Basketball was first adapted to be played in wheelchairs after the Second World War. Former American soldiers, injured during the war, met on a court at a rehabilitation hospital and started to play. In England a similar sport, wheelchair netball, was also being used in the rehabilitation of patients at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital – the birthplace of wheelchair fencing.
Wheelchair basketball was played at the first Paralympic Games, held in 1960 in Rome, and is one of the few sports to have been played at every edition of the Paralympic Games to date. Initially only men were allowed to play, until a women’s competition was introduced at the 1968 Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel.
All athletes compete in a wheelchair. Although they may not be wheelchair users in everyday life, they must have an impairment of the legs or feet (such as amputation or paraplegia) which would prevent them from competing in able-bodied basketball.
Athletes are classified on a scale of 1.0 to 4.5 according to the degree and type of physical limitation. The greater the athlete’s potential mobility, the higher their points score.
Teams can have up to 12 eligible players but only five are allowed on court at a time. To ensure fairness between teams, each team may have a maximum of 14 points on the field of play at any one moment.
The wheelchairs are adapted and standardised in line with the rules established by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF), and the court’s dimensions, the scoring and the height of the hoop are the same as those used in conventional basketball.
Games are divided into four quarters, each lasting ten minutes. The clock is stopped when the ball leaves the court or whenever a one-minute time-out is called, among other situations.
Each team is allowed possession of the ball for up to 24 seconds, during which time players must take a shot at goal to avoid committing a violation. A player may only push on his wheels twice (to propel himself forwards or backwards for example) while holding the ball before he must bounce, pass or shoot. Contact between wheelchairs is not considered a foul unless the referees interpret it as intentional.
Wheelchair basketball is a key event in the Paralympic programme and it is one of the fastest growing sports for athletes with a disability. The rules listed above keep the play dynamic and fast moving, making it an excellent spectator sport.