Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair basketballMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair basketball

Wheelchair basketball

The history of wheelchair basketball can be traced back more than 60 years. Following World War II, many veterans were left without the use of their legs. U.S. veterans began to take up adaptive sports, including wheelchair basketball. Across the pond, a similar pattern was emerging.

In 1948, a British doctor named Ludwig Guttmann organized a paraplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. archery demonstration to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games London 1948. The following year, emboldened by the demonstration’s success, Dr. Guttmann organized the second annual “Grand Festival of ParaplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. Sport.” These games, later called the Stoke Mandeville Games, were the predecessor to the Paralympic Games. For the 1949 games, Dr. Guttman organized a six-team tournament of “wheelchair netball,” a form of wheelchair basketball. Thus it was no stretch to include wheelchair basketball in the first official Paralympic Games, held in Rome in 1960.

The University of Illinois and Dr. Tim Nugent founded the first U.S. collegiate wheelchair basketball program in 1947, which led to the founding of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) shortly thereafter. The University of Illinois’ program has evolved into one of the top wheelchair athletics programs in the world.

Now practiced in more than 100 countries across the globe, wheelchair basketball is one of today’s most-watched Paralympic team sports.

 

TIMELINE

1945
World War II veterans invent wheelchair basketball

1947
U.S. collegiate wheelchair basketball program founded

1948
National Wheelchair Basketball Association formed; first national wheelchair basketball tournament organized

1949
Second annual “Grand Festival of ParaplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. Sport,” the predecessor to the Paralympic Games, includes “wheelchair netball”

1960
Men’s wheelchair basketball debuts at the first Paralympic Games in Rome

1968
Women’s wheelchair basketball debuts at the Tel Aviv Paralympic Games

1975
First men’s wheelchair basketball world championships, called the Gold Cup, held in Belgium

1977
Women’s division added to the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball Association

1990
Women’s wheelchair basketball added to the world championships program

 

EVENTS

Paralympic wheelchair basketball competition includes two tournaments—one for men and one for women. Each team may have five players on the court at once.

EQUIPMENT

Wheelchair basketball athletes use standard basketballs, courts and nets. They play in strong but lightweight wheelchairs whose wheels slant inward. To aid stability, each chair may have one or two small wheels (castors) in addition to the two large main wheels. These chairs, which are specially designed for both speed and agility and customized for each athlete, often cost $2,000 to $4,000 or more.

FAST FACTS

U.S. domination: Since the debut of wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games Rome 1960, Team USA has won more medals than any other country.

Fall down, get back up: Wheelchair basketball is a true contact sport, meaning players are regularly knocked down in their chairs. Most are able to right themselves using just their arms.

Watch the clock: Each game consists of four 10-minute quarters, 5-minute overtime periods as needed and a 24-second shot clock.

No special treatment: The dimensions of wheelchair basketball courts (28 meters x 15 meters) and the height of the baskets are the same as in Olympic basketball.

Pack your bags, because you’re traveling: In wheelchair basketball, “traveling” is defined as holding a live ball and either pivoting or pushing your wheels more than twice.

Athlete Spotlight:

Steve Serio

In the rowdy, demanding sport of wheelchair basketball, two-time Paralympian Steve Serio rises above the din. Serio's grit and talent for the sport have been developed over the course of more than a decade, earning him multiple MVP honors and national championships at the junior and intercollegiate levels, a professional career in Germany and several international medals with the US National Team—including a Paralympic gold medal in Rio.

Serio's journey to the highest echelon of wheelchair basketball began when he was less than year old. He had surgery to remove a spinal tumor, but he was left partially paralyzed from the waist down. The New York native didn't let his impairment slow him down, and in high school he joined the state's competitive junior wheelchair basketball team, the Long Island Lightning. As a forceful player and an accurate shooter, he helped the team win a national championship and was named MVP in 2005. After graduating from high school that year, he went on to study personal training at the University of Illinois, where he played point guard and helped the team win two intercollegiate national championships.

While still studying and competing at the University of Illinois, Serio joined the US National Team in 2006 as a 3.5-class forward. Since then he has gone on to lead Team USA to multiple world championship and Paralympic medals.

Althete Spotlight Steve Serio

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic wheelchair basketball competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments. Not all players are wheelchair users in daily life, but all athletes compete in a wheelchair for the purpose of the game. Each has an impairment affecting their legs or feet, such as amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord..

Each player on a team is allocated one of eight sport classes, ranging from 1.0 to 4.5. During competition, each team of five players is only allowed to have 14 points on the field of play at the same time. For example, a team could consist of five players: 4.0, 3.0, 2.5, 2.5 and 2.0 (which adds up to 14). The purpose of classification is to ensure that all eligible players have an opportunity to be an integral member of the team.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

While most wheelchair basketball athletes have normal arm and hand function, the main differences between athletes of different sport classes are trunk control and sitting balance, which allow them to lean forward and sideways to catch, dribble, pass, rebound and shoot the ball as well as push the wheelchair and react to contact. Impairments common to athletes in wheelchair basketball include spina bifidaDefinition: A birth defect where a person, spinal cord injury, polio, transverse myelitisDefinition: A neurological disorder caused by inflammation around a segment of the spinal cord. and leg amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

1.0–4.5

1.0

1.5

2.0

2.5

3.0

3.5

4.0

4.5

1.0

Wheelchair basketball sport class 1.0 is for players with little to no trunk control. These players are unable to bend forward or sideways or rotate to catch and pass the ball. To keep a stable position, the backrest of the wheelchair is higher and the athlete is strapped to it.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

1.5

The activity profile of these "half-pointers" fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 1.0 and those in sport class 2.0. Compared with those in sport class 1.0, these athletes can move partially out into the forward plane, rotate their upper trunk and transition faster from catching to passing or shooting.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity

2.0

Wheelchair basketball athletes in sport class 2.0 can lean forward and rotate their body to some extent, meaning they can reach out further than those in 1.0 to catch, dribble, pass, rebound and shoot the ball. These athletes can rotate their upper trunk both directions while upright and hold the ball forward with both arms extended. Like their team members in sport class 1.0, their wheelchairs have a higher backrest and strapping for trunk support.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

2.5

The activity profile of these "half-pointers" fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 2.0 and those in sport class 3.0. These athletes are able to lean forward and rotate their upper trunk simultaneously, though trunk stability may be poor.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity

3.0

Athletes in wheelchair basketball sport class 3.0 can fully rotate and lean forward, but they are unable to lean to the sides. Trunk rotation originates in the pelvis rather than the waist. As these athletes do not need sitting support, their wheelchairs have a low backrest.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

3.5

The activity profile of these "half-pointers" fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 3.0 and those in sport class 4.0. These athletes are able to sit with their hips higher than their knees and may generate some power with their legs while pushing. They can also retrieve a ball with two hands on the floor and return to an upright position.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity

4.0

While wheelchair athletes in sport class 4.0 can move forward and rotate like their team members in sport class 3.0, they can partially lean to the sides as well. Often players in this sport class can lean to one side only, for example, because an impairment in one leg would cause a loss of balance to the other side. They are more stable in the face of contact with other players.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

4.5

Wheelchair basketball athletes with the mildest physical impairments—though still severe enough to qualify for the Paralympic Games—compete in sport class 4.5. These athletes can move their trunk along all planes of movement with no significant weakness in any direction, meaning they can lean to either side during shooting and passing.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair