Check it out, I got the ball in my hand, I put one finger up, that mean man on man
I do a slick spin back, they're like "Man, oh man! One more assist or is he gonna jam?"
Jump over your head, I slam where you stand, now you hear the crowd, loud in the stands
We got a lotta fans, the whole clique got game, bring your raincoat 'cause my jump shot reigns
Shove it for nothing, trying to box out lanes, my shot automatic, I make the nets go "SCHWANG"!
Don't understand it? You must be lame
'Cause basketball is my favorite thang
—Tchaka Diallo, Shoot yo Shotnote
Ah, basketball. One of the Big Four sports in the United States (American Football
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 NBA
Naturally, 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.
- Lithuania: A former Soviet Republic where basketball seems to be the only sport practiced. Some famous NBA players were born here, including LeBron's buddy Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, and the legendary Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"), who could have been the best player ever if he hadn't often been injured.note Other Lithuanian players play in major European teams.
- Spain: Won the 2006 World Championship and the last two European Championships -in which they have made it at least into the semifinals for the last 8 tournaments- and lost against the U.S.A. in the last two Olympic Games Finals. Country of Pau Gasol, ex-forward of the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers and current power forward with the Chicago Bulls; his brother Marc Gasol, ex-forward of the Lakers and current forward-center of the Grizzlies; Ricky Rubio, who may very well be the star of the future for the Minnesota Timberwolves; and Serge Ibaka (born in the Republic of the Congo but naturalized in Spain), shot-blocking wizard for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
- Greece: Another major country. Two major teams (Panathinaikos and Olympiacos) fight every year for the conquest of the local title. Greek supporters really are hot. Treated former Atlanta Hawks and current Phoenix Suns player Josh Childress as a god when he went to Greece to play for Olympiacos.
- Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia: Formerly known altogether as Yugoslavia, they are, along with Team USA, the most successful team in Basketball World Cups, each with 5 golds. Always have a tough national team, and they are able to beat almost anybody, even after the collapse of the original country. Home to players like Darko Miličić Peja Stojaković, and Goran Dragić, known for their tenacity and accuracy beyond the three point line.
- While they were still Yugoslavia, their team was dominated by close friends Vlade Divac (a Serb) and Dražen Petrović (a Croat) who were later both signed to the NBA, but after the split of Yugoslava and Divac throwing a Croatian flagnote , the two stopped talking and Divac was never able to patch up his relationship with Petrović before Petrović died in a car accident in Germany.
- Italy & France: Countries with ups and downs. Italy was the silver medal winner in the 2004 Olympics, losing to Argentina in the Gold Medal game. France is currently the second nationality represented in NBA (after the U.S.A. itself). Tony Parker is also famous for his
wife ex-wife, and Joakim Noah (born in New York City and mostly raised in the US) is also famous for his dad, former tennis star and current French pop star Yannick Noah.
- Russia/Soviet Union: As often in sport. The most famous Russian player, Andrei Kirilenko, best known for his long tenure with the Utah Jazz and now suspended by the Philadelphia 76ers for failure to reportnote , is known to love puns: he chooses number 47 because of his initials.
- Angola: Angola is the dominant country in African basketball, as is...
- Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico being dominant in Central American basketball. Their greatest feat was in the 2004 Olympics where they soundly beat seemingly unbeatable Team USA in the group stage.
- Argentina: Dominates the sport in South America—or at least did until the core players from their heyday in the early 21st century got old. Was the first world champion, and grabbed the Olympic gold in Athens 2004. Were FIBA's #1 after the Beijing Olympics, but now are #3. Better known for Manu Ginóbili from the San Antonio Spurs, the leader of the 2004 gold-medal team who also made it into the World Championship All-Tournament team twice, in 2002 and 2006.
- Before Argentina, there was Brazil: A potency in the 1950s and 1960s, with two World Championships and two Olympic bronzes (plus a third in 1948). In the 80s and 90s, it was the team of Oscar Schmidt, who holds the world record for points scored with 49,702note . But the team has struggled since Schmidt's retirement in 1996, specially because volleyball started to take basketball's popularity in Brazil. However, the country brought out some good NBA players in Nenê, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejão and Tiago Splitter, and they qualified for the 2012 Olympics after three non-appearances - in which Brazil nearly trumped rival Argentina in the quarterfinals.
