Adaptive Sports: Wheelchair Basketball

Considered one of the most popular adaptive sports in the U.S., wheelchair basketball was first played by World War II Veterans in VA hospitals. Veterans recovering from varying levels of paralysis would compete against the doctors who treated their injuries. The adaptive sport was enjoyed by many, and eventually, wheelchair basketball teams emerged in states across the U.S.

In 1948, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) hosted its first National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament. Wheelchair basketball has continued to grow in popularity after becoming a paralympic sport in the 1960s. With over 200 NWBA-recognized teams worldwide and hundreds more recreational wheelchair basketball teams across the U.S., people with and without disabilities can get involved in the adaptive sport.

Can You Play Wheelchair Basketball if You’re Not Disabled?

Disabled and non-disabled athletes can play amateur or recreational wheelchair basketball. Recreational wheelchair basketball is typically offered through local disability organizations, recreational centers, or YMCAs. These organizations can often provide sport wheelchairs to those who are new to adaptive sports, or those who do not have sport wheelchairs of their own, so those with and without disabilities can play.

Professional wheelchair basketball can only be played by those with disabilities. In professional wheelchair basketball, a player is assessed on their ability to dribble, pass, catch, and shoot a basketball, as well as their ability to propel their wheelchair. Players are then grouped into categories based on these abilities, ensuring fair play among all athletes.

What Are the Key Rules of Wheelchair Basketball?

Wheelchair basketball and traditional basketball are largely similar with a few exceptions. Basic rules of scoring, dribbling, and fouls exist in both traditional basketball and wheelchair basketball; however, wheelchair basketball rules differ slightly to account for players’ wheelchairs and their lower limb mobility disabilities.

In wheelchair basketball, the wheelchair is considered an extension of the athlete’s body. Just as traditional basketball players must play within court lines and avoid physical contact, wheelchair basketball athletes must do the same. Wheelchair basketball athletes cannot play beyond court bounds or use their wheelchair to block or run into other players. Instead, wheelchair basketball athletes use only their upper limbs to play basketball.

During a game of traditional basketball, players must dribble and pass the ball to their teammates. Wheelchair basketball players must do the same, however, rules regulate the number of pushes a player uses to propel themselves rather than the number of steps an athlete takes. In wheelchair basketball, a player must dribble or pass the ball for every two pushes of their wheelchair.

Wheelchair Basketball Vs. Traditional Basketball


Do They Lower the Hoop for Wheelchair Basketball?

Basketball hoops are not lowered in wheelchair basketball. This means athletes seated in wheelchairs must make baskets of the same height as standing players. A basketball hoop is 10 feet high from the floor of the court to the rim of the basketball hoop in both sports.

Why Are Wheelchair Wheels Tilted in Wheelchair Basketball?

Wheelchairs used for adaptive sports often look different from wheelchairs used in day-to-day life. Sport wheelchairs typically have tilted or slanted wheels. These angled wheels primarily help to prevent injury to athletes and provide greater stability. With a wider base at the bottom, sport wheelchairs can take greater impact while remaining upright. Tilted wheelchair wheels also prevent athletes from making direct contact and injuring other players.

Is Wheelchair Basketball Hard?

For those who have never played basketball or those who are used to traditional basketball, wheelchair basketball may take time to learn. Like any sport, wheelchair basketball takes practice, but with time, disabled and non-disabled people can learn to play the game.

Those with disabilities looking to get involved with an NWBA-recognized team can find a team on the National Wheelchair Basketball Association website . Those without disabilities can look for recreational teams through local disability organizations, YMCAs, recreational centers, or universities.

Want to find out more about adaptive sports? Check out our articles on wheelchair sports and other inclusive activities for those with and without disabilities.

Getting Involved in Wheelchair Basketball

Having grown up with a disability, I often watched my non-disabled peers participate in sports. Although I could play some traditional sports early on, changes in my abilities over time led me to stop participating in athletic activities. Luckily, that changed when I attended college. Not only did I have the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball on my college campus, but I also found a group of students to whom I could relate at my university

My experience with adaptive sports was limited to a few weeks' worth of a sports camp for children with disabilities that I had participated in years prior, so the thought of getting into a wheelchair and playing a game of basketball felt rather intimidating. I had never used a sport wheelchair, and the only rules I knew of basketball at the time were that I should dribble the ball every so often and aim for a basket in hopes of getting a point or two.

With time, I learned to love the sport and came back each week to take part in some friendly competition. I even made a few baskets along the way.

More importantly, though, I met a group of friends whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Many of these friends had disabilities of their own. Some even shared similar diagnoses. Whether we shared similar experiences or learned about each other’s differences, the inclusive environment that was created made me feel eager to return each week. After being unable to play traditional sports for years, I was ecstatic to see myself discover a passion for sports that I previously watched others play from the sidelines.

My involvement in wheelchair basketball has allowed me to see the benefits of adaptive sports for those with and without disabilities and has fueled my interest in trying more adaptive sports in the future. My knowledge and skills may have been limited when I first played wheelchair basketball, but with time I have found a passion that I hope others with disabilities can have the chance to discover for themselves.

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