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Basketball can make a true claim to being the only major sport that is an American invention. From high school to the professional level, basketball attracts a large following for live games as well as television coverage of events like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) annual tournament and the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) playoffs. And it has also made American heroes out of its player and coach legends like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Sheryl Swoopes, and other great players.

At the heart of the game is the playing space and the equipment. The space is a rectangular, indoor court. The principal pieces of equipment are the two elevated baskets, one at each end (in the long direction) of the court, and the basketball itself. The ball is spherical in shape and is inflated. Basket-balls range in size from 28.5-30 in (72-76 cm) in circumference, and in weight from 18-22 oz (510-624 g). For players below the high school level, a smaller ball is used, but the ball in men's games measures 29.5-30 in (75-76 cm) in circumference, and a women's ball is 28.5-29 in (72-74 cm) in circumference. The covering of the ball is leather, rubber, composition, or synthetic, although leather covers only are dictated by rules for college play, unless the teams agree otherwise. Orange is the regulation color. At all levels of play, the home team provides the ball.

Inflation of the ball is based on the height of the ball's bounce. Inside the covering or casing, a rubber bladder holds air. The ball must be inflated to a pressure sufficient to make it rebound to a height (measured to the top of the ball) of 49-54 in (1.2-1.4 m) when it is dropped on a solid wooden floor from a starting height of 6 ft (1.80 m) measured from the bottom of the ball. The factory must test the balls, and the air pressure that makes the ball legal in keeping with the bounce test is stamped on the ball. During the intensity of high school and college tourneys and the professional playoffs, this inflated sphere commands considerable attention.


Basketball is one of few sports with a known date of birth. On December 1, 1891, in Springfield, Massachusetts, James Naismith hung two half-bushel peach baskets at the opposite ends of a gymnasium and out-lined 13 rules based on five principles to his students at the International Training School of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), which later became Springfield College. Naismith (1861-1939) was a physical education teacher who was seeking a team sport with limited physical contact but a lot of running, jumping, shooting, and the hand-eye coordination required in handling a ball. The peach baskets he hung as goals gave the sport the name of basketball. His students were excited about the game, and Christmas vacation gave them the chance to tell their friends and people at their local YMCAs about the game. The association leaders wrote to Naismith asking for copies of the rules, and they were published in the Triangle, the school newspaper, on January 15,1892.

Naismith's five basic principles center on the ball, which was described as "large, light, and handled with the hands." Players could not move the ball by running alone, and none of the players was restricted against handling the ball. The playing area was also open to all players, but there was to be no physical contact between players; the ball was the objective. To score, the ball had to be shot through a horizontal, elevated goal. The team with the most points at the end of an allotted time period wins.

Early in the history of basketball, the local YMCAs provided the gymnasiums, and membership in the organization grew rapidly. The size of the local gym dictated the number of players; smaller gyms used five players on a side, and the larger gyms allowed seven to nine. The team size became generally established as five in 1895, and, in 1897, this was made formal in the rules. The YMCA lost interest in supporting the game because 10-20 basketball players monopolized a gymnasium previously used by many more in a variety of activities. YMCA membership dropped, and basketball enthusiasts played in local halls. This led to the building of basketball gymnasiums at schools and colleges and also to the formation of professional leagues.

Although basketball was born in the United States, five of Naismith's original players were Canadians, and the game spread to Canada immediately. It was played in France by 1893; England in 1894; Australia, China, and India between 1895 and 1900; and Japan in 1900.

From 1891 through 1893, a soccer ball was used to play basketball. The first basketball was manufactured in 1894. It was 32 in (81 cm) in circumference, or about 4 in (10 cm) larger than a soccer ball. The dedicated basketball was made of laced leather and weighed less than 20 oz (567 g). The first molded ball that eliminated the need for laces was introduced in 1948; its construction and size of 30 in (76 cm) were ruled official in 1949.

The rule-setters came from several groups early in the 1900s. Colleges and universities established their rules committees in 1905, the YMCA and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) created a set of rules jointly, state militia groups abided by a shared set of rules, and there were two professional sets of rules. A Joint Rules Committee for colleges, the AAU, and the YMCA was created in 1915, and, under the name the National Basketball Committee (NBC) made rules for amateur play until 1979. In that year, the National Federation of State High School Associations began governing the sport at the high school level, and the NCAA Rules Committee assumed rule-making responsibilities for junior colleges, colleges, and the Armed Forces, with a similar committee holding jurisdiction over women's basketball.

Until World War II, basketball became increasingly popular in the United States especially at the high school and college levels. After World War II, its popularity grew around the world. In the 1980s, interest in the game truly exploded because of television exposure. Broadcast of the NCAA Championship Games began in 1963, and, by the 1980s, cable television was carrying regular season college games and even high school championships in some states. Players like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) became nationally famous at the college level and carried their fans along in their professional basketball careers. The women's game changed radically in 1971 when separate rules for women were modified to more closely resemble the men's game. Television interest followed the women as well with broadcast of NCAA championship tourneys beginning in the early 1980s and the formation of the WNBA in 1997.

Internationally, Italy has probably become the leading basketball nation outside of the United States, with national, corporate, and professional teams. The Olympics boosts basketball internationally and has also spurred the women's game by recognizing it as an Olympic event in 1976. Again, television coverage of the Olympics has been exceptionally important in drawing attention to international teams.

