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
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
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
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
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.