- Germany: "Discovered" basketball with Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (though there was Detlef Schrempf before him, Nowitzki managed to overshadow his notability); now are a regular team.
- Turkey: They may have only four notable teams found in this country (Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahçe Ülker usually being the big two, with Beşiktaş gaining some recent notice due to them grabbing big-name NBA players like Allen Iverson and Deron Williams, and Galatasaray also picking up a recent title), but they also have some good players that came from there like Hedo Türkoğlu, Mehmet Okur, Ersan İlyasova, Ömer Aşık, Semih Erden, and recent Turk Enes Kanter. Basically, they gained interest in basketball starting in 2001 when they got a silver medal in the European Tournament and will more likely than not gain more interest with another silver medal while being the hosts for the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
- Israel: Or, should we say, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Historically the best team on the Israeli league by far (with 49 state championships!), Maccabi has 6 European championships, a highly devoted fanbase, and a reputation as "the country's team" (of course, it helps them that the Israeli national team kinda sucks). Naturally, the other teams don't like Maccabi. The first Israeli player to play the NBA is Omri Casspi, who played for Sacramento before a last-minute (er, last-pre-lockout-day) trade forced him to move to Cleveland.
- China: China has a few professional leagues, but the most popular is the Chinese Basketball Associationnote . They had a few players from China's CBA playing in the NBA, such as the first Chinese NBA player Wang Zhizhi (of Bayi), first Chinese NBA starter and NBA Finals champion Mengke Bateernote , and Yi Jianlian (from Guangdong), but the best one to come out of there was Yao Ming, a former player and current owner of the CBA's Shanghai Sharks. The NBA gained many Chinese fans from Yao Ming playing in Houston, but when Yao announced his retirement in 2011, some of those same fans no longer bothered with that league. The best two teams from their CBA are the Bayi (Army Shanglu) Rockets and the Guangdong (Winnerway Hongyuan) Southern Tigers, the latter of which always makes it to the playoffs. Aside from the two years when Yao Ming's Shanghai Sharks or Stephon Marbury's Beijing Ducks won it all, it's always either Bayi or the Southern Tigers that end up winning it all in that league. You could say that those two teams are like the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers of China. The CBA gained notice internationally when former NBA All-Stars — and polarizing players — Stephon Marbury, Steven Francis, Tracy Mc Grady, and Gilbert Arenas all went to the CBA after they were unable to find NBA teams who would hire them, joined by some NBA players who went to the CBA during the lockout. Since China knew about their situation, they installed a new rule where any (non-Chinese) NBA player who enters the CBA will stay there for the rest of their season — sometime in February or March, depending on where teams place. China's considered the best basketball country in Asia, but when the Chinese end up coming together for some FIBA World or Olympic challenges... let's just say they don't stack up all that well when compared to other countries.
- A key note is that in China's state-directed sports system, athletes are chosen from a very young age and sent to sports academies—for instance, Yao Ming was selected at age nine. With very few exceptions, only the graduates of the sports academies are allowed to go into professional sports in the PRC. One of the main problems with this vis-a-vis basketball is that the Chinese academies seem to think that "tall=good at basketball", meaning that many talented players never get a chance to play simply because they aren't flat-out giants. Jeremy Lin, at 6'3", would never have been considered if he had been born in, say, Zhejiang (where his maternal grandmother was born) rather than Los Angeles.note On the flipside, some people get picked for the academies who just aren't cut out to play pro basketball; even some who would be qualified can't handle the pressure of the academy system and burn out before they hit the big time. Between these two factors, Chinese basketball suffers greatly.
- Australia: Basketball gained considerable popularity in the early 90s, with Michael Jordan being named as young Australians' favourite sportsman (to the alarm of some people who didn't like the fact that an American got top spot) and the local National Basketball League airing on prime-time TV. After Jordan's retirement, it declined in popularity, with several NBL teams merging or folding, including the Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets, which left the league without teams in two of the country's three largest cities (although the Kings eventually made a comeback). It remains popular at grass-roots level, though. Notable Australian basketballers include former stars Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze, and present star Andrew Bogut. Also, the Australia squad for the 2014 FIBA World Cup featured five players who were either already in the NBA or signed with a team for the following season—not including Bogut, who was out injured. Current rising star Kyrie Irving was born in Australia while his father was playing in the NBL, but his parents (both Americans) returned stateside when he was two years old, and he's playing international ball for Team USA.