The first professional men's basketball league in the United States was the National Basketball League (NBL), which debuted in 1898. Players were paid on a per-game basis, and this league and others were hurt by the poor quality of games and the ever-changing players on a team. After the Great Depression, a new NBL was organized in 1937, and the Basketball Association of America was organized in 1946. The two leagues came to agree that players had to be assigned to teams on a contract basis and that high standards had to govern the game; under these premises, the two joined to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949. A rival American Basketball Association (ABA) was inaugurated in 1967 and challenged the NBA for college talent and market share for almost ten years. In 1976, this league disbanded, but four of its teams remained as NBA teams. Unification came just in time for major television support. Several women's professional leagues were attempted and failed, including the Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL) and the Women's World Basketball Association, before the WNBA debuted in 1997 with the support of the NBA.

Raw Materials

The outside covering of a basketball is made of synthetic rubber, rubber, composition, or leather. The inside consists of a bladder (the balloon-like structure that holds air) and the carcass. The bladder is made of butyl rubber, and the carcass consists of treads of nylon or polyester. Preprinted decals are used to label the ball, or foil is used to imprint label information. Zinc and copper plates are used in a press to either affix the decals or imprint the foil.


The actual configuration of most basket-balls is dictated by the rules or standards of the type of game in which the ball will be used. NBA, WNBA, and other professional leagues have specified dimensions for regulation balls, as described above, and even the imprinted information is specified. Amateur sports bodies have also developed rules and specifications, and there are specialized basketballs made for junior players (younger than high-school age), intermediate players (high-school age), and for indoor, outdoor, or combination play. Promotional basketballs that are much smaller in diameter are also made as souvenirs of many events such as the NCAA Championships.

Basketball designers are always trying to improve the product and build a better basketball. Inventor Marvin Palmquist created the "Hole-in-One" basketball to improve a player's grip; the ball has dimples, much like a golf ball, and can be easily palmed Michael Jordan-style by players with smaller-than-Jordan hands. Even the most skilled NBA star copes with sweaty palms, and this obstacle is addressed in another modification consisting of microscopic holes in the surface, which is made of absorbent polyurethane. This is the same material that forms the grip on a tennis racket, but it has been strengthened to withstand the abrasion of bouncing on a wooden basketball court. It absorbs moisture to keep the ball's hide less slippery.

Michael Jordan was born February 17, 1963. Accepting a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina, he became the second Tarheel freshman to start every game. Jordan was named Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Year and won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in 1982. He led the ACC in scoring and was named college player of the year in 1983 and 1984. Jordan left North Carolina after his junior year and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls as the third overall pick of the 1984 draft.

A broken foot sidelined Jordan for 64 games during the 1985-1986 season. He returned, scoring 49 points against the Boston Celtics in the first game of the playoffs and 63 in the second—an NBA record. During the 1986-1987 season Jordan became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season. The Bulls won the 1991-1993 NBA titles. In 1994 Jordan joined the Chicago White Sox minor league baseball team, returning to the Bulls for the remaining 1994-1995 season. In the 1995-1996 season, the team finished 72-10, another NBA record. The Bulls went on to win their fourth NBA title in 1996, fifth in 1997, and sixth in 1998 where Jordan claimed his sixth NBA finals MVP award,

Jordan participated in the 1984 and 1982 Summer Olympics, earning gold medals for the United States. He was named 1985s Rookie of the Year, 1988s Defensive Player of the Year, NBA MVP five times, has a career record for the highest scoring average of 28.5 ppg, played in 11 All-Star games (starting in 10, missing one due to injury), and named All-Star MVP three times. Jordan retired January 13, 1999.

Still other inventors feel the size of the ball is a disadvantage to proper handling and have suggested increasing the circumference from 30 to 36 in (76 to 91.4 cm), resulting in an increase in diameter from 9.6 to 11.5 in (24.4 to 29.2 cm). The so-called Bigball still fits through a regulation hoop and has been used in training sessions by both college and NBA teams. The Bigball must be shot with a higher arc to fall through the hoop, and, after practicing with the larger basketball, the regulation ball seems easier to handle.

The Manufacturing Process

Forming the bladder

  • 1 The making of a basketball begins with the interior bladder. Black butyl rubber in bulk form (and including recycled rubber) is melted in the hopper of a press that feeds it out in a continuous sheet that is 12 in (30.5 cm) wide and 0.5 in (1.3 cm) thick. A guillotine-like cutter cuts the long strip into sheets that are 18 in (45.7 cm) long, and they are stacked up. A hand-controlled machine selects the sheets one at a time and, using a punch press, punches a 1-in-diameter (2.54-cm-diameter) hole that will hold the air tube for inflating the bladder.
  • 2 The sheets are carried on a sheet elevator or conveyor to an assembly line where the air tube is inserted by hand. A heated melding device bonds it to the sheet, which is folded into quarters. Another punch press stamps out a rounded edge and, at the same time, binds the edges to make the seams of the bladder. This bladder is not perfectly shaped.
  • 3 The odd-shaped bladder is taken to a vulcanizing machine. Vulcanization is a process for heating rubber under pressure that improves its properties by making it more flexible, more durable, and stronger. In the vulcanizer, the bladder is inflated. Heating by vulcanization uniformly seals the rubber so it will hold air. Completed bladders are stored in a holding chamber for 24 hours. This quality control measure tests their ability to hold air; those that deflate are recycled.

Shaping the carcass

  • 4 The bladders that withstand the 24-hour inflation test are conveyed from the holding chamber to the twining or winding department. They make this joumey suspended from a conveyor system by their air tubes. Machines loaded with spools of either polyester or nylon thread or string wrap multiple strands at a time around each bladder; this is the same process used to make the inside of a golf ball. The irregularly shaped bladders now begin to take on a better, more rounded shape as the precisely controlled threads build and shape the balls. The quality of the thread and the number of strands determine the cost and quality of the ball. The typical street-quality basketball has a carcass made of multiple wraps of three strands of polyester thread. The balls used by professional teams have carcasses constructed of nylon thread that is wrapped using four strands of thread. The same over-head conveyors continue carrying the carcass-encased bladders by their air tubes to the next step in the process where the carcasses and covers will meet.

