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Basketball is an athletic sport, usually played on an indoor court in which two competing teams of five players each attempt to score by throwing an inflated ball so that it descends through one of two baskets suspended, at each end of the court, above their heads. The team scoring the most such throws, through field goals or foul shots, wins the game. Because of its continuous action and frequent scoring, basketball is one of the most popular spectator as well as participant sports in the world.
The measurements of American and international basketball courts differ slightly. The basketball court is a rectangular area ranging in size from about 29 m by 15 m (about 94 ft by 50 ft) to about 22 m by 13 m (about 74 ft by 42 ft). At each end of the court is a vertical backboard, measuring usually about 2 m by 1 m (about 6 ft by 4 ft). Each backboard is anchored to a wall, suspended from the ceiling, or otherwise mounted so that its lower edge is about 2.7 m (about 9 ft) above the court. (Backboards originated to keep spectators from interfering with the game.) The baskets are attached firmly to the backboards about 3 m (about 10 ft) above the playing surface. Each basket is about 46 cm (about 18 in) in diameter and consists of a horizontal hoop, or metal ring, from which a fringe of wide-meshed white netting is hung. The regulation basketball is an inflated, leather- or nylon-covered sphere that weighs from 567 to 624 g (20 to 22 oz) and has a circumference of about 76 cm (about 30 in).
Basketball was invented in December 1891 by the Canadian clergyman, educator, and physician James Naismith. Naismith introduced the game when we was an instructor at the Young Men's Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the request of his superior, Dr. Luther H. Gulick, he organized a vigorous recreation suitable for indoor winter play. The game involved elements of American football, soccer, and hockey, and the first ball used was a soccer ball. Teams had nine players, and the goals were wooden peach baskets affixed to the walls. By 1897-1898, teams of five became standard. The game rapidly spread nationwide and to Canada and other parts of the world, played by both women and men; it also became a popular informal outdoor game. U.S. servicemen in World War II (1939-1945) popularized the sport in many other countries.
A number of U.S. colleges adopted the game between about 1893 and 1895. In 1934 the first college games were staged in New York City's Madison Square Garden, and college basketball began to attract heightened interest. By the 1950s basketball had become a major college sport, thus paving the way for a growth of interest in professional basketball.
The first pro league, the National Basketball League, was formed in 1898 to protect players from exploitation and to promote a less rough game. This league only lasted five years before disbanding; its demise spawned a number of loosely organized leagues throughout the northeastern United States. One of the first and greatest pro teams was the Original Celtics, organized about 1915 in New York City. They played as many as 150 games a season and dominated basketball until 1936. The Harlem Globetrotters, founded in 1927, a notable exhibition team, specializes in amusing court antics and expert ball handling.
In 1949 two subsequent professional leagues, the National Basketball League (formed in 1937) and the Basketball Association of America (1946) merged to create the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Boston Celtics, led by their center Bill Russell, dominated the NBA from the late 1950s through the 1960s. By the 1960s, pro teams from coast to coast played before crowds of many millions annually. Wilt Chamberlain, a center for the Los Angeles Lakers, was another leading player during the era, and his battles with Russell were eagerly anticipated. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a center, came to prominence during the 1970s. Jabbar perfected his famed “sky hook” shot while playi...
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