Ah, basketball. One of the Big Four sports in the United States (American Football, Baseball and Ice Hockey are the others), basketball has a rich and interesting history. Basketball was first created by James Naismith, a Canadian physical fitness professor in a Massachusetts school - he wanted to find a way to allow his students to exercise indoors during the cold New England winters. After coming up with a game that would involve throwing a ball into a raised goal, he looked for some boxes for goals, but could only find peach baskets to nail up. Thus, basketball, at least in its earliest form, was born. Modern basketball got its start in 1954, when Danny Biasone invented the 24 second shot clock; a team with the ball must make a shot that at least touches the rim within twenty-four seconds. Before the shot clock, many teams would stall as long as they could, resulting in non-eventful and extremely tedious games, to the point where some quarters would be 0-0, with one really low point involving a game with a scoring total of 19-18. After the National Basketball Association implemented the shot clock and overhauled the foul system—creating the fast paced game we know today—attendance at NBA games rose by 40%. Basketball is played with five people on each team: the Point Guard, the Shooting Guard, the Center, the Small Forward, and the Power Forward. There's a lot more to this than can be gone into depth - The Other Wiki has a long, detailed article on basketball's history. Competitively, basketball is played worldwide. However, it is in North America that it is most popular, where it competes neck-and-neck with Baseball for second place after football.
Professional Basketball in America: The NBANaturally, the US is where all the top basketball talent in the world goes: it's where the spectators and the money are. As such, the NBA is without dispute the best basketball league in the world. The section on the NBA got so long and unwieldy that we gave it its own page.
Other Popular Basketball Leagues
Basketball Around the World
The NBA is so famous around the world that fans tend to forget that there are basketball leagues in other countries. Here is a list of other countries with a strong basketball presence.
Like American football, basketball took shape in colleges and universities. Other similarities: the college game was once the biggest draw until the pro game took over, and the college game still has a unique appeal. From the huge arena to the small gymnasium, fans cheer for their teams, the school bands play music, and mascots do their thing. Experience may vary. Games are divided into two 20-minute halves, the shot clock is 35 secondsnote (hence the relative low scoring), each team has five timeouts in a game, and the three-point line is different from the ones found in the NBA and in international games. The style of play and the overall feeling of watching a game are refreshingly different. Most American players in the NBA, along with some foreigners, played in college before going pro. In the late '90s and early '00s, however, there was a trend for many players to declare for the draft right after high school. To prevent this, the NBA made a rule in 2005 that players must be one year out of high school before entering the draft. It's debatable whether this is for better or for worse. More than 300 schools' teams make up Division I of the NCAA, and most of them play in one of 32 conferences. After each team has played somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 games, each conference (with one exception - the Ivy League grants its automatic bid to the team with the best recordnote ) has its own tournament, and the champions of each conference tournament are assured a place in the NCAA tournament.note Prominent programs in the NCAA historically include, but are not limited to, these teams. These are the five who have won at least four NCAA tournaments; the Connecticut Huskies, Kansas Jayhawks, and Louisville Cardinals are the only other teams to win at least three. Duke Blue Devils - UNC's hated rivals, they have been coached since 1981 by Mike Krzyzewski ("shi-shef-skee"note ), often referred to as Coach K.note With just four Final Four appearances before Coach K came to Durham, they made it 11 times in the last 29 years, including four national championships. Duke players (Christian Laettner of the Dream Team, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick) aren't superstars in the NBA, though, with the notable exception of Mr Nice Guy Grant Hill. Indiana Hoosiers - Five-time national champions, they are famous for having been coached from 1972 to 2000 by Bob Knight, who coached them to three of those titles. Knight is as well-known for getting his charges through school as well as his Hair-Trigger Temper. Indiana's trophy winners at the college level included Scott May and Calbert Cheaney. Kentucky Wildcats - Coached by the great Adolph Rupp from 1931 to 1972. Won eight NCAA tournaments, including four under Rupp. The Wildcats are the only program to have won national titles under five different coachesRupp, his successor Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and current coach John Calipari. They were the program that lost the 1966 final to the considerably less prestigious Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso, or