Crafting the covers of the balls

  • 5 Meanwhile, the exteriors or covers of the balls have been in production as the bladders and carcasses have taken shape. On 60-inch-long (152-cm-long) tables, colored rubber is unrolled from a continuous roll. The smooth rubber does not have pebbling (small bumps) that characterizes the surface of a finished basketball so that the outlines for the panels can be clearly marked on the rubber. A silk screen is moved along a series of metal markers that are guides marking the length of the rubber sheet needed for each ball. The silk screen operator moves the screen by hand and imprints the outlines of the six panels making up the ball. Only one color is used at a time, and, depending on the design, multiple silk screenings may be needed to color the six panels with all the colors on the ball.
  • 6 A hand-operated punch press—equipped with specially designed and tooled dies—punches the rubber outlines to create six separate panels per ball. The same die has a hole that is punched in one of the six panels to make an opening for the air tube. The excess rubber surrounding the panels is lifted off the line and deposited in a bin for recycling.
  • 7 The assembly worker picks up the six panels for a single ball in a specific order and carries them to the vulcanizer. The interior of the vulcanizer for this process is different from the one for the bladders. It is form-fitted to hold the six panels, to create the channels between the panels, and to add any embossed information. The assembler fits the panels individually into specified sections in the vulcanizer. A bladder/carcass is taken off the overhead conveyor, covered with a coating of glue, and placed inside the chamber of the vulcanizer that is lined with the cover panels. When the ball emerges from the vulcanizer, most of its surface is still smooth (there are no bumps, called pebbling), but the channels and any embossing are formed into the surface.
  • 8 Decals and foil decoration and information (if any) are applied by hand with small heat presses after the smooth ball is retrieved from the vulcanizer. Each ball is carefully inspected for gaps between the panels. These can occur, but each gap is filled during this inspection with a small piece of rubber that is hand-cut to fit the gap. The ball then is fitted into another vulcanizer that unifies the finished surface, blending in any gap fillers, and is specially molded to form the surface pebbling. The vulcanized balls are stored again for 24 hours in a second test to make sure they hold air.

Synthetic laminated covers and leather covers

  • 9 The covers for basketballs that are made of synthetic laminated rubber or leather are also made in panels that are die-cut like the rubber panels. The synthetic laminated panels are shaved or trimmed along the edges, fitted and glued together by hand, and laminated to the carcass to create channels. They are also embossed by a heating process and decals are added. Any glue traces around the edges are removed, and any imperfect panels are replaced in the final inspection of synthetic laminated covers. Leather covers are made of full-grain, genuine leather and are stitched with heavy-duty machines; instead of indented, formed channels, the stitching forms the channels in leather balls. They are printed by silk screening and foil stamping, and their inspection includes a review of the uniformity and color of the leather.

Final testing, inspecting, and packing

  • 10 Balls that pass the second 24-hour air pressure test are "bounce tested" to meet the regulation for inflation pressure that results in each ball bouncing a prescribed height. Balls that pass the bounce test are numbered to show the production run, and the decals and other artwork are inspected and touched up by hand as needed. Each completed ball is inspected again. The inspector removes the production run tag, and the ball is deflated so it can be easily packed and shipped. Each flattened ball is packed in a polyethylene bag, and the bagged balls are boxed for bulk shipment to the distributor. The distributor also inspects the balls when they are received and is responsible for reinflating them to the correct pressure and packaging them in display boxes for sale. The display boxes may also be packed in bulk for distribution to retailers.


No byproducts result from the manufacture of basketballs, but most makers have a variety of lines and may also make balls for other sports. Waste is limited. Dies for cutting panels of rubber, synthetic laminate, and leather are carefully designed to space the panels closely and limit the material used. This is especially critical for leather because of the cost; some leather waste is inevitable, though, because leather is a natural material and has irregularities in color, thickness, and surface. All rubber materials can be recycled, and they represent the bulk of material used in making a basketball.

Quality Control

Throughout the manufacturing process, inspections occur regularly to make sure the finished basketball will hold air and to correct any surface variations. Machines like punch presses, dies, vulcanizers, and printing tools are carefully designed initially to maximize use of materials and to create perfect pieces. The assembly process includes many steps that are performed by hand, and the assemblers are trained to watch for imperfections and reject unsuitable products. Inspections and tests also include weight-control testing of the completed carcasses and the panels, regardless of material. Whenever the completed products are stored for any length of time, they are randomly inspected for appearance, size, inflation, and any wobble.

Some distributors have special tests for products bearing their name. For example, Rawlings Sporting Goods Company tests the basketballs they produce for the NCAA Tournament with a unique "Slam Machine" that simulates the workout a ball will get in four games in just five minutes. The machine works by propelling the ball down a chute between two wooden wheels that launch it at about 30 mph (48 kph) toward a backboard that is angled to direct the ball back to the chute. Rawlings also uses this machine to test new designs, materials, glues, and other changes.

The Future

Basketball sales have escalated dramatically with the sport's popularity. Figures from 1998 show that 3.6 million balls were sold in the United States alone for a total of about $60 million. Given the record number of television viewers for the 1999-2000 NBA Championships, many parents and children are likely to purchase basketballs to test their own slam-dunking skills. Participation in the sport and sale of basketballs shows no sign of slowing down.

