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When did Basketball Become an Olympic Sport?

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Basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dr. Naismith, who was employed by the Springfield YMCA, was trying to find a game that would keep his students active during the long New England winters, as well as during other inclement weather. Basketball, or as Naismith wrote, Basket Ball quickly caught on, and it became a popular sport internationally.

Although its popularity grew rapidly around the globe, basketball has not always been a part of the modern Olympic Games. Basketball was an exhibition event in the 1904 Olympics, but did not become an official Olympic event for men until the 1936 Olympic Games which were held in Berlin. In the first Olympics in which basketball was included, all games were played outdoors. In the 1936 Olympics the United States won the gold medal, beating Canada 19-8. Twenty three nations participated in the first Olympic basketball tournament. Women’s basketball did not become an Olympic event until 1976 with the Soviet Union winning the gold medal and the United States women earning the silver. There were countries participating in the women’s tournament in the 1976 Olympics.

The international ruling body of basketball, FIBA, kept Olympic basketball an amateur sport until 1989 when professionals were allowed to play in FIBA sanctioned tournaments. Professionals played in the Olympics for the first time in the 1992 Olympic Games played in Barcelona, Spain. Olympic basketball is played under FIBA guidelines. There are some differences when FIBA rules are compared to rules and the court setup of professional basketball in the United States. The most obvious difference when looking at the courts is the international rules “lane”. The lane is the area that players prepare to rebound into during free throws. In the international game, the lane is a trapezoid in the American game the lane is a rectangle. The international game is shorter with four 10 minute quarters, whereas the NBA has four 12 minute quarters. Also, the players foul out with five personal fouls in the international game, whereas they foul out with six fouls in the NBA. The FIBA has been key in making rule changes that are now an accepted part of the game, both internationally and in the NBA. After the 1952 Olympics, in which the slow pace of play caused the final score in the gold medal game to be the United States 36 to the Soviet Union’s 25, FIBA implemented a 30 second shot clock and gave teams 10 seconds to bring the ball across half court to try to speed the pace of the game.

The United States’ men’s basketball team has participated in 16 Olympic Games and has medaled in all 16 of the Games it has entered and has won gold medals in 13 of the games. The entire United States delegation of athletes boycotted the Olympics in 1980. There have been nine Olympic Games for women’s basketball, and the United States has medaled in all eight of the games in which it has entered, and the team earned gold medals in six of those eight.


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