UTEP), and that's the story in the movie Glory Road. They are the all-time winningest team in college basketball, and have won more Southeastern Conference titles than any of the other teams... combined. North Carolina Tar Heels - First and foremost, famous for being Michael Jordan's alma mater. The Tar Heels are five-time NCAA tournament winners, and Dean Smith, their coach from 1962 to 1997, coached them to two of those. They also have the longest streak ever of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances at 27, making every tournament from 1975 to 2001. UCLA Bruins - In their prime, Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or Bill Walton was playing. The late, great John Wooden coached this team from 1949 to 1975. The Bruins hold the record for longest winning streak: 88 games from 1971 to 1974, with Walton among them. They had a couple of long winning streaks in the future Kareem's time there, too. But more importantly, they have eleven NCAA championships, ten of which were won in Wooden's last twelve seasons as coach. Honorable mention goes to the University of Kansas Jayhawks, Michigan State University Spartans, Gonzaga University Bulldogs, and University of Wisconsin Badgers, which, with the aforementioned Blue Devils, are in the midst of the five longest current March Madness (for which see below) appearance streaks (at 24 years for the Jayhawks, 18 for the Blue Devils, 16 for the Spartans, and 15 for both the Bulldogs and Badgers). A special honorable mention goes to the 1965-66 Texas Western College team, for being the only college team to ever get into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (mainly due to the fact they were the first all-black starting team to ever win the NCAA Tournament). The biggest part of college basketball is the special feeling that sweeps the nation for the NCAA tournament, a feeling known as March Madness. It's almost as much an occasion to party as the Super Bowl. As is the case with other sports postseasons, this is when teams get by far the most attention they will get all year. After 68 teams are chosen to play and the announcement of the field is made one Sunday in mid-March on CBS, it's time for people from across America from all walks of life—up to and including our current presidentnote —to pick the teams they think will win each game by "filling out the bracket." This is done for fun, but some play betting games and hold office pools, which the NCAA looks down on. The study of the bracket is often referred to as "bracketology." Until 1975, only the conference champions proceeded to the NCAA tournament, until #2 NC State beat #4 Maryland in the 1974 ACC tournament, where only one could advance. It was realized that many very good teams were being left out, and at-large invitations began being added (this also lead to the decline of the NIT). Since then, the base of the tournament structure has involved up to 68 teams divided into four groups and seeded within each group (Originally 32 teams, in 1979 it was expanded to 48 teams, expanded to 64 in 1984, 65 in 2001, and the current 68 in 2011. Number 1 plays number 16, 2 plays 15, and so on. The tournament added a play-in game, in which two small schools play for a 16th seed, in 2001. Since 2011, there has been a new series of four games, the First Four, determining which four teams play in a #11 or #12 seed. Confused yet here? (The VCU Rams made history in the very first year of the First Four's existence, going all the way from the First Four to the Final Four.) The first two rounds (or second and third rounds, as they've been called since 2011) are hosted by eight different cities, including some with NBA teams, in traditional arenas. Four more cities host the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight, and one more hosts the Final Four, wich consists of the semifinals and the championship game. Nearly universally, games from the Sweet Sixteen down are hosted in cities with indoor football stadiums converted to host a basketball game with 70,000+ seats. From 1946 to 1981, there was also a third-place game. There is another tournament, the National Invitation Tournament, whose semifinals and championship game are always played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The NIT is one year older than the NCAA tournament and was once its equal, but now it's a tournament for teams that don't make the Big Dance. Then there's the women's game. Naturally, it's less prestigious than the men's game, and before the WNBA, it was the premier showcase of female hoopsters outside the Olympics. The women's game really started to emerge in the '70s, and in 1982, the NCAA— hey, where are you going? Get back here! This could be useful someday! Basic differences between the men's game and the women's game, besides the sex of the players, include a smaller ball and (at some levels) a closer three-point arc. On the college level, teams will occasionally have Lady appended to the team name, sometimes to the point of absurdity (ahem, University of South Carolina "Lady Gamecocks") or a feminine form of the team name (Cowgirls instead of Cowboys). However, the clear trend in this area is for men's and women's teams to use the same nickname. In fact, South Carolina has now dropped "Lady" from its women's team names.
