Basketball is a lightening quick sport characterised by power, athleticism and style. The high scoring nature and end to end ebb and flow of the game makes it a hugely exciting sport, but, amongst the frantic pace, there’s skill too, with spectacular shots and flashes of individual brilliance a guarantee. As a result, basketball is growing to be one of the most popular sports not only in America, but worldwide. It’s popularity on the international scene means basketball has been ever present at the Olympic games since 1936, with the pinnacle of professional basketball being the NBA and the WNBA in the United States. The NBA is hugely fashionable, and if the popularity of the NBA continues to soar it could soon overtake the NFL as America’s most loved sport. Here we provide a quick taste of the basketball basics, an overview of the rules, some key terms, a little history and some recommendations of who to see and where to see them.
Country of Origin: Basketball originated in the United States and today there are over 50 countries in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Along with the prestigious NBA, there are other professional basketball leagues scattered across the globe. Spain have a hugely popular domestic league (Liga ACB), as do various other countries including Greece, Israel, Argentina, Italy, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Turkey.
Background: Basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr James Naismith in an attempt to keep his YMCA sport students entertained inside on rainy days. Naismith was influential in the spread of the game by forming college basketball, with the first intercollegiate game being played in 1895. In 1949 the NBA was formed, and as the popularity of college basketball rose, so did the popularity of the professional game. In 1967 the American Basketball Association formed, rivalling the NBA, and in 1976, the two merged to create the NBA that is today one of the most successful sports leagues in the world.
The Rules: A basketball team is made up of 5 players who aim to score more points than their opponents by getting a round ball through a hoop attached to a backboard 10 feet off the ground at either end of a court with unlimited substitutions allowed throughout the game.
Players score in a variety of ways: a lay-up, a jump shot or a slam dunk. They work the ball up the court by bouncing it and running (dribbling) or by throwing it to a teammate (passing). There are limitations for how players can dribble the ball, with violations including traveling, double dribbling and carrying the ball.
There are time limits placed on aspects of the game such as advancing the ball past the halfway line and attempting a shot, in order to encourage more offense.
Contact against an opponent is not allowed. This is called a personal foul and can result in a free throw being awarded if the foul is committed when the player is mid shot.
Basketball games consist of four 12-minute quarters.
Traveling – a player takes too many steps without dribbling.
Double Dribble – a player dribbles by touching the ball with both hands at once.
Carrying the Ball – dribbling after allowing the ball to come to rest in one or both hands.
Free Throw – an unopposed shot from behind the free throw line. Awarded after a foul.
Scoring: Basketball is a very high scoring game. A free throw is worth one point, and any other goal, known as a field goal, is worth two points, unless it is from behind the three-point line, meaning, as its name would suggest, three points are awarded.
Positions: There are five positions in basketball, each with different physical and skill demands:
Point Guard – the shortest, fastest player on the court. Responsible for starting the offense.
Shooting Guard – a frequent long-range shooter who also attempts to collect rebounds.
Small Forward – tall, strong and agile. Capable of dribbling to drive forward, shooting from close range and the perimeter.
Power Forward – often the second tallest in the team. The most versatile player on the team, capable of guarding the tallest players defensively and shooting offensively.
Center – tall and strong and uses their stature to score and protect the basket when defending.
Competitions: The NBA is the pinnacle of professional men’s league basketball. It runs in the USA from October to June and consists of 30 teams from across the country (including one Canadian team). These teams are split into two conferences (Western and Eastern) and each conference is subdivided into six divisions. Every team plays each other at least once, with each team competing in a total of 82 fixtures.
The top 8 teams from each conference progress to the playoffs where a tournament format then commences. Whether the teams win their division is irrelevant as they are seeded 1-8 according to their league record. The team seeded 1st in the Conference plays the team seeded 8 in the Conference, 2 plays 7 etc. Home court advantage is granted to the higher seed. Teams play a best of seven format, with the team with home court advantage hosting games 1, 2, 5 and 7, to advance through to the next round. Teams progress through the conference first round, the conference second round, the conference finals and finally the last two teams remaining compete in the NBA Finals; which is also a seven-game series. Home court advantage in the NBA finals is granted to the team with the better regular season record.
