Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world. NBA, the most prominent basketball league in the world, had more than 1 billion unique viewers in its 2017 – 2018 season. Even though the NBA is a North American league, its reach is completely global. In 2019, an NBA game was played in London and broadcast in 215 countries and 34 languages. Out of the 1.4 billion Chinese, an astounding 640 million were NBA viewers during the 2017 – 2018 season.
Every day, more and more people are becoming basketball fans. For many new or potential fans, one of the first questions they have about basketball is: how long is a basketball game? It is a simple and understandable question since people want to know how much time they should schedule for watching a game. The answer, surprisingly, is not that simple.
NBA basketball games are 48 minutes, but the actual duration of an NBA game is longer due to various breaks. Regular season NBA games are about 2.5 hours long. Playoff NBA games can go up to 3 hours. WNBA and college basketball games are 40 minutes in-game time and about 2 hours in wall clock time. High basketball school games are 32 minutes.
For the rest of this article, we will go into the details about the duration of NBA, WNBA, and college (NCAA) basketball games. We will also answer other commonly asked questions from new fans such as when does the NBA season start and finish, and how many games are there in a season. By the end of this article, you will be able to plan your game-watching schedule effectively and to talk about basketball like a long time fan.
|NBA||48 min||4 Quarters||12 min/quarter||5 min|
|WNBA||40 min||4 Quarters||10 min/quarter||5 min|
|College (Men)||40 min||2 Halves||20 min/half||5 min|
|College (Women)||40 min||4 Quarters||10 min/quarter||5 min|
|High School||32 min||4 Quarters||8 min/quarter||4 min|
Table of Contents
NBA Games Duration
The regulation duration of an NBA game itself is 48 minutes. Each NBA game is divided into 4 quarters of 12 minutes each.
After the ends of the 1st and the 3rd quarters, there are commercial breaks that each lasts a few minutes. After the end of the second quarter, there is a halftime break that lasts 15 minutes.
If at the end of the 4th quarter the game is tied, there will be an overtime that lasts 5 minutes. If at the end of the 1st overtime the game is still tied, there will be a 2nd overtime that once again lasts 5 minutes. This will keep going until a winner is decided.
So in theory there is no limit to how long an NBA game can last. It could keep going with overtime after overtime. In practice though, overtimes are rare. Multiple overtimes are extremely rare.
NBA regular seasons start in October and end in April. NBA Playoffs start in April and end in early June. NBA Finals start in late May and end in early June.
The 2019 – 2020 NBA season is a special case. Regular season was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regular season restarts on July 30 and ends in August. 2020 NBA Playoffs runs from August 17 to October 12, 2020, with the Finals running from September 30 to October 12, 2020.
Both NCAA college men’s and women’s basketball regular seasons start in November and end in March. After regular seasons, the NCAA tournaments start in March and end in April.
Both the men’s and the women’s college basketball seasons were canceled in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are total 82 games in an NBA season. Each team in NBA plays a total of 82 games in the regular season.
16 NBA teams each year make the playoffs. For these teams, they will keep on playing until they are eliminated or until they win the championship.
NBA Playoffs consist of 4 rounds: First Round, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals, NBA Finals. Each round has a best-of-7 format.
So the maximum number of games an NBA team can play in a season is 110 games (82 regular season games + 7 First Round games + 7 Conference Semifinal games + 7 Conference Final games + 7 Final games)
How Long Do NBA Games Last on TV?
While the game time (without overtime) of an NBA game is 48 minutes, the actual duration (wall clock time) of an NBA game is much longer. Why? First, there are many timeouts – each team is given 6 total timeouts. There are also fouls and free throw shootings that stop the game clock. And then there are the breaks after each quarter. After the 1st and 3rd quarters, there are breaks each lasting a few minutes. After the 2nd quarter, there is a longer halftime break that lasts 15 minutes.
