Basketball is one of the most popular team sports in North America, both as a spectactor sport and as an activity. The top professional league, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is among the "Big 4" of North American sports leagues when it comes to popularity and revenue. The others are the National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.
The game was invented in December 1891 by the Canadian-American James Naismith, at the time a college professor in Springfield, Massachusetts. He wanted to come up with a team sport that could be played indoors during the winter when the weather didn't allow for popular outdoor sports like rugby, football, soccer or baseball. In the beginning, soccer balls were used for the game, proper basketballs were invented several decades later. Naismith also intended the game to limit contact between players, fixing the goal at a height then thought to be hard to reach even by jumping as he observed a lot of physical contact going in the contest close to the goal in other sports. There are conflicting interpretations whether this was due to the high injury risk associated with various codes of football or ice hockey at the time or religious prudery.
Unlike Major League Baseball, in which the color line was prominently broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947, the NBA signed its first non-white player in its second season (1947/48), Japanese-American Wataru Misaka, and by the 1950s African-American players became a common sight in the league. In modern times, the players in the league are predominantly African-American, with almost three out of four NBA players belonging to that ethnic group. A significant minority of non-American players are themselves black or mixed-race—for example, the 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons (Australia) and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (France) both have black fathers and white mothers. While the demographics of the fans also skew somewhat in favor of black people, it is far less noticeable than among the players.
In recent decades, the NBA has drawn most of the top players from throughout the world. Two major events at the end of the 1980s brought this about—the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decision of FIBA, the sport's international governing body, to allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics. Today, a bit over 20% of the league's players were born outside the US. The largest share has traditionally come from Europe, but African countries have produced an increasing number of players, with many other countries strongly represented (including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada). The Spanish presence is notably large enough that Spaniards now call their men's national team La ÑBA.
Rules and gameplay
Basketball is played by two teams, each having 5 players on the court. The objective is getting (throwing) the basketball through the basket or hoop mounted at the rear of the opposing team's side, thereby scoring points. Another objective is preventing the opposing team from getting the ball through the hoop on their side. The hoops are mounted 10 ft (about 3 m) above ground to prevent goaltending. The team usually gets two points for getting the ball through the hoop; this is called a field goal. If it's thrown from further away, behind the three-point line, the team gets three points. Actions against the rules fall under two categories: violations and fouls. Most fouls occur as a result of personal contact with another player. When a player commits a foul towards a player from the opposing team about to make a goal, the fouled player may attempt throw the ball into the hoop while everyone else is standing still. This is called a free throw, and is worth one point if the throw is successful. In certain cases, a player may be entitled to take two or three free throws; if you hear that a player is shooting "one-and-one", then the player will get another opportunity if the first free throw scores. (The "one-and-one" is now used only in two US rule sets—college men's, and high schools for both sexes.) The team with most points when the time is up wins the game.
Game duration varies between leagues. In the NBA, games are played in four quarters, each taking 12 minutes. The WNBA is also played in quarters, but each lasts only 10 minutes. College games are the same length as WNBA games, but the timing conventions are different for men's and women's play. Men's games are played in 20-minute halves, while women's games use 10-minute quarters. Youth games use shorter periods still; for example, US high school games are played in 8-minute quarters. If the score is even when the time is up, overtime periods of five minutes (4 in US high schools) are played. Like hockey, and unlike soccer, the clock is stopped when the play isn't active, so games take more time than actual playing time. The shot clock is equally important to the pacing of a basketball game. Set at 24 seconds in professional basketball, and 30 seconds in college basketball, the shot clock marks the time that the offensive team has to set up and make a shot at the basket. Hitting the rim of the basket resets the shot clock, as do defensive fouls that do not occur in the act of shooting. If the offense lets the shot clock run out without shooting, a shot clock violation occurs, and the other team gets the ball.
Basketball players aren't allowed to carry the ball as they move (this is called a traveling violation, and results in the other team getting the ball). Instead, the ball is passed between the players, and if a player is moving with the ball, the player has to dribble it, i.e. bounce it between their hand and the floor.
