Wheelchair Basketball

The Early Years

Wheelchair basketball is probably the most practiced sport for the disabled individual. It is one of 24 sporting events in the Paralympics. The games originated in the 1940’s at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In 1946 the games were played primarily between WWII veterans.

In 1947 they were included in the Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games with only a few participants. Popularity and rapid growth demanded an introduction of Wheelchair netball in the 1948 Games. In 1952 a team from the Netherlands was invited to compete against the British team. This event has been held annually ever since.

Wheelchair basketball as we now know it was first held at the 1956 International Stoke-Mandeville Games. The US Pan Am Jets won the event. In 1973 a subsection was established by the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation and became the governing body for all wheelchair sports.


The Paralyzed Veterans of America, the true pioneers of basketball held games in 1948 across the US, in what briefly was known as the National Paralyzed Veterans of America Championships. Due to the games being limited to paralyzed veterans only, this ruling was soon changed to meet the interests of more disabled individuals. This rule change brought about the NWBA with tougher competition and a broader definition of who could participate.

Tim Nugent pioneered the wheelchair movement to help the disabled and WWII veterans, at a request that they be reintegrated into society at Galesburg, IL. In 1948 the rehabilitation program was located at the former University of Illinois Galesburg campus. The University of Illinois was the first to develop a collegiate wheelchair sports program in part due to public relations.

Because it was new and undeveloped the entire community along with the student body helped him develop the standard for wheelchair accessibility. It was from his early efforts with wheelchair sports that the National Spinal Cord Foundation was founded. He was also the first president of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association which was founded in 1949.

In 1989 the governing body was renamed the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation. In 1993 independence came when the IWFB became the responsible governing body for wheelchair basketball. Over the next several years membership grew and growth required a division into four geographical zones which included: Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe.

World championships have been held since 1973 with Bruges, Belgium as the first host city.

Rules And Classifications

The rules of wheelchair basketball assume most major rules and scoring as running basketball, and have a 10 foot hoop on a standard basketball court. Exceptions have been modified for the wheelchair.

“Travelling” in wheelchair basketball is when the player touches his wheels more than twice after receiving or dribbling the ball. The player must pass, bounce or shoot the ball before touching the wheels again.

In some countries nondisabled athletes are allowed to use wheelchairs alongside disabled athletes on mixed teams.

Athletes are classified according to disability on a point scale of 1 to 4.5. In some cases nondisabled athletes could be classified as 4.5 and athletes with the highest degree of disability would be classified as 1.0.

Classification is an international regulation limiting the number of points on the court at one time. This rule change required teams to have one class I and one class II player on the court if they chose to play three class III players, otherwise any number and combination could be played. This rule was developed to encourage participation in the sport.

The basic wheelchair guide states that the height of the seat must not exceed 21 inches from the floor, the foam cushions used not be thicker than 2 inches for Class III players and 4 inches for all others, and the foot platform not be higher than 4 7/8 inches from the floor.

This information was taken from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services. The sport is played following the NCAA rules with a few noted exceptions as outlined in the guide.

Currently only athletes with a disability are allowed to participate at the International level. For a complete listing of rules contact the NWBA.

Both men and women participate in the Paralympic sport as it became an official sport in 1960. Many of the same rules apply to those in wheelchairs just like the able bodied athletes, such as court size and height of the basket.

At the present basketball is popular in more than 80 countries. In the past sixty plus years the sport has seen many great athletes.

The Chair

There are a number of different chairs on the market. The general strengths of a specially designed chair for basketball means the frame is custom fitted from the seat size to the wheel size. You choose what works for you.

If you are looking to make some quick adjustments with little time to do so then the Top End Pro BB wheelchair may be what you are looking for. It has a tall and short frame with adjustability in the seat height both front and back, center of gravity and the adjustable foot platform. The welded frame provides stability and durability to play the game.

The aluminum frame provides the lightweight advantage all athletes are looking for. The Top End Paul Schulte Signature BB is designed for quicker turning, has a swivel, adjustable height anti-tip bar. In addition to these features you can choose from different wing styles to optimize your style of play whether it is dribbling, blocking your opponent or spinning to make that game winning shot. Other top chairs include Bromakin XX, Coulors in Motion Zephyr, Melrose Orion, Sunrise Medical Quickie Allcourt, Tilite BB.

Titanium is a good choice of metal in frames due to durability and it's lightweight features.

Magnesium is also another good product for sports wheelchairs. Magnesium is approximately 35% lighter than aluminum and 62% lighter than titanium, yet has similar strength capabilities as the 6061-T6 aluminum used in many sports frames. It is reported that the magnesium provides a smoother ride. Lasher Sports builds the Baller Elite frame for basketball and claims it to be one of the lightest on the court.

To find a local team or to learn how you can participate contact the national or international organizations for more information.

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