Another aspect of the worldwide popularity of basketball is that it has sharpened collectors' enthusiasm for souvenir balls, autographed balls, and those from key moments of the great players' games. An example with a high price tag is the basketball Wilt Chamberlain used to score 100 points in a game; it was sold in the 1990s for $551,844.

Where to Learn More


The Diagram Group. The Rule Book: The Authoritative, Up-to-Date, Illustrated Guide to the Regulations, History, and Object of All Major Sports. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Jacobs, A. G., ed. Basketball Rules in Pictures. New York: Perigee Books, 1966.


Feldman, Jay. "A Hole New Ball Game." Sports Illustrated 18, no. 26 (December 26, 1994): 102.

Jaffe, Michael. "For Better Shooting, Think Big: A Team of Ohio Entrepreneurs Insists that Their Oversized Basketball Will Improve Your Touch." Sports Illustrated 74, no. 15 (April 22, 1991): 5.

Mooney, Loren. "Get a Grip." Sports Illustrated (November 30, 1998): 16.

Tooley, Jo Ann. "On a Roll." U.S. News & World Report 107, no. 8 (August 21, 1989): 66.


Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., Inc. (December 14, 2000).


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BASKETBALL. James Naismith, originally from Al-monte, Ontario, invented basketball at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. The game was first played with peach baskets (hence the name) and a soccer ball and was intended to provide indoor exercise for football players. As a result, it was originally a rough sport. Although ten of Naismith's original thirteen rules remain, the game soon changed considerably, and the founder had little to do with its evolution.

The first intercollegiate game was played in Minnesota in 1895, with nine players to a side and a final score of nine to three. A year later, the first five-man teams played at the University of Chicago. Baskets were now constructed of twine nets but it was not until 1906 that the bottom of the nets were open. In 1897, the dribble was first used, field goals became two points, foul shots one point, and the first professional game was played. A year later, the first professional league was started, in the East, while in 1900, the first intercollegiate league began. In 1910, in order to limit rough play, it was agreed that four fouls would disqualify players, and glass backboards were used for the first time. Nonetheless, many rules still differed, depending upon where the games were played and whether professionals, collegians, or YMCA players were involved.

College basketball was played from Texas to Wisconsin and throughout the East through the 1920s, but most teams played only in their own regions, which prevented a national game or audience from developing. Professional basketball was played almost exclusively in the East before the 1920s, except when a team would "barnstorm" into the Midwest to play local teams, often after a league had folded. Before the 1930s very few games, either professional or amateur, were played in facilities suitable for basketball or with a perfectly round ball. Some were played in arenas with chicken wire separating the players from fans, thus the word "cagers," others with posts in the middle of the floor and often with balconies overhanging the corners, limiting the areas from which shots could be taken. Until the late 1930s, all players used the two-hand set shot, and scores remained low.

Basketball in the 1920s and 1930s became both more organized and more popular, although it still lagged far behind both baseball and college football. In the pros, five urban, ethnic teams excelled and played with almost no college graduates. They were the New York Original Celtics; the Cleveland Rosenblums, owned by Max Rosenblum; Eddie Gottlieb's Philadelphia SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association); and two great black teams, the New York Renaissance Five and Abe Saperstein's Harlem Globetrotters, which was actually from Chicago. While these teams had some notable players, no superstars, such as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, or Red Grange, emerged to capture the public's attention as they did in other sports of the period. The same was true in college basketball up until the late 1930s, with coaches dominating the game and its development. Walter "Doc" Meanwell at Wisconsin, Forrest "Phog" Allen at Kansas, Ward "Piggy" Lambert at Purdue, and Henry "Doc" Carlson at Pittsburgh all made significant contributions to the game's development: zone defenses, the weave, the passing game, and the fast break.

In the decade preceding World War II, five events changed college basketball and allowed it to become a major spectator sport. In 1929, the rules committee reversed a decision that would have outlawed dribbling and slowed the game considerably. Five years later, promoter Edward "Ned" Irish staged the first intersectional twin bill in Madison Square Garden in New York City and attracted more than 16,000 fans. He demonstrated the appeal of major college ball and made New York its center. In December 1936, Hank Luisetti of Stanford revealed the virtues of the one-handed shot to an amazed Garden audience and became the first major collegiate star. Soon thereafter, Luisetti scored an incredible fifty points against Duquesne, thus ending the East's devotion to the set shot and encouraging a more open game. In consecutive years the center jump was eliminated after free throws and then after field goals, thus speeding up the game and allowing for more scoring. In 1938, Irish created the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in the Garden to determine a national champion. Although postseason tournaments had occurred before, the NIT was the first with major colleges from different regions and proved to be a great financial success. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) created its own postseason tournament in 1939 but did not rival the NIT in prestige for some time.

The 1940s saw significant changes for college basketball. Players began using the jump shot after Kenny Sailors of Wyoming wowed the East with it in 1943. The behind-the-back dribble and pass also appeared, as did exceptional big men. Bob Kurland at Oklahoma A&M was almost seven feet tall and George Mikan at DePaul was six feet ten inches. While Kurland had perhaps the better college career and played in two Olympics, he chose not to play professional ball, whereas Mikan became the first dominant star in the pros. Their defensive play inspired the rule against goal tending (blocking a shot on its downward flight). Adolph Rupp, who played under Phog Allen, also coached the first of his many talented teams at Kentucky in that decade. However, in 1951, Rupp and six other coaches suffered through a point-shaving scandal that involved thirty-two players at seven colleges and seriously injured college basketball, particularly in New York, where four of the seven schools were located. While the game survived, the NCAA moved its tournament away from Madison Square Garden to different cities each year and the NIT's prestige began to decline.