Women's college basketballWomen's college basketball is played with a 30-second shot clock, compared to the 35-second clock the men have. It's only been sanctioned by the NCAA since the early '80s; before that, it was sanctioned by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, or the AIAW. Conference affiliations match those of men's college basketball described above. Notable teams have included: Immaculata College (now "University"): The Mighty Macs were the first of the great college teams, who reigned in the '70s. Notable for producing three players who in turn became Women's Basketball Hall of Famenote coaches: Theresa Grentz, Rene Portland, and Marianne Stanley. They stepped down in class when the NCAA took over women's sports, and are now a historical footnote. Old Dominion: The Lady Monarchs were a dynasty of the early '80s, coached by the aforementioned Marianne Stanley. Its stars included Anne Donovan and Nancy Lieberman. When power schools were forced to pay more attention to women's sports, their star faded, though they are still a force in their conference. University of Southern California: USC, or the Women of Troy. At their peak in the mid-80s, their stars included the McGee twins, Pamela and Paula (if you're an NBA geek, you might recognize Pamela's son JaVale), Cheryl Miller (you might recognize her little brother Reggie), and Cynthia Cooper. They had a renaissance in the mid-90s, then faded out. Cooper is now their head coach. Tennessee: The Lady Vols have been a consistent powerhouse in women's basketball for thirty years and counting. Legendary head coach Pat Summitt racked up over a thousand wins, including eight titles, since taking over as a grad student in 1972 and is the only coach in the Division I college game, men's or women's, to have over 1,000 wins. Known for her Death Glare. The 'Lady' is a bit of a requirement, or Summitt will glare at you. After Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2011, she coached one final season before retiring in 2012 and being succeeded by longtime assistant Holly Warlick. Connecticut: The UConn Huskies hit the national scene like a freight train in 1995 with an undefeated season- the first of four, including a 90-game winning streak that encompassed parts of three seasons. They've won eight titles, matching rival Tennessee for most in women's college basketball. Coach Geno Auriemma is basically Philadelphia distilled into a short first-generation Italian-American. Calling them Lady Huskies is pure Flame Bait. They have a web page dedicated to their history of churning out WNBA stars. Stanford: The Cardinal (yes, Cardinal, the color, not the bird) has been the lone representative of high-quality women's basketball on the West Coast for a loooong time. Two-time national champions and several more times bridesmaid, they're coached by Tara VanDerveer. Their current Crowning Moment of Awesome is ending Connecticut's record winning streak. You might not want to mention Harvard around them. note Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are best known for stifling defense, unwatchable offense, coach C. Vivian Stringer's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and that incident with Don Imus that left Imus fired and the governor of New Jersey in a car accident. UConn and Tennessee are fiercely opposed to each other. The rivalry became an annual series, until Summitt ended it in 2007, accusing Connecticut of improper recruiting. Attempts have been made to reconcile the two sides, or at least have them meet in the NCAA tournament. So far, no dice. Nor is either particularly fond of Rutgers. The women's NCAA tournament has 64 teams, much as the men did before the play-in game was added in 2001. If you want to stump your friends, ask them the only time a #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. When they look at you and say "Never", tell them you didn't specify gender and Harvard beat Stanford in 1998. (If you're unfortunate enough to have a Stanford fan in the group who will haughtily inform you that Harvard had the nation's leading scorer and Stanford had lost their two top players to knee injuries in the two weeks before the tournament... run.)
The WNBA: Professional Women's Basketball
The WNBA started up in 1997. There were leagues before, but none of them lasted long (the longest was the WBL, which had three seasons in the late '70s/early '80s). Differences to note: the ball is smaller (by 1 inch/2.54 cm in circumference) and also striped oatmeal and orange, the three-point arc is closer, quarters are ten minutes each. Many teams have names similar to their NBA counterparts, as the league started with all teams owned by NBA franchises. There have been exceptions, and teams not owned by NBA owners have more independent names, even if they're in NBA cities. Eastern Conference Atlanta Dream: Founded in 2008, named for the "I Have a Dream" speech. As of 2013, three time Eastern Conference Champions. But they've yet to cross the finish line of winning a WNBA championship, getting swept three consecutively times, twice by the Minnesota Lynx in 2011 and 2013. Chicago Sky: Founded in 2006, notable for being the first franchise to be founded without NBA ties. Named for the Chicago skyline. They made an especially strong run in 2011, but never made a playoff appearance until picking up college superstar Elena Delle Donne in 2013. However, that playoff run never got off the grounddespite being the East's top seed, they were swept in the first round by the Indiana Fever. Connecticut Sun: Founded in 1999 as the Orlando Miracle (tied to the Orlando Magic), moved to Connecticut in 2003 to become the Sun (named for the Mohegan Sun casino where they play). Called USunn due to the plethora of Connecticut alumnae on the roster (five out of eleven players in 2013). The Sun was the first profitable team in league history. Indiana Fever: Founded in 2000, named for Indiana's basketball obsession. Saved from potential folding with a run to the 2009 Finals, and then won the 2012 Finals. Was projected to make its first profit in 2013, after gaining a male fan base. New York Liberty: The last inaugural franchise left in the East, founded in 1997 and named for the big green statue in the harbor. This is the team that has gone the longest without a WNBA title. Currently exiled to Newark while Madison Square Garden is renovated. All the stuff above about the Knicks' ownership? Yeah, it applies here too. Dubbed the Libs, and in recent years the Libbies, as well as the Libkids for their young roster. The team's popularity swelled upon the accquisition of Cappie Pondexter, though it waned again after the news of said exile, and, to a lesser extent, the suspension of Janel McCarville. Washington Mystics: Founded in 1998, named for the Washington Wizards. The Fan Nickname Mystakes has come up for their incredible knack for screwing things up. Despite this, they have a pretty strong attendance record (several "Attendance Championship" banners were once raised on their arena's rafters). Home of a very Broken Base. Western Conference Los Angeles Sparks: Designated Antagonist for many fans. One of the inaugural franchises, founded in 1997. The only one with a Non-Indicative Name of any kind, as their name comes from a secretary watching a welder (and the lack of a feminine equivalent to Lakers). Sometimes called Sporks or Sharks by opposing fans. Two-time champions. This team was captained by basketball legend Lisa Leslie, who made WNBA history in 2011 by becoming the first alumna to become part owner of a team. Minnesota Lynx: Founded in 1999, named as a counterpart to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Survived several rough seasons to stockpile approximately a metric crapton of young talent that is as of 2011 paying dividends. Once they picked up collegiate superstar Maya Moore and hometown hero Lindsay Whalen, momentum immediately began to shift in their direction. Finally won a title in 2011. They made it back to the Finals in 2013 and won their second title by beating the same team they faced in 2011, the Atlanta Dream. Phoenix Mercury: Founded in 1997, named as a counterpart to the Phoenix Suns... and they play like them too. Sometimes called the Merc, while multiple players at once are Mercs. Two-time champions. San Antonio Silver Stars Founded in 1997 as the Utah Starzz (named for their Spear Counterpart, the Utah Jazz, and the Jazz's precursor, the ABA's Utah Stars), moved to San Antonio in 2003 and brought into the fold of the San Antonio Spurs. Started off lousy, but they got better in San Antonio, turning a profit in 2011. Seattle Storm: Founded in 2000, named for Seattle's weather. Two time WNBA champions. Lots of star power, and now Seattle's main basketball team because of the loss of the Sonics, attracting plenty of fans in the process. Tulsa Shock: Founded in 1998 as the Detroit Shock (so it's the car part, to better reflect the Detroit Pistons), moved to Tulsa in 2010. Tulsa has been the league's Butt Monkey ever since. In 2011, they set a new league record for futility with a 3-31 skid. The case of the Shock is unique in that Tulsa claims the history of the Detroit Shock, including Detroit's three championship banners... but with Tulsa's Butt Monkey status, most fans are uncomfortable with giving them Detroit's Magnificent Bastard status. In 2013, things finally looked hopeful when they gained the charismatic Notre Dame superstar, Skylar Diggins. But her weak rookie