The National Basketball Association (NBA), the top league of basketball in the world, is as of 2018 made up of 30 teams, one of which is from Canada and 29 from the United States. The NBA season begins in October and lasts until April, when a playoff series begins featuring the top 8 teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences. This culminates in June with the NBA Finals, where the conference champions meet to determine the NBA champion.
- Boston Celtics – 1 TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts (in the North End). The Celtics have the most NBA Finals championships of any team, partially due to the greatness of Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
- Brooklyn Nets – 2 Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York (in Downtown Brooklyn).
- New York Knicks – 3 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York (in the Theater District).
- Philadelphia 76ers – 4 Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (in South Philly).
- Toronto Raptors – 5 Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario (in the Entertainment District).
- Chicago Bulls – 6 United Center, Chicago, Illinois (on the Near West Side). Michael Jordan may be gone, but the Bulls still provide exciting games to watch.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – 7 Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio (in Downtown Cleveland). The Cavaliers have finally won the championship that they -- and their city -- have longed for, but with LeBron James leaving for Los Angeles, the team faces an uncertain future on the court.
- Detroit Pistons – 8 Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan (in Midtown Detroit).
- Indiana Pacers – 9 Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana.
- Milwaukee Bucks – 10 Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Atlanta Hawks – 11 State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Georgia (in Downtown Atlanta).
- Charlotte Hornets – 12 Spectrum Center, Charlotte, North Carolina (in Uptown Charlotte).
- Miami Heat – 13 American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida (in Downtown Miami).
- Orlando Magic – 14 Amway Center, Orlando, Florida.
- Washington Wizards – 15 Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C. (in the Penn Quarter).
- Denver Nuggets – 16 Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado.
- Minnesota Timberwolves – 17 Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (in Downtown Minneapolis).
- Oklahoma City Thunder – 18 Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (in Downtown Oklahoma City).
- Portland Trail Blazers – 19 Moda Center, Portland, Oregon.
- Utah Jazz – 20 Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Golden State Warriors – 21 Oracle Arena, Oakland, California. The Warriors have emerged as a "superteam" that has dominated the NBA, with such players as Steph Curry and Kevin Durant making the "Dubs" a team to contend with. The current 2018–19 season is their last in Oakland; the team will move across San Francisco Bay to the new Chase Center on San Francisco's Mission Bay waterfront.
- Los Angeles Clippers – 22 Staples Center, Los Angeles, California (in Downtown L.A.) The Clippers were historically known for being perennial underdogs, but have found some success starting around 2010.
- Los Angeles Lakers – Staples Center, Los Angeles, California (in Downtown L.A.) One of the most successful teams in the NBA's history, the Lakers are the team of Jerry West (whose silhouette appears on the NBA logo), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Kobe Bryant. With LeBron James joining the team in 2018, they are poised to begin emerging from the doldrums of the past 10 years.
- Phoenix Suns – 23 Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona.
- Sacramento Kings – 24 Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California.
- Dallas Mavericks – 25 American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas (in Downtown Dallas).
- Houston Rockets – 26 Toyota Center, Houston, Texas (in Downtown Houston).
- Memphis Grizzlies – 27 FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee.
- New Orleans Pelicans – 28 Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana (in the Central Business District).
- San Antonio Spurs – 29 AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas.
The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), operated by the NBA, is arguably the top women's league in the world, at least in level of competition. However, salaries greatly lag those on offer in major leagues in Europe and China (whose business models differ radically from those in the WNBA). Its season runs out of phase with the normal rhythm of basketball, being played over the Northern Hemisphere summer, when most other leagues (even those south of the equator) are on their offseason break. This scheduling was mainly to accommodate NBA team owners' desire for more arena dates during the offseason; when the WNBA was founded, all of the teams were owned by NBA franchises. Many of the teams have since been sold to outside owners, but the league has kept its summer schedule. This has the side effect of allowing many of the league's top players to play overseas during the traditional basketball season, usually making several times as much as they do in the WNBA.
