are generally considered some of the best athletes to ever play the game.

Here’s a video clip explaining the rules of basketball:

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Collegiate – (adjective) – Related to colleges or universities.
    • Her performance in high school sports teams meant she was a top candidate for collegiate teams.
  • Playoff – (noun) – One or more games played to determine the winner of a tournament or contest.
    • Unfortunately, my favorite team didn’t make it to the playoffs this year.
  • Timeout – (noun) – A brief time for rest in a game or activity.
    • The players needed a timeout to catch their breath.
  • Overtime – (noun) – Extra time added to a game or activity.
    • If neither teams score in the next 30 seconds, the game will have to go into overtime.
  • Dribble – (verb) – To continuously bounce a basketball against the ground (generally while moving forward).
    • Michael Jordan liked to dribble the ball between his legs.
  • Foul – (verb/noun) – Personal contact with an object or player that violates the rules of a sport.
    • The referee called a foul on the home team’s star player.
  • Sports commentator – (noun) – A person who gives a live, play-by-play analysis of a sports game.
    • The sports commentator was shocked by the final score.

Grammar Center: Narrative Present

As previously stated, a sports commentator (also known as a sports announcer) provides live commentary of a game. Most sporting events, including basketball, have a sports commentator for television and radio broadcasts. Since sports commentators are reporting events as they happen, they generally use what is called the narrative present (also known as the “historic” or “dramatic” present).

In the narrative present, the present tense is used to describe actions and discuss events that are happening in the current moment or in the very recent past. It is also used to talk about a novel, movie, or breaking news story. Here is a sample sports broadcast using the narrative present:

Now Steph Curry is in possession of the ball. Curry passes to Draymond Green. Green dribbles the ball past the defender. Green passes to Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins shoots. He scores with just 2 seconds left on the clock!

As you can see, sports commentators use the present tense to quickly recount events as they occur. However, if a sports commentator is discussing events that happened previously in the game (like in a previous quarter or any time prior to the current moment), they will use some form of the past tense.


  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?A. Both college and professional athletes excel at basketball.B. Basketball is a competitive sport that dates back to the 1890s and is still extremely popular today.C. Some of the most famous basketball players include Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.

    D. In basketball, there are three basic actions: shooting, passing, and dribbling.

  2. How many rounds are there in the NBA playoffs?A. 8B. 4C. 3

    D. 16

  3. Based on your understanding of the word foul which word best describes its meaning?A. FakeB. RuleC. Violation

    D. Physical

  4. Fill in the blank with the correct word: “In _____ sports, the athletes don’t get paid.”A. ProfessionalB. RecreationalC. Basketball

    D. Collegiate

  5. Which of the following statements is an example of the narrative present?A. I will go play basketball tomorrow.B. He made a three-point shot.C. She passes the ball.

    D. He is very talented.

  6. Which of the following activities does NOT require the narrative present?A. Describing a sporting event in real-timeB. Describing the vacation you took last summerC. Summarizing the plot of a movie

    D. Announcing a breaking news story

Show Correct Answers:
  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. C
  6. B
Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn!
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