From humble beginnings in North America, Basketball has grown into one of the most popular team sports in the world. It's a truly global game: the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the USA, the world's leading professional league, features players from more than 30 countries.
Did you know?
There was an exhibition Basketball tournament at the St Louis 1904 Games, but only a few American club teams competed.
At the Berlin 1936 Games the first official Olympic Basketball tournament was held outdoors on courts made of sand that turned to mud in the rain.
600 basketballs will be used during the London 2012 Basketball competition.
Twelve teams compete in both the men’s and women’s competitions, with 12 athletes (five players and seven substitutes) on each team.
Each country is limited to one men’s and one women’s team.
Field of play
The basketball court is 28m long and 15m wide. The baskets at either end are 3.05m above the ground. The court is divided into two halves, with a free-throw line 5.8m inside either end, and the three-point line a 6.75m radius from each basket.
History of Basketball at the Olympic Games
Men’s Basketball first appeared on the Olympic programme at the Berlin 1936 Games, with the women’s event introduced at Montreal 1976. Professional players first competed at the Barcelona 1992 Games, when the famous US 'Dream Team' won gold in the men’s event.
Find out more about Basketball at the Olympic Games on the International Olympic Committee website.
In Basketball points are scored by shooting the ball into your opponents’ net (or basket). The ball is moved up the court either by dribbling (bouncing) or passing to another team member. A player may not take more than two steps with the ball without dribbling.
Two points are awarded for a regular shot from open play, with one point for each successful free throw (following an opposition infringement) and three points for a shot from distance (beyond the three-point line).
Once in possession of the ball, a team has only 24 seconds to make an attempt on goal or they lose possession.
Games last for 40 minutes, split into four 10-minute quarters. The clock stops for every break in play and teams can call time-outs, which last one minute.
At London 2012, both the men’s and women’s Basketball competitions will begin with a preliminary stage. The 12 teams will be divided into two groups of six and each team will play every other in their group. Teams receive two points for a win, and one for a loss (although they receive no points for losing by forfeiting the game.
The best four teams from each group during the preliminaries will qualify for the knockout stage, with the winners of the semi-finals going head-to-head in the gold medal game.
In the event of a tie at the end of any game, teams play extra periods of five minutes until the tie is broken.
A referee oversees each game, assisted by two umpires. There are also table officials who are timers and scorers, and statisticians who record all the action. A game commissioner also sits with the table officials next to the court.
Keys to success
Basketball is a fast and physically demanding game. Height is a distinct advantage, but players also need to have speed, strength and stamina. They need excellent ball skills and the ability to think on their feet and play tactically as a team.
Breaking the rules
Referees will be looking out for rule infringements including violations and fouls. Violations are not committed against another player, but include offences such as taking more than two steps with the ball, having a hand underneath the ball (carrying) or bouncing the ball with both hands. Violations result in the ball being awarded to the opposition.
Fouls are offences that are committed against an opposition player. These include more contact than is reasonable, blocking, pushing or striking another player. In the case of fouls the opposition team is awarded a throw-in close to where the infringement took place. If the player who was fouled was trying to shoot a basket at the time, then one or more free throws will be awarded, depending on where the foul took place.
Assist – a pass that leads directly to a basket scored by a teammate
Downtown – the area outside the three-point line
Dunk – a one- or two-handed slam directly into the net
Lay-up – a one-handed shot from close range off the backboard
Shot clock – a timer measuring the length of time since the last shot. If the ball doesn’t touch the rim or pass through the net within 24 seconds, possession passes to the opposition.
If you want to find out about basketball in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body. To find out how you can get involved in basketball in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com