How to play 21 in basketball

In basketball the game referred to as 21 actually is known by several different names. The following are the most common names used in reference to the game of 21:

  • Scramble
  • Cali
  • 33
  • 35
  • American
  • Cutthroat
  • Scutter
  • Rough
  • Rebound
  • Noyceball
  • Tip-it
  • Hustle

This is a form of streetball where the game is played by any number of opponents. Generally, when a street game has enough available players to play three on three, they do not play 21, or any variation of the game.

The play of the game takes place on half of a court. In this game each player is playing for themselves and is not considered a part of a team and will not receive any assistance from any other player. Many people consider this type of basketball to be brutal because fouls are not counted against a player, and sometimes the games become a full contact event filled with violence.

The normal rules to the game of 21 has the game start with one player taking a shot with the ball from anywhere on the court. The ball must hit the rim but cannot go through the basket. If the ball does not hit the rim, or if the ball goes through the basket it must be shot again.

Once the ball is shot and hits the rim like it is supposed to all of the players scramble to make a rebound. After the initial rules concerning the hitting of the rim without making a basket there are really no other rules that a player has to follow. Players that choose to follow traditional basketball rules during the play do so because they want to and not because it is required of them.

To win the game a player must accumulate a score of exactly 21 points. In traditional 21 if a player goes over 21 their score is automatically reduced back to 11 and they continue to try and get to the exact score of 21.


Often players will intentionally try to miss a free throw shot so they do not go over the 21 mark.

Values of 21

Coaches often encourage the 21-game play so players can work on shooting skills, and improve on other skills they need to be great players.

Players that participate in this game often are more confident in their playing ability than players who simply play team inspired basketball.

In this game one player has to defend themselves against multiple other players. This can improve the quick thinking and quick movements the player makes during a game.

Variations on the 21 Game

There are different rules that can be applied to change the way the game of 21 is played or advances. You should decide what rules or types of the game you want to play before you begin so there is no confusion on scoring, or fouls.

Tapping or Tipping a Player

When a player jumps into the air to get a rebound they tap or tip the player that shot the ball. The score of the player who has been tapped or tipped can be reduced back to a score of 11, or the person who jumped up to get the rebound can steal five-points from the person that shot the ball. Other variations say if the tapped or tipped player has a score of 0 when they are tapped, they are out of the game. There is also a variation that says if a player is tapped or tipped three times during one game they are automatically out of the game.

If a player has to leave the game because they were tapped or tipped, they can return to the game if they catch an airball shot by a player that is playing.


When these games are played, they are often played repeatedly in one afternoon. If a player ends a game with less than 11 points the other players can handicap the player by allowing him or her to carry their low points into the next game. That means they begin the game ahead in points.

Three-Point or Walk

In this variation of the game the player that reaches the exact number of 21 must then shoot a three-point shot successfully before the game is over. Other players continue to advance in their scores as they wait for the 21 players to make a successful three-point shot.

24 to Honor Kobe

After the death of Kobe Bryant, a lot of players upped the number of points needed to win 21 to a total of 24. 24 was Kobe’s jersey number. In this game if a player goes over the score of 24, they are taken back down to 8 instead of 11. This is because Kobe also played under the jersey number 8.


A variation of the game has a player’s score reduced to 15 if they attempt a shot for the win and miss the shot.

Score Inverting

This variation inverts the scores made so that a field goal is worth 1 and a free throw is worth 2.

3-Point or Free Throw

If a player chooses to in this version, they can attempt to shoot a three-point shot rather than make three free throw attempts.

Long Score

When the player chooses to make a three-point shot instead of three free throws, and they have already scored 20-points, then they have to increase the length from the goal that they shoot the three-pointer from. Length of shot is to be determined by an agreement between all players prior to the initiation of the game.

Final Thoughts

You will find a lot of variations of this game. Since there are really no set rules guiding the play players can basically make up any guidelines they want, and as long as all players agree before the game is began then those are the rules for that game.

A lot of people play to different scores like 11, 9, 15, and so on. This is just something that all players need to agree on.