Spotlight on Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball had its origins in the 1940s. First, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German-born British neurologist (and then founder of the Paralympic Games), decided to start a rehabilitation program for patients. His idea was to adapt existing sports to use wheelchairs so that the patients could play. So in 1944, at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital (Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England), he introduced “wheelchair netball”. A couple of years later, in 1946, wheelchair basketball was already very popular in America and was mainly played by World War II disabled veterans. It was in 1949 that Dr. Timothy Nugent founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, putting the sport on the map even more. A year later, the first Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games were held in England, and even though they had no more than 26 athletes, they managed to introduce archery, javelin, club throw and shot put as disciplines. However, it wasn't until 1948 that wheelchair netball was introduced in the Games, and in 1952 that it became an international event when a team from the Netherlands showed up to compete against the British team. These would be the first International Stoke-Mandeville Games (ISMG), an event that since then, has been held once a year. In the 1956 Games, wheelchair basketball was introduced, and it was played as we know it nowadays.  

Full independence and support for the sport was achieved in 1993, when the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) evolved and became the governing body, providing opportunities, organization, regulations, standards, and rules, and to this day, has contributed to the growth of wheelchair basketball around the world for both men and women's teams. Today, there are more than one hundred National Organizations for Wheelchair Basketball (NOWB) worldwide, and they are divided into four zones: Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia Oceania. Wheelchair Basketball players have different disabilities; some of them have paralysis, others have suffered amputations, or have spina bifida, birth defects, amongst others, so in order to have a more equal sport, there is a classification system, an international regulation, with which the different levels of disabilities are measured. Functional abilities are evaluated in a 1 to 4.5 scale (1 being the highest level of disability and 4.5 being the minimal level). There is a restriction in competitions, where the five players on the court from each team may not exceed 14 points. Even though non-disabled athletes may compete using wheelchairs, they are not allowed to go to international competitions.  

Every team is comprised of five players and seven substitutes. The court is the same length as a regular basketball court, the hoop is also 10-foot tall, and most of the rules are the same as basketball, except for some modifications. For example, every team has 24 seconds to complete its attempt to score a basket. If the team exceeds this limit, the ball and play go to the opposing team. If a player takes more than two pushes while in possession of the ball without dribbling, it is a traveling violation. Also, a player is not allowed to touch the playing surface with their feet while in possession of the ball. As for the wheelchairs, these are considered part of the player's body, but some fouls may occur, such as the athletes using their legs in order to gain advantage or lifting out of their chair. Wheelchairs have incredible designs focused on stability, and the seats are lower or higher, depending on the role of the player. Higher seats mean less mobility but more reach (centers and forwards use higher seats), whereas guards use lower seats in order to have more stability, speed, and movement to travel up and down the court more freely. 

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