Professional basketball remained a disorganized and stodgy sport up until the late 1940s, with barnstorming still central to the game and most players still using the set shot. In 1946, however, hockey owners, led by Maurice Podoloff, created the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in the East to fill their arenas, but few fans came, even after Joe Fulks of Philadelphia introduced the jump shot. The BAA's rival, the National Basketball League, had existed since the 1930s, had better players, like Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, Bob Davies of the Rochester Royals, and Dolph Shayes of the Syracuse Nationals, but operated in much worse facilities and did not do much better at attracting audiences. In 1948, Podoloff lured the Lakers, Royals, and two other teams to the BAA and proposed a merger of the two leagues for the 1949–1950 season. The result was the National Basketball Association (NBA), with Podoloff its first commissioner. The seventeen-team league struggled at first but soon reduced its size and gained stability, in large part because of Mikan's appeal and Podoloff's skills.

Despite the point-shaving scandal, college ball thrived in the 1950s, largely because it had prolific scorers and more great players than in any previous decade. Frank Selvy of Furman and Paul Arizin of Villanova both averaged over forty points early in the decade, while Clarence "Bevo" Francis of tiny Rio Grande College in Ohio amazed fans by scoring 116 points in one game while averaging 50 per game for a season. The decade also witnessed some of the most talented and complete players ever. Tom Gola at LaSalle, Bill Russell at San Francisco, Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas, Elgin Baylor at Seattle, Jerry West at West Virginia, and Oscar Robertson at Cincinnati, all had phenomenal skills that have since been the measure of other players. And in 1960 one of the best teams ever, Ohio State, won the NCAA title led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.

Professional basketball underwent major changes in the 1950s that helped increase its popularity. In 1950, Earl Lloyd, from West Virginia, played for the Washington Capitols and became the first African American to play in the NBA. In 1954, Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, persuaded the NBA to institute the twenty-four-second shot clock, requiring a team to shoot within that time. This eliminated the slow pace that had long prevailed in the pros and made the NBA more exciting. Teams now scored one hundred points a game regularly. The league also now awarded foul shots when the other team received more than five personal fouls a period, greatly reducing the rough play that had hurt the pro game. In 1956, Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics made the best deal in NBA history when he acquired the draft rights to Bill Russell, the defensive player and rebounder he needed to complement Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman in the backcourt.

With the addition of Russell, the Celtics became the best pro team ever, winning eleven of the next thirteen championship titles before expansion diluted the talent in the NBA. The St. Louis Hawks, with Bob Pettit, beat the Celtics in 1958, and the Philadelphia 76ers, with Chamberlain, beat them in 1967. But Russell, a player-coach for two titles, and his teammates formed the greatest dynasty in pro ball. Even the Los Angeles Lakers, who had moved from Minneapolis in 1960, with West and Baylor, were no match for the Celtics over these years. While West, Baylor, Chamberlain—who averaged over fifty points a game in 1962—and Oscar Robertson—who in the same year averaged a triple double per game in points, assists, and rebounds—were superior to any individual Celtic, no other team could consistently play defense, re-bound, and run with the Celtics.

College basketball also experienced tremendous growth and increasing racial diversity during the 1960s. While Russell, Chamberlain, Baylor, and Robertson were

proof of the integration of college ball in most of the country, many teams from the South would still not play against black players. That changed in the 1960s. In 1963, Loyola College of Chicago, on its way to the NCAA title with four black starters, beat Mississippi State, which had refused to play against a team with a black player the year before. Three years later, Texas Western, with five black starters, beat Adolph Rupp's heavily favored all-white Kentucky team for the NCAA title. Thereafter, black players began to dominate basketball, a trend that has since become steadily more pronounced. While pro and college basketball have hired more black coaches and executives than any other sport, their numbers do not begin to match black players' contribution to the game.

The 1960s and 1970s also witnessed the amazing success of John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. In twelve years from 1964 on, the Bruins won ten NCAA titles. While five titles resulted from the dominance of Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and then Bill Walton at center, Wooden won the other five with speed, a full court zone defense, and talented guards and forwards. Other coaches have also compiled excellent NCAA tournament records: Rupp at Kentucky; Dean Smith, another Phog Allen protégé, at North Carolina; Bobby Knight at Indiana; Denny Crum at Louisville; and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. But Wooden and his Bruins remain unique. They also helped create the excitement that now surrounds the NCAA finals.

With the end of the Celtic dynasty, the NBA fell on relatively hard times in the 1970s. There were great play-ers, of course, like Alcindor with the Milwaukee Bucks, Walton with the Portland Trailblazers, Elvin Hayes with the Washington Bullets, Dave Cowens with the Celtics, Rick Barry with the Golden State Warriors, Willis Reed with the New York Knicks, and West and Chamberlain with the Lakers. But no new transcendent stars emerged. In addition, a number of players with drug problems hurt the league's image. Many felt that the rival American Basketball Association—which started in 1968 and had stars like Connie Hawkins, George Gervin, and the amazing Julius Irving—played a more exciting game. The ABA used a red, white, and blue-colored ball, allowed the three-point shot, and had a helter-skelter style. However, it folded in 1976, after which four of its teams joined the NBA.

College basketball, as usual, provided exciting players to revitalize the pros. In the late 1970s, Larry Bird, a marvelous shooter, passer, and rebounder, starred for Indiana State. In 1979, he played and lost in the NCAA finals to another superb player, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a six foot nine inch guard for Michigan State. The next year, Johnson went to the Lakers and Bird to the Celtics, where they, with talented teammates, created a rivalry that reinvigorated pro basketball. Of equal importance was David Stern, who became commissioner in 1984. He facilitated a compromise between labor and management and helped the NBA become a global success.

