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team sport played on a court with baskets on either end
Travel topics > Activities > Sport > Spectator sports > Basketball in North America

Basketball is one of the most popular team sports in North America, both as a spectactor sport and as an activity. The top professional league, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is among the "Big 4" of North American sports leagues when it comes to popularity and revenue. The others are the National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.


A "slam dunk", a type of field goal where the player jumps up next to the hoop and drops the ball into it


The game was invented in December 1891 by the Canadian-American James Naismith, at the time a college professor in Springfield, Massachusetts. He wanted to come up with a team sport that could be played indoors during the winter when the weather didn't allow for popular outdoor sports like rugby, football, soccer or baseball. In the beginning, soccer balls were used for the game, proper basketballs were invented several decades later. Naismith also intended the game to limit contact between players, fixing the goal at a height then thought to be hard to reach even by jumping as he observed a lot of physical contact going in the contest close to the goal in other sports. There are conflicting interpretations whether this was due to the high injury risk associated with various codes of football or ice hockey at the time or religious prudery.

Unlike Major League Baseball, in which the color line was prominently broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947, the NBA signed its first non-white player in its second season (1947/48), Japanese-American Wataru Misaka, and by the 1950s African-American players became a common sight in the league. In modern times, the players in the league are predominantly African-American, with almost three out of four NBA players belonging to that ethnic group. A significant minority of non-American players are themselves black or mixed-race—for example, the 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) is the son of Nigerian immigrants, and the same season's Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (France) has a black father and white mother. While the demographics of the fans also skew somewhat in favor of black people, it is far less noticeable than among the players.

In recent decades, the NBA has drawn most of the top players from throughout the world. Two major events at the end of the 1980s brought this about—the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decision of FIBA, the sport's international governing body, to allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics. Today, a bit over 20% of the league's players were born outside the US. The largest share has traditionally come from Europe, but African countries have produced an increasing number of players, with many other countries strongly represented (including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada). The Spanish presence is notably large enough that Spaniards now call their men's national team La ÑBA.

Rules and gameplayEdit

Basketball is played by two teams, each having 5 players on the court. The objective is getting (throwing) the basketball through the basket or hoop mounted at the rear of the opposing team's side, thereby scoring points. Another objective is preventing the opposing team from getting the ball through the hoop on their side. The hoops are mounted 10 ft (about 3 m) above ground to prevent goaltending. The team usually gets two points for getting the ball through the hoop; this is called a field goal. If it's thrown from further away, behind the three-point line, the team gets three points. Actions against the rules fall under two categories: violations and fouls. Most fouls occur as a result of personal contact with another player, and usually results in the ball being turned over to the opposing team. A player who has committed 6 fouls in the NBA or WNBA, or 5 fouls in the Olympics and NCAA, is fouled out, meaning that (s)he must be substituted off and cannot take part in the remainder of the game.

When a player commits a foul towards a player from the opposing team about to make a goal, the fouled player may attempt throw the ball into the hoop while everyone else is standing still. This is called a free throw, and is worth one point if the throw is successful. In most cases, a player may be entitled to take two or three free throws, depending on where the shot attempt was made; if you hear that a player is shooting "one-and-one", then the player will get another opportunity if the first free throw scores. (The "one-and-one" is now used only in two US rule sets—college men's, and high schools for both sexes.) If the player that is being fouled successfully scores a goal, one free throw is awarded so the player has the chance to score an extra point. Free throws are also awarded for all defensive fouls regardless of whether the fouled player is attempting a shot once a team has accumulated a certain number of fouls in a certain period, which is 5 per quarter in the NBA, WNBA, Olympics, and NCAA women's play, and 7 per half in NCAA men's and high school play. The team with most points when the time is up wins the game.

Game duration varies between leagues. In the NBA, games are played in four quarters, each taking 12 minutes. The WNBA is also played in quarters, but each lasts only 10 minutes. College games are the same length as WNBA games, but the timing conventions are different for men's and women's play. Men's games are played in 20-minute halves, while women's games use 10-minute quarters. Games at the Olympics and other international tournaments are played in 10-minute quarters. Youth games use shorter periods still; for example, US high school games are played in 8-minute quarters. If the score is even when the time is up, overtime periods of five minutes (4 in US high schools) are played. Like hockey, and unlike soccer, the clock is stopped when the play isn't active, so games take more time than actual playing time. The shot clock is equally important to the pacing of a basketball game. Set at 24 seconds in professional and Olympic basketball, and 30 seconds in college basketball, the shot clock marks the time that the offensive team has to set up and make a shot at the basket. Hitting the rim of the basket resets the shot clock, as do defensive fouls that do not occur in the act of shooting. If the offense lets the shot clock run out without shooting, a shot clock violation occurs, and the other team gets the ball.

