FIBA: International Basketball

Of all of the great world team sports prominent in the twenty-first century, only basketball can be said to be entirely American in its origin. Invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, basketball was a pure creation and not a derivative game or a long-evolving sport in the manner of soccer, cricket, rugby, and baseball. The rapid growth of basketball in the 1920s and 1930s, primarily at the American high school and college levels, led to a worldwide interest in basketball competition. This led to the creation of the Federation Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) in 1932. As was the custom with international sports bodies, in which French was the typical language medium, FIBA is a French acronym. The founding members of FIBA were Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland. Basketball was first accepted as an Olympic sport in 1936.

In 1989, FIBA removed the term "amateur" from its name, so as to embrace basketball at every level from around the world and to permit both amateurs and professionals to compete in FIBA championships. Professional basketball players competed in the Olympics for the first time at Barcelona in 1992; this event was notable for the participation of the U.S. "Dream Team," a dominant collection of National Basketball Association (NBA) superstars, lead by the supremely gifted Michael Jordan.

FIBA is now the world-governing body for international basketball. It comprises of over 200 national basketball associations; virtually every country in the world has a structure with which the game is organized. As with most international sporting organizations, FIBA is the sole recognized authority regarding basketball by the International Olympic Committee, regarding both rules and the qualifying competitions to advance to the Olympics. FIBA also convenes world championships in men's, women's, and various youth divisions every two years; international championships are not held in an Olympic year.

FIBA is divided into five distinct zones for qualification and organizational purposes, including Africa, the Americas (both North and South), Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

FIBA is constituted as a not-for-profit entity; the most important parts of the FIBA mandate are the establishment and periodic review of the Official Rules of Basketball, equipment specifications, facility sanction for its competitions, the appointment of international officials, and the regulation of any international player transfers.

The codification of the international rules of basketball has followed a tortuous path. The FIBA rules of competition are significantly different than those that govern National Collegiate Basketball Association (NCAA) competition, or those used by the NBA. The FIBA international rules control does not yet extend to the United States, which remains the largest basketball-playing nation in the world, evidenced not only by the power of the NBA, the most visible and successful professional league, but also by the approximately 1,100 NCAA member institutions, whose game rules differ slightly again from NBA regulation.

The chief differences between the three sets of rules are not tremendous, but each is significant enough to affect both the tempo of the game and the tactics employed. NCAA rules provide for a 35-second shot clock for men and a 30-second shot clock for women. Both FIBA and the NBA provide for a 24-second shot clock. The lane between the foul line and the basket differs in each format: it is rectangular in shape in the NCAA, a wider rectangle in the NBA, and a broad-based parallelogram in the FIBA rules. The three sets of rules each provide varying three-point shot arc distances.

FIBA and NCAA games are 40 minutes in length; the NBA contest is one of 48 minutes. In FIBA, a ball that goes out of bounds may be quickly in-bounded without having the referee handle the ball first. A FIBA player may also touch the ball when it is anywhere in or above the cylinder of the basket; any such touching of the ball in either NBA or NCAA rules is referred to as a goal-tending violation.

Although not significant to the essence of the game, FIBA rules present a challenge for North American players unaccustomed to them. Conversely, the recent and ever-rising influx of highly skilled European and South American basketball players into the NBA is confirmation that adaptation to the professional rules by these players has been relatively seamless.

The trends evidenced by recent Olympic and FIBA world championships suggest that while the United States remains the most prolific basketball nation in the world, FIBA and its impetus to the promotion of a world game have fostered a stimulating competitive climate.

SEE ALSO Basketball; International federations; National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).