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Basketball Definition and History

Basketball is a ball sport in which two teams of five players each try to score points by throwing a ball through a hoop. 

Basketball is highly suited to viewing by spectators, as it is primarily an indoor sport, played in a relatively small playing area, or "court," with only ten players, and using a large ball which is easy to follow. Additionally, the lack of protective gear makes it easy to see the reactions of the players. It is one of the most popular sports in the United States, and is also popular in other parts of the world, including South America, Europe, Asia, and the former Soviet Union.


Early History of Basketball
Basketball is unusual in that it is a sport that was invented essentially by one man. In 1891, Dr James Naismith, a Canadian minister on the faculty of a college for YMCA professionals in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought an indoor game of vigor and grace to keep young men occupied during the long New England winters. Legend has it that after rejecting other ideas as either too rough or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums, he wrote up some basic rules, nailed up a peach basket on the gym wall, and got his students to start playing his new game. The first official game was played there on January 20, 1892. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of his students, was popular from the beginning and, with its early adherents being dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, was soon being played all over the country.

Interestingly, while the YMCAs were responsible for developing and initially spreading the game, within a decade they were discouraging the new sport, as rough play and rowdy crowds seemed to detract from what they saw as their primary mission. Other amateur sports clubs, colleges, and eventually professional clubs quickly filled the void. In the years before World War I, the Amateur Athletic Union and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (forerunner of the NCAA) vied for control over the rules of the game.

Basketball was originally played with a soccer (or foot-) ball. When special balls were made for the game they were initially a "natural" brown. It was only in the late 1950s that Tony Hinkle - looking for a ball that would be more easily noticed by players and spectators alike - introduced the orange ball now in common use.

College Basketball and Early Leagues
Naismith himself was instrumental in establishing the college game, coaching at University of Kansas for six years before handing the reins there to renowned coach Phog Allen. Naismith disciple Amos Alonzo Stagg brought basketball to the University of Chicago, while Adolph Rupp, a student of Naismith at Kansas, enjoyed great success as coach at the University of Kentucky. College leagues date back to the 1920s, and the first national championship tournament, the National Invitation Tournament in New York, followed in 1938. College basketball was rocked by gambling scandals from 1948-1951, when dozens of players from top teams were implicated in game fixing and point-shaving. Partly spurred by the association of New York, the site of the "N.I.T.", with many of the fixers, the NCAA national tournament eventually surpassed the N.I.T. in importance. Today it is rivaled only by the baseball World Series and the Super Bowl of American football in the American sports psyche.

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 from team to team, and teams played in armories and smoky dance halls. Leagues came and went, and barnstorming squads such as the New York Rens and the Original Celtics played up to two hundred games a year on their national tours.

National Basketball Association
In 1946, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was formed, organising the top professional teams and leading to greater popularity of the professional game. An upstart organization, the American Basketball Association, emerged in 1967 and briefly threatened the N.B.A.'s dominance until the rival leagues merged in 1976.

The NBA has featured many famous players, including George Mikan, the first dominating "big man"; ball-handling wizard Bob Cousy and defensive genius Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics; Wilt Chamberlain (who originally played for the barnstorming "Harlem Globetrotters"); all-around stars Oscar Robertson and Jerry West; more recent big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, playmaker John Stockton; and the three players who many credit with ushering the professional game to its highest level of popularity: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

The NBA-backed Women's National Basketball Association began play in 1997. Just like the NBA, it has had several marquee players to help the league improve its popularity. Players like Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Sue Bird have helped elevate the WNBA to high levels of play. Other professional women's basketball leagues in the United States folded because of the strong backing of the WNBA.

International Basketball
The International Basketball Federation was formed in 1932, by the eight founding nations: Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland. At this time the organisation only oversaw amateur players. Its acronym, in French, was thus FIBA; the "A" standing for amateur.

Basketball was first included in the Olympic Games in 1936, although a demonstration tournament was held back in 1904. This competition has been mostly dominated by the United States, whose team has won all but three titles, the first loss in a controversial final game in Munich in 1972 against the Soviet Union.

In 1950 the first World Championships for Men were held in Argentina. Three years later, the first World Championships for Women were held in Chile.

FIBA dropped the distinction between amateur and professional players in 1989. In 1992, professional players played for the first time in the Olympic Game. The United States' dominance briefly resurfaced with the introduction of their Dream Team. However, with developing programs elsewhere, other national teams have now caught up with the United States. A team made entirely of NBA players finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, behind Serbia and Montenegro, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand and Spain. In the 2004 Olympics, the United States came third after Argentina and Italy.

Women's basketball was added to the Olympics in 1976, with teams such as Brazil and Australia rivaling the American squads.

World-wide, basketball tournaments are held at many age levels, such as five to six year olds (usually called biddy-biddy), seven to eight year olds, nine to ten year olds, eleven to thirteen year olds (biddy), teenagers, jr. high-schoolers, high school, college, the professional leagues and master leagues. Tournaments are held at each level for both males and females.

The global popularity of the sport is reflected in the nationalities represented in the NBA. Here are just a few of the outstanding international players who have played or still play in the NBA: Argentina's Emanuel Ginobili; Serbia and Montenegro's Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojakovic; Croatia's Toni Kukoc and Dražen Petrovic; Russia's Andrei Kirilenko; Lithuania's Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis; Germany's Dirk Nowitzki; Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo; China's Yao Ming; Canada's Steve Nash; Australia's Luc Longley and Spain's Pau Gasol. Many outstanding international players, including Serbia and Montenegro's Dejan Bodiroga, past Olympian Oscar Schmidt of Brazil, and recent Lithuanian Olympian Sarunas Jasikevicius, have chosen to decline N.B.A. opportunities.

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