- Philippines: the Philippines is a basketball-mad country, owing largely to it being a former colony of the United States. You can find a basketball court just about anywhere, and basketball at the college and high school levels have the same fervor one can find with the US NCAA. The Philippines prides itself with having Asia's first professional basketball league — the Philippine Basketball Association, which is the second oldest pro league after the NBA. The PBA is composed entirely of corporate teams: i.e., instead of the team name being based on their home city like NBA clubs, PBA clubs have team names such as Toyota (the auto maker) or San Miguel (beer and food). The country also has the semipro Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and the PBA's own in-house D-League, as well as now-defunct leagues that either preceded the PBA, or were competing against it.
- The Philippines is a major power within Southeast Asia — i.e., ASEAN, having won the gold medal in almost every Southeast Asian regional meet. They were also a major player in the much wider Asian basketball tournaments in the 1960s to early 1970s, though they were gradually overtaken by China and other nations. The Philippine national team was able to end the country's Asian medal drought with a silver medal finish at the 2013 FIBA Asian Championship. The following year, they won their first Basketball World Cup game in 40 years and the "Most Valuable Fans" Award for their unique brand of basketball and incredible devotion of Filipino fans to basketball and to their national team.
The main national championships are the FIBA Basketball World Cup (renamed from "World Championship" after the 2010 edition) for men, the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup (renamed from "World Championship for Women" after the 2014 edition), and the Summer Olympics for both sexes. The 2016 Summer Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro. The 2014 World Cup and World Championship for Women, respectively held in Spain and Turkey, were both won by Team USA. The next Women's World Cup will be in 2018, but the next men's World Cup will be in 2019 (FIBA is resetting the cycle so that its men's World Cup won't conflict with that other one
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.
About 350 schools' teams make up Division I of the NCAA, and all but one of themnote
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 six who have won at least four NCAA tournaments; the 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
In 2015, Coach K became the first men's head coach with 1,000 career NCAA Division I wins.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
- Although a regional power in New England for many decades, and also a founding member of the original Big East Conference in 1979, UConn didn't become a national name until the 1990s under coach Jim Calhoun. After falling short of the Final Four throughout that decade, they broke through in 1999, not only reaching the Final Four but also claiming the national title. They went on to win two more titles in 2004 and 2011 under Calhoun. After he retired just before the 2012–13 season, he was replaced by his top assistant (and former UConn player) Kevin Ollie. After being barred from the 2013 tournament for academic reasons, and being left behind in the conference realignment shuffle of the early 2010s, they picked up a fourth national title in 2014. Among their star players are Ray Allen and Richard "Rip" Hamilton (the latter a star on the first championship team). As strong as UConn is in men's basketball, it's even stronger in women's basketball. Led by coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskiesnote
have won nine
national titles, the most recent in 2014.note
- 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. IU hasn't done much in women's basketball, but the Hoosier women have one very
notable alum—Tara VanDerveer, longtime coach of women's powerhouse Stanford.
- 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 coaches—Rupp, 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. Recently, the Kentucky women's team has been making some strides as well.
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. The Carolina women have one national title to their credit (1994).
- 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 (men's) 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 Kansas Jayhawks
, Michigan State Spartans
, Gonzaga Bulldogsnote
, and 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 25 years for the Jayhawks, 19 for the Blue Devils, 17 for the Spartans, and 16 for both the Bulldogs and Badgers). Special honorable mention in this group goes to Gonzaga, even though it's the only team in the group that hasn't won a national titlenote
, for two reasons—first, it plays in the decidedly mid-major West Coast Conference,note
and second, it's done it without the benefit of any revenue from football (Gonzaga hasn't had a football team since 1941).note
Another special honorable mention goes to the 1965-66 Texas Western College team, for being the only college men's 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).note
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 led 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, which 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, a 32-team 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, with its winner being derisively called the "69th best team in the country". There are also two other tournaments, the College Basketball Invitational (16-team field) and collegeinsider.com Tournament (32-team field); collectively, all three of them are pretty much college basketball's equivalent to those useless bowl games whose only purpose are to give ESPN
and friends something to do in late-December. Nobody takes them seriously, and teams turn down those bids regularly.
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, the aforementioned South Carolina has dropped "Lady" from its women's team names.