debut might have damaged those hopes. Former teams Charlotte Sting: Founded in 1997, folded in 2007. Originally tied to the Charlotte Hornets, later tied to the Charlotte Bobcats; the shift in ownership after the Hornets moved to New Orleans signaled the beginning of the end for this once proud franchise. Cleveland Rockers: Founded in 1997, folded in 2004. Named for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Left a LOT of bitterness behind, due to the perception of former owner (and Cavaliers owner at the time) Gordon Gund blocking alternate ownership, which resulted in a Harsher in Hindsight moment when Gund recorded a macular degeneration PSA with the tagline "How would you feel if you couldn't see your favorite team?" ("Like a Rockers fan, asshole.") Houston Comets: The league's first dynasty, winning its first four championships. Their name kept up the space Theme Naming for many of Houston's sports teams. If you're referring to the Big Three in a women's basketball context, you're referring to Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Tina Thompson, or you have just made a lot of people very angry. Founded in 1997, folded in 2008. Miami Sol: Founded in 2000, folded in 2003. WMG suggests that this was the team meant to move to Connecticut, as the Sun's original color scheme closely matched the Sol's, and well. Portland Fire: Founded in 2000, folded in 2003. Their name is a play off Blazers. One of only two franchises never to make the playoffs in their history (if you count Tulsa as holding Detroit's history). Sacramento Monarchs: Founded in 1997, folded in 2009. Were the WNBA champions in 2005. Though their name was related to the Sacramento Kings, they also played with the Monarch butterfly theme.
WNBA Finals champions by yearNote: The first year of the WNBA had only one championship game, where winner takes all. After that, the WNBA had a best of three series until 2005, where the championship is won in a best of five series. Also, keep in mind that the WNBA begins their season in the middle of the year.
Notable PlayersNote: these are mostly players who have, or have had, pop culture currency; if you want to make a women's basketball reference, you'll probably use one of these players.
The international gameThe USA was late to the party when it came to founding a stable league, and still competes with European leagues for the full attention of elite players. Most players spend their winters in Europe to supplement their incomes and stay sharp. Between 1981 and 1996, Europe, Asia, and South America offered the only options for a woman who wanted to keep playing. The pecking order of leagues is fluid; currently the most prestigious and lucrative include Russia and Turkey. You can also find W players, alumnae, and hopefuls in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Israel, and other countries. In international play, the US is the heavyweight, rarely contested. The game has a presence in several other countries, though: Australia: The Opals have been one of the most consistent sides in the world in the last fifteen years, but haven't been able to finish the job. Known for Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, and bodysuits. Brazil: The gender dynamic of basketball and soccer is, for the most part, reversed between Brazil and the US, which has resulted in Brazil being a world power in women's basketball for a looooong time. Like other Brazilian athletes, they are best known by their first names or nicknames ("apelidos"). Their legends include Magic Paula (yes, it comes from Earvin Johnson), Hortência, and Janeth; current stars include Érika and Damiris. The USSR/Russia: The Unified Team brought back Olympic gold in 1992, spurring the development of the US national team. Russia is still a power on the world stage, though they haven't developed their young talent in recent years. France: Not historically a powerhouse, but came out of nowhere to win their group and take silver at the 2012 Olympics. We have yet to see if this is just a fluke or if it will continue.
The Harlem GlobetrottersAn anomaly in American basketball: A highly popular team which is not affiliated with a league. The Globetrotters are an exhibition team, which mixes athletic talent with comedic routines. The team is not actually from Harlem either in foundation (Chicago) or current home-base (Phoenix), but the name was instead selected to denote that the team consisted entirely of African American players, as Harlem was seen as a center for African American culture when the team was founded in the 1920's. The team has played thousands of games since, including exhibition games against NBA teams, and several of the team's players (such as Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal) were as famous as their NBA counterparts during their heydey. More info on the team can be found on The Other Wiki.
The Washington GeneralsThe Globetrotters' rivals, the Washington Generals (actually owned by the Globetrotters themselves). While the Generals have become famous for being losers, they did indeed win once in 1971 under the name the New Jersey Reds (one of several names the Generals alternated in 1971 and 1972 in an attempt to make it look like there were more teams in the "league" the 'Trotters "played" in).