Altogether, these free throw shootings, timeouts, and breaks add substantial time to an NBA game. Games in the Playoffs are longer because there are more commercials. Games in the Finals are the longest because they have the most commercials. On average:
- Regular Season: 2 and a half hours
- Playoffs: 2 hours 45 minutes
- Finals: 3 hours
Going to an NBA game in person is something else. There is nothing like it. The atmosphere and the energy is insane. To make the most of your experience at an NBA game in person, try to get to the game a bit early. How early?
Most NBA stadiums open their doors 1 ½ hours to 2 hours before tip off. So don’t get there earlier than that. On the other hand, don’t be too late if you want to get the full experience.
Once you get to the stadium you need time to find parking. Then you have to wait in line to go through security. Then you have to find your seat. And you probably want to go to the concession stands to get a drink and some food. All that take time.
Players will come out to the court to warm up and shoot around about 20 minutes before tip off. During that time you can go all the way to the first row of the regular seats (regular seats, not floor seats) to watch them up close and maybe even get autographs.
All in all, getting to the stadium 45 minutes to 1 hour before tip off is a good plan.
NBA Playoff Games are Even Longer
This depends on how far are you away from the stadium and the traffic condition. Let’s do the math.
Let’s say it takes 30 minutes for you to get to the stadium, and you get there 1 hour before tip off. For a regular season game, the game itself lasts 2 hours and 30 minutes. And it takes another 30 minutes for you to get home. So for a regular season game, the whole experience is 4 hours 30 minutes long.
For a playoff game, the game is longer due to longer breaks, so the whole experience is 4 hours 45 minutes.
Games in Finals are even longer, so the whole experience would be 5 hours.
Tip: if you really need to get home early, you might want to leave the stadium before the game ends if it is a blowout game. That way you can beat the crowd. For example, if one team is up by 15 points with 1 minute left in the game then you might not want to wait around for the final whistle.
The Longest Basketball Game Ever
The longest NBA game lasted 78 minutes in game time and included 6 overtimes. That only happened once in NBA history and it happened back in 1951.
The longest NCAA college basketball game lasted 75 minutes in game time and included 7 overtimes. That only happened once in NCAA history and it happened in 1981 in a game between the University of Cincinnati and Bradley University.
College Basketball Games Duration
The regulation duration of an NCAA basketball game is 40 minutes.
For NCAA men’s college basketball games, each game is divided into 2 halves of 20 minutes each.
For NCAA women’s college basketball games, each game is divided into 4 quarters of 10 minutes each.
For men’s college basketball games, there is a 15 minutes halftime break between the 1st and 2nd halves.
For women’s college basketball games, there is a 15 minutes halftime break between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
For both men’s and women’s college basketball games, overtimes are 5 minutes each. There are no limits to how many overtimes can happen.
How Long is an NCAA College Basketball Game on TV
NCAA college basketball games from start to finish last about 2 hours on TV. The regulation game time is 40 minutes. Halftime is 15 minutes. And then there are many timeouts, fouls, and free throw shootings. All that adds up to about 2 hours in total.
Women’s Basketball (WNBA) Games Duration
The regulation duration of a WNBA women’s basketball game is 40 minutes. Each game is divided into 4 quarters of 10 minutes each. There is a 15 minutes halftime break between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
WNBA overtime is 5 minutes long each. In case of a tied game, overtimes will keep happening until one of the teams win.
WNBA games from start to finish last about 2 hours on TV.
High School Basketball Games Duration
High school basketball games are total of 32 minutes, with an average of 1.5 hours per game. Unlike NBA and College games, high school basketball games are shorter, and have 4 quarters with 8 minutes per quarter.
The overtime for high school basketball games is 4 minutes.
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- NBA games are 48 minutes game time and last 2 ½ to 3 hours start to finish.
- If you are attending an NBA game in person, budget 4 ½ to 5 hours for the entire outing.
- NBA regular seasons are Oct to April. Playoffs are April to June.
- Free throws are 1 point each.
- NCAA men’s and women’s basketball games are 40 minutes game time and last 2 hours start to finish.
- NCAA regular seasons are November to March. NCAA tournaments are March to April.
- WNBA are 40 minutes game time and last about 2 hours start to finish on TV
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