Women's basketball also attracted a larger audience beginning in the 1970s with Anne Meyers of UCLA and Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion as the first big stars. In the early 1980s, Cheryl Miller at USC and Lynette Woodard at Kansas, the first black stars, along with Carol Blazejowski at Montclair State, demonstrated the scoring and athleticism previously associated with men's ball. In 1982, the first NCAA women's tournament was held as the sport grew in popularity. In 1996, the American Basketball League began and the next year the WNBA, sponsored by the NBA, started. In late 1998, the ABL folded with some teams becoming part of the WNBA. The Houston Comets, with its superstar Cynthia Cooper, dominated the league.

College basketball has been very competitive and hugely successful since the Wooden era. Eighteen different teams won the NCAA tournament from 1976 to 2002, although most have been from the major conferences. Since then, the dunk, banned in 1968 to limit Alcindor, has been restored; the shot clock was introduced along with the three-point field goal; first-year students became eligible to play; and recruiting became more competitive among the big conferences. As with the pros, television has made college basketball available on many channels, all season long, with more money involved every year. Many fine teams have arisen: North Carolina, Kansas, Indiana, Georgetown, Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Kentucky, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Increasingly, however, stars have turned pro after one or two years of eligibility and many high school standouts have begun forgoing college altogether. While this has precluded dynasties from developing, it has hurt continuity, hurt the quality of play, and may discourage enthusiasm for the college game.

The pro game enjoyed tremendous success up through the 1990s, thanks to players like Jabbar, Bird, Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon—and, of course, the magnificent Michael Jordan. Jordan turned pro in 1984, leaving North Carolina early, and became an incredible scorer and a superlative defender for the Chicago Bulls, though it was not until 1991, with Scottie Pippen and Coach Phil Jackson, that the Bulls won a title. They then won five more titles in seven years to rank them near the Celtics. In the process, Jordan became the planet's most famous athlete and the NBA became a marketing phenomenon. Jordan retired in 1998, then returned in 2001, saying he had an "itch that needed to be scratched." Nonetheless, his playing seemed to have lost much of its luster, and despite the emergence of new stars, like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Allen Iverson, and Shaquille O'Neal, it remained unclear how popular the NBA will be in the years to come.


Axthelm, Pete. The City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Play grounds. New York: Harpers Magazine Press, 1970.

Bjarkman, Peter C. The History of the NBA. New York: Crescent Books, 1992.

———. Hoopla: A Century of College Basketball, 1896–1996. Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1996.

———. The Biographical History of Basketball. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Masters Press, 2000.

George, Nelson. Elevating the Game: The History and Aesthetics of Black Men in Basketball. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Gutman, Bill. The History of NCAA Basketball. New York: Crescent Books, 1993.

Ham, Eldon L. The Playmasters: From Sellouts to Lockouts—An Unauthorized History of the NBA. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2000.

Isaacs, Neil D. Vintage NBA—The Pioneer Era, 1946–1956. Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1996.

Peterson, Robert W. Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Sachare, Alex. One Hundred Greatest Basketball Players of All Time. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.


See alsoCollege Athletics ; Sports .

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basketball, game played generally indoors by two opposing teams of five players each. Basketball was conceived in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education instructor at the YMCA college in Springfield, Mass., as a way to condition outdoor athletes during the winter months. His original list of 13 rules has undergone a century of revision, leading to faster pacing and greater athleticism. Today basketball is one of the most popular American sports and one the rest of the world has adopted.

Basic Rules

At each end of the court—usually about 92 ft (28 m) long and 50 ft (15 m) wide—is a bottomless basket made of white cord net and suspended from a metal ring, 18 in. (46 cm) in diameter, which is attached 10 ft (3.05 m) above the floor (usually hardwood) to a backboard made of fiberglass, wood, or other material. Players may throw, dribble (bounce), or shoot the basketball (an inflated ball usually made of leather or rubber) but may not run with it or kick it.

Teams try to advance the ball and shoot it through one basket (the ball must enter from above) and to keep the opposition from scoring through the other. Each field goal, or basket, scores two points, or three points if shot from beyond a specified distance (21 ft/6 m in U.S. colleges, slightly longer in international and professional play). Teams must shoot the ball within a prescribed time limit (24 sec in professional and international games; 30 sec in women's collegiate play; 35 sec in men's collegiate play).

Any player making illegal body contact with an opposing player is assessed a foul; the opposing team may be given possession of the ball, or an opposing player awarded free throws at the basket from the foul line. Each made foul shot is worth one point. Players who exceed the foul limit (usually five, but six in professional and international play) are disqualified from the game. International and collegiate basketball games have two 20-min halves, professionals play four 12-min quarters, and high schoolers play four 8-min quarters.

Professional Basketball

Professional basketball began (1896) in New York City and was at one time played on courts enclosed by wire mesh (basketball players are still occasionally referred to as "cagers" ). Until the 1950s it languished in popularity behind college basketball and such touring black teams as the Harlem Globetrotters and the New York Rens.

The merger (1949) of the National Basketball League and the rival Basketball Association of America into the National Basketball Association (NBA) led to greater popularity. The appearance of stars like George Mikan, the signing of black players beginning in 1950, the temporary disrepute of the college game owing to gambling scandals in the early 1950s, and the adoption of the 24-sec shot clock in 1954, further boosted the NBA.

Its success inspired the formation of several competing leagues, among them the American Basketball Association (ABA), founded in 1967 and merged into the NBA in 1975. In the 1980s the emergence of charismatic players like "Magic" Johnson (see Johnson, Earvin), Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, combined with aggressive marketing, made the NBA hugely successful, so that basketball often seemed the premier U.S. professional sport. A labor dispute in late 1998 delayed and shortened the 1998–99 season, but the sport weathered that bout of labor strife. Another dispute in late 2011 similarly delayed and shortened the 2011–12 season..