The NBA boasts the highest quality basketball in the world. The top players are household names and there are huge sponsorship deals and massive media coverage. Such is the popularity of the NBA that it was the most talked about sports league in the world on Twitter in 2018.
In a tradition dating back to 1947, there are always NBA fixtures on Christmas Day and since being televised in 1983, these games have attracted huge viewing figures.
The Boston Celtics are the most successful side in NBA history with 17 titles, most recently in 2008. Hot on their heals are the LA Lakers, who have 16 NBA Finals’ wins to their name (although five of those titles were as the Minneapolis Lakers).
The WNBA is the biggest global women’s basketball league. Formed in 1997, it comprises of 12 teams. Each team plays 34 games between May and September, before the season concludes with the playoffs and WNBA Finals in October. The best eight teams, regardless of conference, progress to the playoffs. The first two rounds of playoff fixtures are one off elimination games, whilst the semi finals are a best of five series. The WNBA season then boils down to the WNBA Finals, which is also a best of five series.
The Minnesota Lynx and Houston Comets are the most successful sides in WNBA history, with 4 titles apiece.
The financial stability and popularity of the WNBA has been growing steadily, and in the 2017/18 season it attracted the third highest attendance figures of all global basketball leagues.
Not only is the WNBA the home of world class sport, it also hit the headlines in 2016 when numerous teams used their publicity and status to protest in support of the Black Lives Matter Campaign, which was met with global acclaim.
The Spanish ACB is Spain’s top professional basketball league. It is made up of 18 teams, and has the added interest of relegation and promotion to and from the league below (the LEB Oro). The league has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona since forming in 1983 with the former having 12 titles to the latter’s 15.
The EuroLeague is the basketball equivalent of the Champions League, with the best basketball talent from across Europe on display. 16 sides take part, playing each other twice, before the top 8 sides progress to the playoffs. The winners from each playoff enter the Final Four: a must-see event including two semi-finals, a third-place playoff and a final. Spanish giants Real Madrid boast the most titles with 10. The EuroLeague has been running since 1958, with the women’s league following in 1959. Like their male counterparts, 16 teams compete in the Women’s Euroleague, with the only difference being the Final Four was replaced with the Final Eight in 2011/12. Latvian outfit Duagava Riga have 18 titles to their name, their last coming way back in 1982.
The FIBA World Cup has been held every four years since 1950. 32 teams compete in a group stage format. The United States and Yugoslavia are the two most successful nations, with five titles each. The 2019 tournament will be held in China, and with the sports popularity rapidly increasing in the host country, expect big turnouts from the home crowd. The women’s tournament began in 1953 and is made up of 16 teams. The United States have been hugely dominant, claiming 10 titles, most recently in 2018 when they defeated 2006 champions Australia.
Basketball has been an Olympic sport since 1936, with the USA hugely dominant. The women’s side have eight titles to their name, and the men a staggering 15. Professional players have been allowed to participate in Olympic basketball since 1992 which led to an increase in USA dominance, as NBA players were now able to feature. Excitingly, the 2020 Olympics will also include 3v3 basketball, which is a three a side game using just the one hoop.
Basketball is also hugely popular at collegiate and high school level in the US where in some parts of the USA, college basketball is bigger than the NBA. It’s the best place to watch the stars of tomorrow, with the annual NBA and WNBA draft selecting college players to play professionally. It was the rapidly rising popularity of women’s college basketball that led to the formation of the WNBA.
March Madness is the highlight of the college basketball season. Dating back to 1939, it consists of 68 college sides and is one of the most popular events of the American sporting calendar. It begins with the First Four, where the eight lowest seeded teams play to determine who will make it through to the main 64-team tournament. 48 games are played over the course of the first weekend, with the teams winning two games progressing to the “Sweet Sixteen”. Over the second weekend the 16 fall to 4 after the “Sweet Sixteen” and “Elite Eight” rounds. The final weekend of the tournament: the “Final Four”, sees the conclusion of the tournament and crowning of the champion. This conclusion of the tournament is played on the first weekend of April and sees one team from each region (East, West, Midwest, South) competing to be crowned champion. Games are all single elimination matches, making it fast, frantic and hugely dramatic. The popularity of March Madness has boomed as the media coverage has increased, and it is now one of the most popular annual tournaments in the States. UCLA hold the most national championship titles, with 11 to their name.
