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Basketball is a ball sport played by two teams of five players on a side. It is one of the most popular sports in the United States, being highly suited to viewing by spectators as an indoor sport on a relatively small court with only ten players. The ball is large and easy to follow, and the lack of protective gear makes it possible to see the reactions of players. The sport is also reasonably popular in other parts of the world such as southern Europe and in the former Soviet Union.


Basketball is that rare sport that was invented, largely from scratch and with rules close to its present ones, by one man. Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian, invented basketball in 1891, at a Young Men's Christian Association YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. The first official basketball game was played there on January 20, 1892. Dr. Naismith wanted an indoor game of vigor and grace to keep young men occupied during the long New England winters. Basketball was popular from the beginning and, within a year, was being played all over the United States.

In the 1920s there were hundreds of professional basketball teams in towns and cities all over the United States. There was little organization to the professional game; players jumped all the time from team to team; and teams played in armories and smoky dance halls. In 1946, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was formed, organising the professional teams and leading to greater popularity of the professional game.

The NBA produced many famous players, including many of African-American origin, such as Bill Russell[?], Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson[?], but also Larry Bird and George Mikan[?].

Basketball was included in the Olympic Games in 1936, after a demonstration tournament was held in 1904. The sport has been part of the Olympic program since, and has been mostly dominated by the United States, who have so far won all but three titles - their first Olympic loss was in a controversial Olympic final in Munich in 1972 against the Soviet Union. Women's basketball was added to the Olympics in 1976 and since 1992, professional players are allowed to compete in the Olympics. With NBA players now eligible, the US Dream Team has been unbeatable, though Lithuania did come close against the slightly less-stellar 2000 Olympic team. A team made up of NBA players was humiliated in the 2002 World Championship, finishing sixth behind Yugoslavia, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, and Spain, to the unbridled glee of many around the world.

Internationally, the sport is governed by the FIBA, Fédération Internationale de Basketball.

The Game

Basketball is played with a spherical pressurized ball that is 9" (22.86 cm) in diameter. It is larger and heavier than a soccer ball, and designed to bounce well on a hard, artificial floor. Basketball is played on a flat court 50 feet wide and 94 (professional) or 84 (college) feet long, with a basket (an 18" (45.72 cm) diameter circular steel ring mounted parallel to the ground and a string net below, with a hole to allow the ball to fall through) mounted ten feet (about 3 m) above the ground at each end. A popular social variant ("half-court") is played with just one basket.

The goal of each team is to throw the ball through their basket, whilst preventing their opponents from doing so. Teams score two points for putting the ball in the basket, three points for long-range shots, and one point for foul shots.

Naturally, it's easier to score a basket when close to the basket than when farther away; however, offensive players in basketball may not tuck the ball under their arm and run with it. Instead, they must constantly bounce ("dribble") the ball as they advance to the basket; every dribble represents a chance for the ball to be mishandled or stolen.

Defensive players may not tackle an offensive player, and those who push, shove or impede their opponents risk getting called for a foul. Players who are fouled get either the ball or -- if they're in the act of shooting -- "free throw" shots from a line 15 feet from the basket for one point each. This was important to Dr. Naismith, who disliked the brutal blocking and tackling of American football. He wanted his game to be good clean exercise.

If a player commits five fouls in one game (six in some professional leagues) he is disqualified from the rest of the game, and a reserve player must take his place. It is also called fouling out. Arguing with a referee, fighting with another player, or interfering with a ball after it falls through the basket are grounds for a technical foul. Any player or coach with two technical fouls is disqualified from the game. Savvy defensive players use a wide array of legal and extra-legal techniques to hamper and frustrate the players they guard.

Each player occupies one of three positions: a team typically has two guards, two forwards, and one center. Any number of player substitutions are allowed during the game, though subs can only come onto the floor after a stoppage of play.

Players wear shorts and a sleeveless top, and high-top sneakers that provide extra support to the ankles.

Being tall is a clear advantage in basketball. Very few professional players stand less than six feet. Forwards and centers in the men's professional leagues are almost all 6'6" or taller; many are over 7 feet.

Similar games

Spin-offs from basketball seem to be korfball, netball and ringboll[?].

Street basketball is another very popular game.

See also: List of defunct sports leagues

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