Basketball players aren't allowed to carry the ball as they move (this is called a traveling violation, and results in the other team getting the ball). Instead, the ball is passed between the players, and if a player is moving with the ball, the player has to dribble it, i.e. bounce it between their hand and the floor. A player is also not allowed to dribble the ball with both hands simultaneously, and doing so is a violation known as a double dribble that results in the other team getting the ball.


The National Basketball Association (NBA), the top league of basketball in the world, has 30 teams as of the upcoming 2019–20 season, one of which is from Canada and 29 from the United States. The NBA season begins in October and lasts until April, when a playoff series begins featuring the top 8 teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences. This culminates in June with the NBA Finals, where the conference champions meet to determine the NBA champion.

Map of Basketball in North America

Eastern ConferenceEdit

Atlantic DivisionEdit

  • Boston Celtics1 TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts (in the North End). The Celtics have the most NBA Finals championships of any team, partially due to the greatness of Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
  • Brooklyn Nets2 Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York (in Downtown Brooklyn).
  • New York Knicks3 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York (in the Theater District).
  • Philadelphia 76ers4 Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (in South Philly).
  • Toronto Raptors5 Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario (in the Entertainment District). The 2019 NBA champions.

Central DivisionEdit

  • Chicago Bulls6 United Center, Chicago, Illinois (on the Near West Side). Michael Jordan may be gone, but the Bulls still provide exciting games to watch.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers7 Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, Ohio (in Downtown Cleveland). The Cavaliers have finally won the championship that they -- and their city -- have longed for, but after LeBron James left for Los Angeles, the Cavs immediately plummeted to the bottom of the league.
  • Detroit Pistons8 Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan (in Midtown Detroit).
  • Indiana Pacers9 Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Milwaukee Bucks10 Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Home to the reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Southeast DivisionEdit

Western ConferenceEdit

Northwest DivisionEdit

Pacific DivisionEdit

  • Golden State Warriors21 Chase Center, San Francisco, California (on the Mission Bay waterfront). The Warriors have emerged as a "superteam" that has dominated the NBA, with such players as Steph Curry and Kevin Durant making the "Dubs" a team to contend with (though Durant has since departed for Brooklyn). The Warriors are returning to San Francisco after nearly a half-century playing in Oakland.
  • Los Angeles Clippers22 Staples Center, Los Angeles, California (in Downtown L.A.) The Clippers were historically known for being perennial underdogs, but have found some success starting around 2010, with the potential for even more with the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in 2019.
  • Los Angeles LakersStaples Center, Los Angeles, California (in Downtown L.A.) One of the most successful teams in the NBA's history, the Lakers are the team of Jerry West (whose silhouette appears on the NBA logo), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Kobe Bryant. With LeBron James joining the team in 2018 and Anthony Davis joining a year later, they are poised to begin emerging from the doldrums of the past 10 years.
  • Phoenix Suns23 Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Sacramento Kings24 Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California.

Southwest DivisionEdit


The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), operated by the NBA, is arguably the top women's league in the world, at least in level of competition. However, salaries greatly lag those on offer in major leagues in Europe and China (whose business models differ radically from those in the WNBA). Its season runs out of phase with the normal rhythm of basketball, being played over the Northern Hemisphere summer, when most other leagues (even those south of the equator) are on their offseason break. This scheduling was mainly to accommodate NBA team owners' desire for more arena dates during the offseason; when the WNBA was founded, all of the teams were owned by NBA franchises. Many of the teams have since been sold to outside owners, but the league has kept its summer schedule. This has the side effect of allowing many of the league's top players to play overseas during the traditional basketball season, usually making several times as much as they do in the WNBA.

Unlike the NBA, all of the league's 12 teams are in the US.

Eastern ConferenceEdit

  • Atlanta Dream – Through the 2019 season, the Dream played at the Hawks' home of State Farm Arena. However, due to differences with the Hawks ownership, the Dream announced they would no longer play there. No future venue has been announced yet; possibilities include Georgia State University's GSU Sports Arena in Downtown and Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion in Midtown.
  • Chicago Sky30 Wintrust Arena on the Near South Side.
  • Connecticut Sun31 Mohegan Sun Arena at the Mohegan Sun casino complex in Uncasville, Connecticut.
  • Indiana Fever – Normally play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, also home to the Indiana Pacers. However, the Fever will be displaced for all of 2020 and 2021, as well as part of 2022, by a major renovation project. During this time, the Fever will play about 6 miles (10 km) to the north at Butler University's iconic 32 Hinkle Fieldhouse. The team, which shares ownership with the Pacers, plans to return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse once the renovation is complete.
  • New York Liberty – Following the team's purchase in 2019 by the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the Liberty will share Barclays Center with the Nets from 2020 forward.
  • Washington Mystics33 St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena, which opened in September 2018 in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington, D.C.