Women's college basketball
Women'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.note
Notable teams have included:
(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. Also, the coach of the 1970s Mighty Macs, Cathy Rush, is a member of both the Women's Hall and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. They stepped down in class when the NCAA took over women's sports, and are now a historical footnote. The 1972–1974 team entered the Naismith Hall as a unit in August 2014.
: The Lady Monarchs were a dynasty of the early '80s, coached by the aforementioned Marianne Stanley. Its stars included Anne Donovan and Nancy Lieberman, both of whom are members of the Naismith and Women's Halls. 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 (if you follow basketball at all, you probably recognize her kid brother Reggie), and Cynthia Cooper. They had a renaissance in the mid-90s, then faded out. Cooper is now their head coach.
: The Lady Techsters were another superpower of the 80s, with four players who went on to the Women's Hall—Pam Kelly, Janice Lawrence Braxton, Kim Mulkey (now the head coach at Baylor), and Teresa Weatherspoon (see WNBA section below). They also had two Hall of Fame coaches in Sonja Hogg (Women's) and Leon Barmore (Naismith and Women's). LA Tech remained a national force into the 90s, and strongly competitive into the 21st century, but faded in the later years of Weatherspoon's tenure as head coach (2009–2014). After firing Weatherspoon, they hired 23-year-old Tyler Summitt. You've heard of his mom. Trust us, you have
: The Lady Vols have been a consistent powerhouse in women's basketball for thirty years and counting. Legendary head coach Pat Summittnote
racked up over a thousand wins, including eight titles, since taking over as a grad student in 1972 and is the first coach in the Division I college game, men's or women's, to have over 1,000 wins (since joined by Coach K). Known for her Death Glare
. The 'Lady' is a bit of a requirement, or Summitt will glare at you.note
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.
: The UConn Huskies hit the national scene like a freight train in 1995 with an undefeated season—the first of five, including a 90-game winning streak that encompassed parts of three seasons. Their ninth title in 2014 took them past rival Tennessee for the 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.
: 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
: 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.
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.
: 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.
: 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 ground
—despite being the East's top seed, they were swept in the first round by the Indiana Fever. The next season, they were riddled with injuries and illness, but got healthy in time to claim the final East playoff berth—and proceeded to send the top-seeded Dream packing. They made it to the final, only to get swept by the Mercury.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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
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.
: 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.
: 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. Three-time and current champions.
San Antonio 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 as the Silver Stars 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. Dropped "Silver" from their name shortly before the start of the 2014 season.
: 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.
: 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. Her weak rookie debut might have damaged those hopes, but those fears largely disappeared after a strong sophomore season.
: 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.
: 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, jerk.")
: 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.
: 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
: 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).
: 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 year
: 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.
- 1997: The Houston Comets won over the New York Liberty with the final score of 65-61.
- 1998: The Houston Comets won over the Phoenix Mercury 2-1.
- 1999: The Houston Comets won over the New York Liberty 2-1.
- 2000: The Houston Comets swept the New York Liberty 2-0.
- 2001: The Los Angeles Sparks swept the Charlotte Sting 2-0.
- 2002: The Los Angeles Sparks swept the New York Liberty 2-0.
- 2003: The Detroit Shock won over the Los Angeles Sparks 2-1.
- 2004: The Seattle Storm won over the Connecticut Sun 2-1.
- 2005: The Sacramento Monarchs won over the Connecticut Sun 3-1.
- 2006: The Detroit Shock won over the Sacramento Monarchs 3-2.
- 2007: The Phoenix Mercury won over the Detroit Shock 3-2.
- 2008: The Detroit Shock swept the San Antonio Silver Stars 3-0.
- 2009: The Phoenix Mercury won over the Indiana Fever 3-2.
- 2010: The Seattle Storm swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2011: The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2012: The Indiana Fever won over the Minnesota Lynx 3-1.
- 2013: The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2014: The Phoenix Mercury swept the Chicago Sky 3-0.
: 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.
- Cynthia Cooper: The league's first MVP. A sixth man at USC, she honed her skills in Italy before being assigned to the Houston Comets and proceeding to heck everyone's garbage up on her way to four straight titles before retiring in 2000. Her single-game scoring record (44) in the inaugural season stood for ten years. An all-around threat, though not a great pro coach. After coaching at a number of other colleges, she is now the head coach at her alma mater of USC.