College Basketball

Basketball is a major sport in U.S. colleges. Postseason tournaments, first the National Invitation Tournament (begun 1938) and then the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships (begun 1939), soon attracted enough attention to fill large arenas like New York's Madison Square Garden. Point-shaving and game-fixing scandals unsettled college basketball in both 1950–51 and 1961, but did not diminish fan loyalty for extended periods.

The NCAA championship tournament, once secondary to the NIT, grew enormously from the 1960s into the 1990s. Large live audiences, national television coverage, and competitive parity have helped to make the NCAA's "March Madness" and Final Four (the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament) one of the most popular of all U.S. sporting events.

Olympic and International Basketball

An exhibition match was played at the 1904 Olympics, but basketball did not become an official part of the games until 1936. International rules and court dimensions differ some from U.S. standards, but changes in 2010 reduced the differences. Still, the United States outclassed the rest of the world until 1972, when the Soviet Union defeated the U.S. team for the gold medal (despite American protests that the Soviets had been allowed to score a basket after the game had ended). In the 1980s, many nations achieved parity with the United States, which was still fielding a team of collegians. The U.S. Olympic Committee therefore assembled for the 1992 games a "Dream Team" composed of one collegian and the finest professional players, who handily won the gold medal.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA, from its name in French), which was founded in 1932, governs international basketball competition, including the FIBA World Championship (est. 1950) and FIBA Women's World Championship (est. 1953). Contested by national teams, these quadrennial championships have been held during the same year since 1986. Other FIBA championships include regional titles for both national and club teams and the FIBA World Club Championship (est. 2010). Professional basketball leagues exist in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere.

Women's Basketball

Women's basketball has grown rapidly since the 1970s. Until then, women and girls had been allowed to play only a six-player game in which offensive and defensive players were rooted to one half of the court. Today full court action in women's college competition and in the Women's National Basketball Association (since 1997) exhibits advanced skills and fast-paced play, and has attained wider popularity than many other women's sports.


See P. Axthelm, The City Game (1971); D. Smith, Basketball—Multiple Offense and Defense (1982); A. Wolff, 100 Years of Hoops (1991); The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia (2d ed. 1994).

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Origins of the Game. In the fall of 1891 James Naismith, a physical-education instructor at the Young Mens Christian Association Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, developed basketball to replace gymnastics and calisthenics routinely practiced during the winter months. After studying the attributes of lacrosse, football, rugby, and soccer, he created a game in which players would bounce and pass a soccer ball from one another and score points by tossing the ball into a suspended goal. The fundamental concept for the game came to him from watching rugby players spend the winter months throwing rugby balls into boxes. Instead of boxes for goals, Naismith used bottomless peach baskets hung at opposite ends of the railing surrounding the YMCA gymnasium, ten feet above the floor. On 21 December 1891 he introduced basketball to his students, who had tired of their instructors experimentation with new games that fall. Naismith recalled that I asked the boys to try it once as a favor to me, and after the ball was first thrown up, there was no need for further coaxing. Some students wanted to name the new game Naismith Ball, but when the inventor demurred, they started calling it basket ball.

From the YMCA to the AAU. Basketball quickly spread throughout the YMCAs of the Northeast. The organization used the game as a means to increase membership and promote spiritual growth through athletic competition. Rivalry between the YMCAs became so intense that the organization attempted to regulate the game through the establishment of separate leagues, but the organizations were soon undermined by professionalism, which, according to Luther Halsey Gulick, the director of the YMCA, resulted in men of lower character going into the game, for men of serious purpose in life do not care to go into that kind of thing. In 1896 the YMCA turned to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for help in regulating the extramural basketball leagues and curbing the growth of professionalism. The AAU gained control of the sport by exercising editorial control over the official rules of basketball, which had been published by the A. G. Spalding & Brothers Company in 1894. The AAU also established leagues and sanctioned regional and national championships. AAU leagues and championship play first emerged in New York City in 1898, and then spread to other cities across the nation. The first AAU national basketball championship, however, was not held until 1908.

Professional Basketball. Independent professional basketball teams, which resisted the control of the AAU, emerged in the late 1890s, particularly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After gaining control of amateur basketball in 1896, the AAU attempted to standardize the game by eliminating rough play and requiring teams to pay registration fees. Philadelphia teams, which played a rough style of basketball, objected to paying registration fees and formed a rival organization, the Eastern Amateur Basketball Association (EABA), in 1898, to accomplish the same goals of the AAU without the registration fees. The EABA, however, promoted professionalism, as team managers and players devised various money-making schemes. In 1899 the EABA became the National League of Professional Basketball (NLPB), with the primary function of making sure that owners and players would honor team contracts. Before the establishment of the NLPB, owners would raid teams for the best players, and players would jump teams for better pay. The NLPB folded in 1903 because it could not force managers and players to honor team contracts.

College Basketball. Colleges and universities throughout the Midwest and Northeast quickly embraced basketball as the Minnesota State School of Agriculture and Mining defeated Hamline College, 93, in the first intercollegiate game on 9 February 1895. This game, however, was played with nine-man teams, and a month later the first game played between five-man teams resulted in the University of Chicago defeating the University of Iowa YMCA, 1512. Northeast colleges and universities took the lead in the development of intercollegiate basketball leagues in the 1900s, with the establishment of the Eastern League, composed of Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and Princeton. Basketball

became the chief sport for college women after Senda Berenson, the director of physical training at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, introduced the game to her students in 1892. Berenson and representatives of Radcliffe, Oberlin, and the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics formed the Womens Basketball Rules Committee, which codified womens basketball rules and had them published by the A. G. Spalding & Brothers Company in 1899. In the first intercollegiate womens basketball game, Smith defeated Bryn Mawr, 43, in 1901. Berenson, however, emphasized intramural over intercollegiate games because they facilitated greater student participation in physical training and stressed the social and cooperative rather competitive aspects of sports.