Unlike the NBA, all of the league's 12 teams are in the US.
- Atlanta Dream – Returning to the Hawks' home of State Farm Arena for 2019 and beyond, following renovations to that venue.
- Chicago Sky – 30 Wintrust Arena on the Near South Side.
- Connecticut Sun – 31 Mohegan Sun Arena at the Mohegan Sun casino complex in Uncasville, Connecticut.
- Indiana Fever – Bankers Life Fieldhouse, also home to the Indiana Pacers.
- New York Liberty – 32 Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York. A few home games are played at the team's former home of Madison Square Garden.
- Washington Mystics – 33 St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena, which opened in September 2018 in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington, D.C.
- Dallas Wings – 34 College Park Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington.
- Las Vegas Aces – 35 Mandalay Bay Events Center at the Mandalay Bay casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
- Los Angeles Sparks – Share Staples Center with the Lakers and Clippers.
- Minnesota Lynx – Share Target Center with the Timberwolves.
- Phoenix Mercury – Share Talking Stick Resort Arena with the Suns.
- Seattle Storm – Normally play at KeyArena at Seattle Center, just to the northwest of downtown Seattle. With that venue being closed for major renovations, the Storm will play the 2019 season at Alaska Airlines Arena (aka 36 Hec Edmundson Pavilion) on the campus of the University of Washington in the city's U District.
NBA G League
The NBA's official minor league, known as the G League due to a sponsorship deal with the Gatorade sports drink, has operated since 2001. It started with eight teams, all in the Southeast US, but it has steadily expanded over the years and now has 27 teams, each affiliated with a single NBA franchise (with most owned directly by the NBA team). It's expected that all 30 teams will have their own affiliates in the near future.
While the quality of play is obviously not as high as in the NBA proper, games are still intensely competitive—arguably more so than in the NBA itself, given that every player in the league is trying to prove himself to NBA teams. Also, the U.S. men's national team is now made up almost exclusively of G League players except in the final Olympic and World Cup tournaments.
Each team's NBA affiliate is indicated in parentheses next to the team's name.
- Atlantic Division
- Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers) – 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington.
- Long Island Nets (Brooklyn Nets) – Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York (on Long Island in Nassau County). Notably, this team plays in a former home of its parent club.
- Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics) – Portland Exposition Building in Portland, Maine.
- Raptors 905 (Toronto Raptors) – Paramount Fine Foods Centre in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Like its parent club, 905 is its league's only Canadian team.
- Westchester Knicks (New York Knicks) – Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, which also hosts the WNBA's New York Liberty.
- Central Division
- Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers) – Canton Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio.
- Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers) – Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
- Grand Rapids Drive (Detroit Pistons) – DeltaPlex Arena in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker, Michigan.
- Windy City Bulls (Chicago Bulls) – Sears Centre in the northwest Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
- Wisconsin Herd (Milwaukee Bucks) – Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.
- Southeast Division
- Capital City Go-Go (Washington Wizards) – St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in the southeast Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Congress Heights. As mentioned earlier, this will also become the home of the WNBA's Washington Mystics in 2019. The Go-Go are the league's newest team, making their debut in 2018–19.
- Erie BayHawks (Atlanta Hawks) – Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania. The BayHawks name has a rather confusing history—the current team is actually the second to play under the name. The first BayHawks began play in 2008, but were moved to Florida by the Orlando Magic in 2017 and now play as the Lakeland Magic. The current BayHawks will relocate to the Atlanta suburb of College Park, Georgia, where a new arena is set to open, after the 2018–19 season. Enter a third BayHawks franchise, this one owned by the New Orleans Pelicans, that will begin play in 2019–20. This team will remain in Erie until 2022, when it will move to its permanent home of Birmingham, Alabama.
- Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte Hornets) – Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse, part of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina.
- Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic) – RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida.
- Midwest Division
- Iowa Wolves (Minnesota Timberwolves) – Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
- Memphis Hustle (Memphis Grizzlies) – Landers Center in the Memphis suburb of Southaven, Mississippi.
- Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder) – Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
- Sioux Falls Skyforce (Miami Heat) – Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
- Pacific Division
- Agua Caliente Clippers (Los Angeles Clippers) – Citizens Business Bank Arena in the Inland Empire city of Ontario, California.
- Northern Arizona Suns (Phoenix Suns) – Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley.
- Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors) – Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.
- South Bay Lakers (Los Angeles Lakers) – UCLA Health Training Center in the South Bay city of El Segundo, California.
- Stockton Kings (Sacramento Kings) – Stockton Arena in Stockton, California.
- Southeast Division
- Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs) – H-E-B Center in the northwest Austin suburb of Cedar Park, Texas.
- Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) – Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, Texas.
- Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz) – Lifetime Activities Center–Bruin Arena in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, Utah.
- Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks) – Dr Pepper Arena in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco.
College basketball (NCAA)
Most universities across the United States also sponsor basketball teams. Despite recent changes diminishing the role of colleges in developing talent, the collegiate game remains a major source of players for the NBA and WNBA. While there are several governing bodies for collegiate basketball, the most important of these is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, known by its initialism of NCAA. Teams are further divided into conferences, which usually group universities in the same geographic region, and within the NCAA, divisions (the most prominent university programs compete in Division I) .
The collegiate season begins in early November, and ends in early March. After conference championships take up a week in mid-March, playoff tournaments determine national champions. In particular, the NCAA's Division I men's basketball championship, often called March Madness, generates intense fan and media interest. The single-elimination tournament lends itself to tension as stronger teams fight to avoid being upset by lesser known programs. The championship game occurs in early April.
Around 350 teams play within NCAA's Division I, with teams across all 48 contiguous United States and even a team in Hawaii. Hundreds more play in lower levels of the collegiate game.
3x3 or three on three is a variant of basketball on a half-court with only one hoop and three players in each team. Under the rules of FIBA, which governs all play between national teams and whose rules are followed by almost all leagues outside the US, it's played in a single period of 10 minutes with a 12-second shot clock, and the team with the highest score when the time is up wins. Also, if one team reaches 21 points, the game is over and that team wins the game. Successful shots from within the arc are worth one point, from outside two points. Overtime in FIBA 3x3 is very different from that in the full-court game—it's an untimed period, although the shot clock still runs. Overtime ends once either team has scored two points. (This trumps the "21 points to a win" rule; if the game is tied at 20 at the end of regulation, it still takes two points to win.)
Developed in the 1980s in the United States, 3x3 has become an official form of basketball regulated by FIBA and it is scheduled to become a stand-alone Olympic sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Streetball is basketball played outdoors, and usually with less strict rules than regular basketball.
Museums and other attractions
- 37 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield (Massachusetts). A shrine to basketball in its birthplace.
- Naismith Museum, Almonte (Ontario), Canada. Dr James Naismith who invented basketball grew up in the Almonte area. See also the Naismith Basketball Foundation.
Outside North America
Outside North America, basketball is a big sport in Mediterranean Europe and the former Eastern Bloc. European men's club teams play each other in the EuroLeague (analogous to football's UEFA Champions League), EuroCup (analogous to the UEFA Europa League), and Basketball Champions League (effectively a third-tier competition). European women's clubs have their own EuroLeague and EuroCup (which, unlike the men's versions which are run by the top clubs, are operated by FIBA's European zone).
European men's national teams play each other in EuroBasket, a tournament now held every four years. FIBA's other continental zones have their own tournaments for men's national teams—Afrobasket for Africa, the FIBA AmeriCup for the Americas, and the FIBA Asia Cup for both the Asian and Oceanian zones. Each of these has an analogous women's tournament (which, unlike the men's versions, are still held every two years). Men's and women's national basketball teams from around the world play each other in the FIBA World Cup and in the Summer Olympics. The men's World Cup is held the year before the Summer Olympics, and the women's version is in the same years as the Winter Olympics and FIFA World Cup.