- Becky Hammon: A point guard who played 16 seasons in the league before retiring at the end of the 2014 season. Although small by WNBA standards (5'6"/1.68 m) and not exceptionally fast, she made up for her relative lack of physical skills with an extraordinary basketball IQ. Represented Russia internationally; that country was one of her many overseas stops during her career. A six-time All-Star, Hammon was named one of the league's 15 greatest players at the league's 15th anniversary in 2011. Before the end of her final season as a player, she made headlines when the San Antonio Spurs hired her as an assistant. Hammon became the first woman to be a full-time coach in any of America's four major professional leagues.
- Chamique Holdsclaw: What Could Have Been in a smooth, athletic package with a knack for getting into small spaces. She came into the league in 1999 with high expectations after being part of three championship teams at Tennessee. Lingering knee and hamstring problems cut many of her seasons short, while battles with depression compounded by family tragedies left gaps in her career. You might not want to get into that last part with people.
- Lisa Leslie: One of the cornerstones of the Los Angeles Sparks and the league, she was assigned to LA at the league's beginning- appropriate for an Angeleno who went to USC. For a fair chunk of the league's existence, she was one of the best players, and the best center, out there. A two-time champion, three-time MVP (in 2002, sweeping All-Star MVP, regular season MVP, and Finals MVP), many-time All-WNBA and All-Star. A Base Breaker at her finest. There are those who call her Lisamort, and those who call her the Diva, and those... she has a lot of FanNicknames. Her number is retired and the Sparks' court is named after her; she's since bought into the team as a part owner.
- Sheryl Swoopes: One of the game's greats, originally assigned to the Houston Comets, later with the Seattle Storm and, after a two-year retirement, the Tulsa Shock for one final season in 2011. A brilliant defensive player and incredible slasher in her prime. Her marriage to her high school sweetheart and pregnancy with son Jordan was heavily marketed by the league. Revealed in 2005 that she was gay and in a relationship with her former assistant coach Alisa Scott. Now engaged to a man. If you're having trouble keeping up, you're not the only one. After retiring for good, she went into coaching, and is now the head women's coach at Loyola University Chicago.
- Tina Thompson: A forward, she was the league's first-ever draft pick,note chosen #1 overall in 1997 by Houston out of USC. She then signed with her hometown Sparks after the Comets folded, and then moved to the Storm after the 2011 season. Thompson was the last player from the WNBA's first season to be active in the league, finally retiring after the 2013 season. The league's all-time leading scorer. Rarely seen without her lucky lipstick.
- Teresa Weatherspoon: A fiery point guard, "Spoon" was assigned to the New York Liberty in 1997 and left there after the 2003 season. We do not discuss her 2004 season with the Sparks. Best known for her buzzer-beating halfcourt heave in Game 2 of the 1999 Finals to win the game for New York and extend the series; it was selected the greatest moment in league history during the 15th anniversary season of 2011. Coached at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for five seasons until being fired in 2014.
- Seimone Augustus: Forward for the Minnesota Lynx. Discovered in high school for her promising basketball talent. She was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for women, promoting her as the possible female Michael Jordan. Her success continued during her college years at Louisiana State University where she won many awards including College Player of the Year. She lead her college team to three Final Four appearances. She was drafted #1 overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2006, where she quickly made her presence known by winning Rookie of the Year. In 2011, when another promising rookie named Maya Moore joined the team, she lead the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA title and won the Finals MVP Award. In 2013, she once again helped lead the Lynx to their second title in franchise history.
- Sue Bird: Point guard for the Seattle Storm, drafted #1 overall in 2002 out of Connecticut. The quintessential Girl Next Door- if the girl next door could find you blind on the fast break or drain a dagger three in your face. Her especially clutch play in 2011 earned her the Fan Nickname "Die complaines".
- Elena Delle Donne: Swingmannote for the Chicago Sky, selected #2 in 2013 out of Delaware. With her arrival, the Sky took multiple levels in badass and became legitimate title contenders... until the Fever swept them out in the first round. The 6'5" (1.96 m) Delle Donne has been touted as having a set of all-around basketball skills unheard of in a player her size. In 2013, became the first rookie ever to be the top vote-getter for the league's All-Star Game, and was also the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. Got voted in again as an All-Star starter in 2014, but still hasn't actually played in an All-Star Game—she missed the 2013 game to a concussion and the 2014 game to the aftereffects of Lyme disease.