Albert G. Applin II, From Muscular Christianity to the Market Place: The History of Mens and Boys Basketball in the United States, 1891-1957, dissertation, University of Massachusetts, 1982;

Neil D. Isaacs, All the Moves: A History of College Basketball (New York: Harper & Row, 1984).

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In December 1891, James Naismith, a Canadian-born instructor at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, introduced the game of basketball. The YMCA soon published rules for the game, which spread rapidly throughout settlement houses, colleges, and high schools. In March 1892 Senda Berenson adapted the game for her Smith College students by restricting the players to zones, thus limiting their running to allay concerns about female debility. By the end of the year girls in West Coast schools eagerly took to the game. The YMCA promoted state and regional competitions and offered a national championship in 1896.

Professional teams appeared by the late 1890s and high school students, both boys and girls, organized their own leagues for competition. High school play became particularly intense in certain regions of the country, such as Indiana and Kentucky, where the game took precedence in the sporting culture as it fostered communal pride and identity. In Iowa the girls' game even superceded the boys' in popularity, despite its adherence to the divided court system until the 1993-1994 season. In the South historically black colleges developed particularly strong female contingents, and their white counterparts, company teams composed of young females, barnstormed the country, often playing and defeating men's teams.

The game retained a strong presence in urban areas, however, where social clubs, churches, schools, and companies sponsored teams. Leagues in northern cities featured integrated games and African-American teams proved among the best by the World War I era. Colleges began sponsoring competitions to attract the best players to campus, such as the national invitational tournament started by the University of Chicago in 1918. Racial, ethnic, and religious rivalries spurred the formation of teams and fostered greater assimilation in the process. Organizations originally founded to preserve ethnic cultures, such as the German Turners, Czech Sokols, and Polish Falcons, acquiesced to the interests of second-generation youths in American sports, such as basketball. Both the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization and the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) aimed to counteract the Protestant influences of the YMCA. The latter conducted its own National Catholic Interscholastic Basketball Tournament at Chicago's Loyola University after 1923. By the 1930s the CYO claimed the largest basketball league in the world, as its Chicago archdiocese accounted for more than 400 teams.

The best youths earned college scholarships or graduated to semipro or professional units that proliferated throughout American cities. Others joined barnstorming teams, like Chicago's Savoy 5 (later renamed the Harlem Globetrotters). Girls, too, found similar opportunities, particularly on employer-sponsored teams in the South.

The international scope of the game resulted in its inclusion in the 1936 Olympic Games. Nationally, basketball prospered throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, gradually assuming a primary role in inner-city playgrounds and urban community recreation programs. Like past sponsors, entrepreneurs initiated basketball camps, tournaments, and traveling teams that promised training, continuous competition, and offered hopes of recognition by high school, college, and professional coaches. By the late twentieth century the best high school boys eschewed college play, opting for direct employment in the National Basketball Association. Most, however, honed their skills on thousands of community teams that offered age group competition or played recreational basketball on city playgrounds or rural spaces.

See also: Sports; Title IX and Girls Sports; YWCA and YMCA.


Axthelm, Pete. 1970. The City Game: Basketball, from the Playground to Madison Square Garden. New York: Harper's Magazine Press.

George, Nelson. 1992. Elevating the Game. New York: Harper Collins.

Hult, Joan S., and Marianna Trekell, eds. 1991. A Century of Women's Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

Gerald R. Gems

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basketball Game that originated in the USA, and is now played worldwide. Devised in 1891 by Dr James Naismith, it has been an Olympic sport since 1936. It is played by two teams of five (plus substitutes), usually indoors. The court is up to 27.8m (91ft) long and 15m (49ft) wide. At each end is a backboard on which a bottomless netting basket hangs from a hoop 3m (10ft) above the floor. The object is to put the ball down through the opposing team's basket, scoring points. In normal play, two points are scored when the ball is thrown from within a zone close to the basket, and three points from farther away; a free throw (for a foul) counts one point. Players may move with the ball when dribbling it one-handed. With growing commercialization and the worldwide transmission of National Basketball Association (NBA) games, basketball is one of the most popular spectator sports.

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bas·ket·ball / ˈbaskitˌbôl/ • n. a game played between two teams of five players in which goals are scored by throwing a ball through a netted hoop fixed above each end of the court. ∎  the inflated ball used in this game.

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basketballall, appal (US appall), awl, Bacall, ball, bawl, befall, Bengal, brawl, call, caul, crawl, Donegal, drawl, drywall, enthral (US enthrall), fall, forestall, gall, Galle, Gaul, hall, haul, maul, miaul, miscall, Montreal, Naipaul, Nepal, orle, pall, Paul, pawl, Saul, schorl, scrawl, seawall, Senegal, shawl, small, sprawl, squall, stall, stonewall, tall, thrall, trawl, wall, waul, wherewithal, withal, yawl •carryall • blackball • handball •patball • hardball • netball • baseball •paintball • speedball • heelball •meatball • stickball • pinball • spitball •racquetball • basketball • volleyball •eyeball, highball •oddball • softball • mothball •korfball • cornball •lowball, no-ball, snowball •goalball •cueball, screwball •goofball • stoolball • football •puffball • punchball • fireball •rollerball • cannonball • butterball •catchall • bradawl • holdall • Goodall

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