Photo by Pool/Getty Images
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Quick switches between offense and defence makes the game thrilling to watch.


Basketball is played by two teams of five players on a 28mx15m court with players looking to score by shooting the ball into a basket. A successful shot from outside the three-point line is awarded three points, a successful shot from inside the three-point line is two points and a successful free throw following a foul is one point. A highlight of the sport is the famous dunk which is made at the end of a fast-paced offensive plays. Basketball is played over four 10-minute periods.

The sport was invented by Dr James Naismith, a Canadian physical education teacher who wanted to create a game that could be played indoors during the winter by his students at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. However, it wasn’t until 1892 that the sport was named ‘basketball’. There are 213 countries and regions affiliated with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) today, with an estimated 450 million players worldwide.

Basketball first featured in the Olympic Games St. Louis 1904 as a demonstration sport, but it wasn’t until Berlin 1936 that men’s basketball appeared on the Olympic programme. Meanwhile, the women’s game made its Olympic debut almost 40 years later at Montreal 1976. Professional players have been allowed to participate at the Olympics since Barcelona 1992, when the USA ‘Dream Team’ won gold. Since then, NBA players have continued to feature on their national teams, attracting attention with their outstanding skills.

There will be 12 teams competing in both men’s and women’s basketball at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where they will be split into two groups for the preliminary round before the top eight teams advance to the quarterfinals.

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Event Programme

  • 12-team tournament (Men)
  • 12-team tournament (Women)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20:  Silvia Dominguez #6 of Spain brings the ball upcourt during the Women's Gold Medal Game between United States and Spain on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: Silvia Dominguez #6 of Spain brings the ball upcourt during the Women's Gold Medal Game between United States and Spain on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Essence of the Sport

A highly entertaining sport with different styles from each team

All five players switch between offence and defence, and the pace is extremely fast. Players run up and down the court, trying to outdo each other, stealing the ball and ducking the defence to take a shot. The sport is characterised by non-stop action with intense contact.

Basketball has successfully developed as a professional sport as well as a popular form of entertainment. Fans won’t be able to take their eyes off the fast and dynamic action. Rules have been developed over the years to promote more offence and to maintain a fast-paced and thrilling game. Time limits are also imposed on various plays: the offensive team must take a shot within 24 seconds from when they gain possession; players must not remain in the restricted area under the goal for more than three seconds; and the offensive team must progress the ball past halfway within ten seconds after gaining possession of the ball.

One of the most exciting positions is the point guard, who orchestrates the team offence. A point guard must have good court vision and set up the game by leading the team in assists while managing both the offensive and defensive plays. It is also interesting to focus on the different playing styles: the USA’s style is characterised by outstanding individual skills, while European teams tend to emphasise team play and strategy.

Three-pointers have become a more regular occurrence in recent years and even the centre, who is normally the tallest player on the team and traditionally plays close to the basket, has become adept at shooting from behind the three-point line. However, players in the modern game — no matter which position they play — are required to have diverse skills.

Some teams favour teamwork and will work to pass the ball around as they use faints to try bypass the defence and take a shot.

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Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

USA dominates in both men’s and women’s basketball. Who can beat them?

Since the USA formed the ‘Dream Team’ and impressed at Barcelona 1992, both the men’s and women’s teams have continued to dominate the game. Apart from the men’s bronze medal finish at the Athens 2004 Games, the USA have won Olympic gold medals in both men’s and women’s competitions since Atlanta 1996.

Guard Stephen Curry is the player to watch on the USA men’s team. At 1.91m tall, Curry is considered one of the most outstanding shooters in the sport’s history. But watch out for Australia, whose side feature many NBA players and recently beat the USA at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, as well as Spain, Argentina and France who won gold, silver and bronze respectively at the World Cup.

USA will be going for the seventh consecutive Olympic gold in the women’s competition, and the team has been playing consistently well. The core players are veteran Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird who will be looking to make their fourth Olympic Games appearance. Other medal contenders include Australia, who have won five Olympic medals, and Spain, who have highly skilled players and were silver medallists at Rio 2016.