Western ConferenceEdit

  • Dallas Wings34 College Park Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Las Vegas Aces35 Mandalay Bay Events Center at the Mandalay Bay casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
  • Los Angeles Sparks – Share Staples Center with the Lakers and Clippers.
  • Minnesota Lynx – Share Target Center with the Timberwolves.
  • Phoenix Mercury – Share Talking Stick Resort Arena with the Suns.
  • Seattle Storm – Normally play at KeyArena at Seattle Center, just to the northwest of downtown Seattle. With that venue being closed for major renovations, the Storm played most of their 2019 home games (12 out of 17 in the regular season) at Alaska Airlines Arena (aka 36 Hec Edmundson Pavilion) on the campus of the University of Washington in the city's U District. The remaining home games were at 37 Angel of the Winds Arena in the North Sound suburb of Everett. The Storm are likely to continue with this arrangement until the Seattle Center arena reopens.

Minor leaguesEdit

NBA G LeagueEdit

The NBA's official minor league, known as the G League due to a sponsorship deal with the Gatorade sports drink, has operated since 2001. It started with eight teams, all in the Southeast US, but it has steadily expanded over the years and now has 28 teams, each affiliated with a single NBA franchise (with most owned directly by the NBA team). It's expected that all 30 teams will have their own affiliates in the near future.

While the quality of play is obviously not as high as in the NBA proper, games are still intensely competitive—arguably more so than in the NBA itself, given that every player in the league is trying to prove himself to NBA teams. Also, the U.S. men's national team is now made up almost exclusively of G League players except in the final Olympic and World Cup tournaments.

Each team's NBA affiliate is indicated in parentheses next to the team's name.

Eastern ConferenceEdit

Atlantic Division
  • Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers) – 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington.
  • Long Island Nets (Brooklyn Nets) – Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York (on Long Island in Nassau County). Notably, this team plays in a former home of its parent club.
  • Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics) – Portland Exposition Building in Portland, Maine.
  • Raptors 905 (Toronto Raptors) – Paramount Fine Foods Centre in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Like its parent club, 905 is its league's only Canadian team.
  • Westchester Knicks (New York Knicks) – Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, which also hosts the WNBA's New York Liberty.
Central Division
  • Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers) – Canton Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio.
  • Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers) – Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  • Grand Rapids Drive (Detroit Pistons) – DeltaPlex Arena in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker, Michigan.
  • Windy City Bulls (Chicago Bulls) – Sears Centre in the northwest Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
  • Wisconsin Herd (Milwaukee Bucks) – Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.
Southeast Division
  • Capital City Go-Go (Washington Wizards) – St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in the southeast Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Congress Heights, also home to the WNBA's Washington Mystics.
  • College Park Skyhawks (Atlanta Hawks) – Gateway Center in College Park, Georgia. Starting play in suburban Atlanta in 2019–20 after moving from Erie, Pennsylvania, where they had been the second version of the Erie BayHawks
  • Erie BayHawks (New Orleans Pelicans) – Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania. The BayHawks name has a confusing history—the team that will play under that name in the G League's next season in 2019–20 is the third version of the BayHawks. The first BayHawks began play in 2008, but were moved to Florida by the Orlando Magic in 2017 and now play as the Lakeland Magic. The second BayHawks, launched immediately after the first BayHawks moved, played two seasons in Erie before becoming the College Park Skyhawks. The third BayHawks franchise, owned by the Pelicans, will remain in Erie until 2022, when it will move to its permanent home of Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte Hornets) – Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse, part of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina.
  • Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic) – RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida.