Women’s March Madness has also taken place annually since 1982. It consists of 64-teams and follows a similar format to the men, being also caught up in a huge media frenzy. Connecticut are the most decorated side, having won the title on 11 occasions.
NBA and WNBA sides use March Madness as a perfect scouting opportunity before the NBA Draft, which follows three months later and the WNBA draft a few weeks afterwards. March Madness is not only a great opportunity to see some of the most exciting basketball worldwide, but also an ideal chance to catch a glimpse of future NBA and WNBA stars before they hit the big time.
All Time Great Sides
The Chicago Bulls side of 1995-1996 is one of the greatest to grace the basketball court. They are globally regarded as one of the best sports teams of all time. Led by the imperious Michael Jordan, the Bulls notched up an incredible 72 regular season wins, an NBA record at the time, as they were crowned champions. They also won a staggering 33 wins on the road, breaking another NBA record.
The Bulls record breaking season of 95/96 was eclipsed in 2016 by the Golden State Warriors, who won a spectacular 73 games. They won their first 24 games of the season, the best start to a season of any professional American sports team in history. Their 34 road wins was also an NBA record. However, they squandered a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The following season, the Warriors came back stronger. The addition of Kevin Durant in the offseason gave them an even more formidable team as his impressive talents supplemented the already established Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They reached the playoffs once more and were in lethal form, losing just one game in their entire playoff campaign. They avenged the previous year’s defeat to Cleveland, emerging 4-1 winners in the NBA Finals and sealing their place as one of the greatest sides in NBA history.
After losing in the NBA Finals the previous year, the Boston Celtics went on the field one of the greatest sides in history in 1985-86. They won 67 games in the regular season before breezing through the playoffs where they dispatched of the Houston Rockets 4-2 in the NBA Finals. Their combinations were frightening and their shooting lethal, making this Boston Celtics side one of the greatest.
The Houston Comets were a trailblazing side in the WNBA, setting the bar by which all other WNBA sides are now measured. They became only the fifth ever professional sports team in American history to win four consecutive championship titles between 1997 and 2000. They lost just two playoff games over that four-year period of basketball dominance. The Comets were pioneering figures for the newly formed WNBA, attracting five figure crowds, becoming the first women’s team to visit the White House and gaining big commercial shoe sponsorship deals, a first for women’s team sport in the States. Led by legendary coach Van Chancellor and with Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoops, two of the greatest female players of all time in their ranks, they were unstoppable.
The USA men’s basketball team that went to the 1992 Olympics were incredible. This was the first time NBA stars had featured for the US at an Olympic games, and oh, how they made their class show. The side that have since been dubbed “the Dream Team” stormed to the gold medal, winning each game by an average of 44 points and scoring over 100 points in every match without fail on their way to the top of the podium. They boasted Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in their ranks, some of the finest NBA players of their generation, who were at their peak. They are widely considered one of the most dominant sports teams of all time.
The LA Lakers have had some incredible sides down the years. With 16 NBA titles to their name, they are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking an all-time great side. The Lakers side of 86-87 were pretty special. Led by the sensational Magic Johnson, they won 67 games as they stormed to the title. They surged into the NBA Finals, losing just one playoff game, where they met the fabulous Boston Celtics side, who they eventually beat over six thrilling games.
All Time Great Players
Michael Jordan is widely considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, basketball player of all time. His phenomenal talent and huge commercialisation were influential in the booming popularity of the NBA in the 1980s and 90s. Jordan played for the University of North Carolina, before being picked third in the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. He guided a dominant Bulls side to six titles in eight years between 1991 and 1998, and won the NBA Most Valuable Player award on five occasions throughout a glittering career. Jordan was a real crowd pleaser, renowned for his supreme leaping ability and record-breaking scoring statistics. He also has two Olympic medals to his name, one in 1984 as a college player and one in 1992 as a part of that famous USA team. Jordan is not just one of the all-time basketball greats, he is one of the greatest athletes of all time.