- Skylar Diggins: Was a superstar point guard at Notre Dame, where she graduated as the school's second-leading career scorer. Known for her charisma and good looks, Diggins was hyped as the next great WNBA point guard after she was drafted 3rd overall to the Tulsa Shock in 2013. She got off to a slow start in her debut rookie season, however, shooting way below her points average from college. Lived up to expectations in 2014, being named first-team All-WNBA and the league's most improved player, as well as being an All-Star starter.
- Brittney Griner: Center for the Phoenix Mercury, drafted #1 overall in 2013 out of Baylor. The 6'8" (2.03 m) Griner, known in college for her dominant shot-blocking and as one of the few women who can routinely dunk, entered the league with as much hype as any player in years. Also made headlines in 2013 when she came out as lesbian. Had the league's top-selling jersey in her rookie season as well.
- Lauren Jackson: Forward for the Seattle Storm, drafted #1 overall in 2001. A versatile forward from Australia; basketball's In the Blood for her. You may know her as that blonde chick who posed naked in 2004. Missed both the 2013 and 2014 WNBA seasons to injury.
- Angel McCoughtry: Forward for the Atlanta Dream, drafted #1 overall in 2009 out of Louisville. A slashing, high-scoring forward with a penchant for drawing fouls, and also a top-tier defender, she has helped lead the Dream to playoff berths in each season since her arrival, including three Finals appearances (all losses).
- Maya Moore: Forward for the Minnesota Lynx, drafted #1 overall in 2011 out of Connecticut. She helped lead the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA championship in 2011, and won Rookie of the Year. Finished a close second to Candace Parker for the regular season MVP Award in 2013, but won the Finals MVP Award by helping lead Minnesota to their second title in franchise history. And she still has her own shoe.
- Candace Parker: Forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, drafted #1 overall in 2008 out of Tennessee. Silky, smooth, and incredibly athletic- when not sidelined with injuries or pregnancy. Married to NBA journeyman Shelden Williams. She won the MVP Award in 2013.
- Cappie Pondexter: Guard for the New York Liberty, drafted #2 overall in 2006 out of Rutgers by Phoenix. An explosive, offensive-minded guard. She, Diana Taurasi, and the Mercury won two titles in three years... and then she demanded a trade, either because she wanted to be on the Liberty or because of her fashion business. A Base Breaker among New York's faithful, especially after making some unfortunate remarks after the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown in Japan.
- Shoni Schimmel: Backup point guard for the Atlanta Dream, drafted #8 overall in 2014 out of Louisville, where she was the school's second-leading career scorer behind Dream teammate McCoughtry. Although she has mainly been a bench player so far, she has relevance because of her backstory. Schimmel is a Native American who was born and raised on an Oregon reservation, leaving with her family for Portland in high school. By that time, she already had enough of a name that TLC did a documentary on her, appropriately titled Off the Rez. Schimmel went on to become the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, leading Louisville to an improbable run to the championship game that included an epic upset of Griner's Baylor team. Known for a flashy playing style inspired by her reservation background.note Voted an All-Star Game starter in 2014 despite starting only two games...note and ended up as the game's MVP. Midway through her rookie season, she took over the #1 spot in jersey sales from Griner. Watch this space...
- Diana Taurasi: Guard for the Phoenix Mercury, drafted #1 overall in 2004 out of Connecticut. Hot-headed, foul-mouthed, charismatic, and exceedingly talented. Has gotten in a little bit of trouble, caught DUI in 2009 and implicated in steroid use (turned out to be a false positive from a sketchy lab). Will sit out the 2015 WNBA season at the request of the Russian team she plays for during the traditional basketball season, which offered her a bonus well in excess of her WNBA salary to sit out.note note
- Lindsay Whalen: Point Guard for the Minnesota Lynx. Started out as the hometown hero of the University of Minnesota, where she graduated the all-time leading scorer. Known for her quiet yet machine-like consistency of play, she helped made women's college basketball popular in the state by bringing twice as many people to the arena during games. She won many college titles while playing. She was drafted #1 by the Connecticut Sun in 2004 and helped lead them to two Finals appearances. Was traded back to her home state of Minnesota in 2010 to play for the Lynx. In 2011, she helped lead the Lynx to their first title in WNBA history. And she did it again in 2013.
The international game
The 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:
: 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.
: 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 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.
: 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 Globetrotters
An 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 Generals
The 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).