Western ConferenceEdit

Midwest Division
  • Iowa Wolves (Minnesota Timberwolves) – Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
  • Memphis Hustle (Memphis Grizzlies) – Landers Center in the Memphis suburb of Southaven, Mississippi.
  • Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder) – Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
  • Sioux Falls Skyforce (Miami Heat) – Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Pacific Division
  • Agua Caliente Clippers (Los Angeles Clippers) – Toyota Arena in the Inland Empire city of Ontario, California.
  • Northern Arizona Suns (Phoenix Suns) – Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
  • Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors) – Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.
  • South Bay Lakers (Los Angeles Lakers) – UCLA Health Training Center in the South Bay city of El Segundo, California.
  • Stockton Kings (Sacramento Kings) – Stockton Arena in Stockton, California.
Southeast Division
  • Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs) – H-E-B Center in the northwest Austin suburb of Cedar Park, Texas.
  • Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) – Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, Texas.
  • Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz) – Lifetime Activities Center–Bruin Arena in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, Utah.
  • Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks) – Comerica Center in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco.

College basketball (NCAA)Edit

Most universities across the United States also sponsor basketball teams. Despite recent changes diminishing the role of colleges in developing talent, the collegiate game remains a major source of players for the NBA and WNBA. While there are several governing bodies for collegiate basketball, the most important of these is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, known by its initialism of NCAA. Teams are further divided into conferences, which usually group universities in the same geographic region, and within the NCAA, divisions (the most prominent university programs compete in Division I) .

The collegiate season begins in early November, and ends in early March. After conference championships take up a week in mid-March, playoff tournaments determine national champions. In particular, the NCAA's Division I men's basketball championship, often called March Madness, generates intense fan and media interest. The single-elimination tournament lends itself to tension as stronger teams fight to avoid being upset by lesser known programs. The championship game occurs in early April.

Around 350 teams play within NCAA's Division I, with teams across all 48 contiguous United States and even a team in Hawaii. Hundreds more play in lower levels of the collegiate game.


3x3 or three on three is a variant of basketball on a half-court with only one hoop and three players in each team. Under the rules of FIBA, which governs all play between national teams and whose rules are followed by almost all leagues outside the US, it's played in a single period of 10 minutes with a 12-second shot clock, and the team with the highest score when the time is up wins. Also, if one team reaches 21 points, the game is over and that team wins the game. Successful shots from within the arc are worth one point, from outside two points. Overtime in FIBA 3x3 is very different from that in the full-court game—it's an untimed period, although the shot clock still runs. Overtime ends once either team has scored two points. (This trumps the "21 points to a win" rule; if the game is tied at 20 at the end of regulation, it still takes two points to win.)

Developed in the 1980s in the United States, 3x3 has become an official form of basketball regulated by FIBA and it is scheduled to become a stand-alone Olympic sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics.



Streetball is basketball played outdoors, and usually with less strict rules than regular basketball.

Museums and other attractionsEdit

Sculpture of James Naismith

Outside North AmericaEdit

Outside North America, basketball is a big sport in Mediterranean Europe, the former Eastern Bloc, and the Philippines, and is the second most popular spectator sport in the world after soccer. International basketball rules differ slightly from the NBA, WNBA and NCAA rules, though these difference are largely minor, and top players are usually able to switch between rules without any major issues.

European men's club teams play each other in the EuroLeague (analogous to association football's UEFA Champions League), EuroCup (analogous to the UEFA Europa League), and Basketball Champions League (effectively a third-tier competition). Teams qualify for the EuroLeague and EuroCup through their respective domestic basketball leagues, some of the more notable ones being the leagues in Spain, Greece, Turkey and Russia, with their top basketball teams often being affiliates of their top soccer teams. European women's clubs have their own EuroLeague and EuroCup (which, unlike the men's versions which are run by the top clubs, are operated by FIBA's European zone).

The Philippines has a wildly popular professional league, the Philippine Basketball Association. Its business model radically differs from those of the NBA or European leagues—all teams are owned and operated by major local corporations, with teams changing their names almost every year to promote one or another of their owners' brands. No team has its own arena; all games are held at large arenas in Metro Manila. Its season is divided into three segments locally known as "conferences"—one restricted to players with Filipino nationality, and two that allow each team to field a severely restricted number of non-Filipinos. College/university basketball is also quite popular in the country, with numerous governing associations.

European men's national teams play each other in EuroBasket, a tournament now held every four years. FIBA's other continental zones have their own tournaments for men's national teams—Afrobasket for Africa, the FIBA AmeriCup for the Americas, and the FIBA Asia Cup for both the Asian and Oceanian zones. Each of these has an analogous women's tournament (which, unlike the men's versions, are still held every two years). Men's and women's national basketball teams from around the world play each other in the FIBA World Cup and in the Summer Olympics. The men's World Cup is held the year before the Summer Olympics, and the women's version is in the same years as the Winter Olympics and FIFA World Cup. The United States is by far the dominant team in international basketball, having won the vast majority of gold medals at the Olympics in both the men's and women's events.

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