Basketball is a truly American game. Physical education instructor Dr. James Naismith invented a rough version of the game for his students in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. That city is now the site of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Naismith himself was instrumental in helping basketball spread to American colleges and high schools. During the twentieth century, as a set of standard rules developed, professional basketball grew in popularity to become one of the nation’s most popular spectator sports. Americans, both male and female, often enjoy playing basketball on a recreational basis, sometimes as members of organized leagues. Although casual basketball games may take place outdoors, organized basketball is largely an indoor sport. Basketball is a quick-moving, high-scoring game, using five players on each side.
A number of professional basketball stars are extremely highly paid, earning handsome fees for endorsements and advertising in which they show off their athletic prowess, often seeming to defy gravity itself. Most, but not all, successful basketball players are tall. A few short players, notably 5 foot 4 inch Muggsy Bogues, have been able to use their natural athleticism and speed to make up for their lack of height.
The National Basketball Association (NBA), formed in 1949, regulates men’s professional basketball. The 30 NBA teams play a regular season of 82 games between November and April, followed by a series of playoffs to determine a champion. The NBA has the following structure:
- Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors
- Central Division: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks
- Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards
- Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio Spurs
- Northwest Conference: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz
- Pacific Conference: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) came into being in 1996 under sponsorship by the NBA. After some years of struggle to establish itself with the public, it settled into a 12-team structure:
- Eastern Conference: Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Washington Mystics
- Western Conference: Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, San Antonio Silver Stars, Seattle Storm, Tulsa Shock
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the most prominent administrator of college basketball. The college basketball system is the primary training and recruiting ground for professional players, but competition is stiff, with many thousands of players hoping to earn one of only a few hundred spots on NBA teams. Every spring the NCAA holds an elimination contest, now involving 68 college teams. Widely covered on television and played in arenas all over the country, this “March Madness” is a major media event. The “madness” intensifies once the “Final Four” reach the semi-finals. The NCAA also operates a women’s college basketball championship at approximately the same time as the men’s championship.
Nearly every high school in the United States, no matter how small, has a basketball team. For many areas away from the large cities, high school basketball is a major spectator sport. The states of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky are particularly well associated with a near hysterical devotion to high school basketball, but virtually any American community may succumb.
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