7ft 1in Wilt Chamberlain is another legend of the game. The center was a pivotal figure for the Harlem Globetrotters, the Philadelphia Warriors (who then became the San Francisco Warriors), the Philadelphia 76ers and the LA Lakers between 1959-1973. Chamberlain’s statistics are staggering: he is the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds over the course of his entire career. He even recorded an historic 100-point game; a feat other teams are often incapable of achieving in one game so, for an individual player to do it, is almost unthinkable. He also had a legendary rivalry with Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, a fellow all time great. Russell came out on top in seven out of the eight playoff matchups between the pair. Chamberlain won the NBA MVP on four occasions and the NBA title twice across a glittering career. He was also responsible for a number of rule changes, demonstrating the huge impact he had on the game.
Kobe Bryant joined the LA Lakers straight from high school and went on to play 20 seasons for the NBA giants. Alongside fellow great Shaquille O’Neal, he was an integral part of the Lakers three consecutive championship titles between 2000 and 2002. He led the NBA scoring charts between 2005 and 2007, and guided the Lakers to two more championship titles in 2009 and 2010. Bryant also bagged two Olympic golds in 2008 and 2012. With a phenomenal scoring ability, he is widely considered as the Jordan of his generation.
Cynthia Cooper was a pivotal figure during the Houston Comet’s dominance of the WNBA. Her individual dominance of the WNBA is all the more impressive considering she was 34 when she first signed for the team. After leaving college, Cooper played in Europe from 1986 to 1996, and in that period of time was part of the US Olympic gold medal winning team at Seoul 1988. However, it wasn’t until the formation of the WNBA that Cooper shot to fame. She was the MVP in each of the Comet’s four WNBA Finals victories and consistently topped the scoring charts. Cooper was at the core of the team that set the bar for all women’s basketball teams who followed them, and for that reason she is a true great of the game.
Players to Watch
LeBron James is considered the best player on the planet and will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. The now LA Lakers star began his NBA career at the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, James left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in search of an NBA title. He was soon rewarded, as he guided Miami to consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013. James was named league and NBA finals MVP during the two title-winning campaigns. In 2014, James re-joined the Cavaliers, and helped steer them to their first title in their history. Athletic and versatile, LeBron James is a phenomenal athlete, who has well and truly left his mark on the game.
Stephen Curry has been an integral part of the Golden State Warriors recent dominance of the NBA. Having set multiple scoring records whilst playing at College for Davidson, he joined the Golden State Warriors in 2009. Curry is a three-time NBA champion with the Warriors between 2015 and 2018 and a two-time league MVP. Many consider him the greatest shooter in NBA history, and he has set three-point records tumbling since joining the league. It is unlikely we will see statistics like Curry’s for a very long time.
The Golden State Warriors strengthened their team in 2016 with the signing of Kevin Durant, who quickly repaid their faith as he helped them to consecutive championships in 2017 and 2018, being named MVP in both NBA Finals. He was originally picked second by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007 NBA draft, before the Seattle franchise became the Oklahoma Thunder a year later. Durant’s height and wingspan make him a nightmare to play against, and he is globally renowned for his prolific scoring ability.
Diana Taurasi is considered one of the greatest female basketball players of all time. Taurasi has enjoyed a highly decorated career, with four Olympic gold medals and three WNBA championships with the Phoenix Mercury. She joined the Mercury in 2004 after graduating from the University of Connecticut. Taurasi is known for her clinical scoring ability, and has scored the highest average points per season on five separate occasions. Still playing at the top of her game at 36, she will go down as an all-time basketball great.
Where to See It
Madison Square Garden in New York is an iconic multi-purpose venue. It is the home of the New York Knicks, and with a capacity of 19,000, it makes for an electric atmosphere. Steeped in sporting history, from hockey to boxing, it is a must visit and Fixture can help plan your trip there.
The Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic, is hugely popular amongst fans. It’s one of the most technically advanced and picturesque stadiums in the NBA and boasts a capacity of 18,000.
The WiZink Center in Spain is home to Real Madrid. Hugely impressive on the inside and out, it is the best place in Europe to catch world class basketball. It has a capacity of 15,000, and hosted the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Written on 1st March 2019
Photos by NBA, NCAA; Madison Square Garden
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