Wheelchair Basketball: an overview

Chris Stoutenberg of Canada shoots Gold in 2008 (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Chris Stoutenberg of Canada shoots Gold in 2008 (by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

As the Rio 2016 Paralympics have finally wrapped up, the wheelchair sports category managed to grab many people’s attention, especially in the United States. Wheelchair Basketball, in particular, got many Americans cheering. That is because it was the first time that both the Men’s AND the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team won the Gold medal in the same Paralympic games.

This winning has of course made headlines and also given more awareness to Wheelchair Basketball as a sport for physically challenged athletes.

Worldwide Awareness Of Wheelchair Basketball

This awareness for that sport has been around for quite some time. Dating back to one of the first 1956 International Stoke-Mandeville Games in Italy, it has been played in every Paralympic Games after that. World Championships for Wheelchair Basketball have been held since 1973. And the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) has become a world body responsible for the development of the sport since 1993.

2016 Invictus Games: Gold for US Wheelchair Basketball Team

2016 Invictus Games: Gold for US Wheelchair Basketball Team

The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation

Founded in 1973, The IWBF boasts more than 82 active Wheelchair Basketball National Organization Participants from around the world. The members include US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, and the Netherlands just to name a few.

The World Wheelchair Basketball Championships that the IWBF holds two years after every Paralympic game have globalized Wheelchair Basketball. The IWBF estimates that more than 100,000 people play this wheelchair sport, and this number is increasing every year.

National Awareness Of Wheelchair Basketball

On the national level, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association in America (NWBA) itself has only gotten public recognition in 1991 by the Congress. That was long after its first ever official National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in 1948. And that again was two years after the sport was born in the US among World War II disabled veterans. Now it has become the most popular sport in the US for individuals with disabilities.

Local Awareness of Wheelchair Basketball

On a smaller scale, the awareness for the sport is also cultivated in the available disability awareness programs held throughout the nation in schools. Not only the programs give students with no disability the opportunity to have appreciated diversity. They also provide students with disability chances to getting involved in playing basketball.

Different Playing Rules For Wheelchair Basketball


So, speaking of awareness, how is wheelchair basketball different than regular basketball? Well, almost everything is the same, from court dimensions, basket height, the number of players, playing time, shot clock, and also the scoring system. Even the 3-point line is no different.

The main significant difference, however, is the dribbling rules. A wheelchair basketball player may only do a maximum of two wheelchair pushes in between every dribble of the ball. Travel violations will be called out when the player has possession of the ball but doesn’t dribble it after pushing the wheelchair twice.

Regulation Differences In Wheelchair Basketball

Have you wondered how people who have different levels of disabilities can play basketball in wheelchairs together in a fair way? If so, then you need to know that there is also the International Regulation for playing Wheelchair Basketball, especially in formal competitions.

A classification system is used to grade the level of functional ability each player has. The system classifies points of 1.0 up to 4.5.

  • A point of 4.5 is used to classify minimally disabled athletes.
  • A point of 1.0 is used to indicate the highest degree of disability.

Each team playing on the court must not exceed a total of 14 points at any given time. So this regulation actually makes playing the sport fair to any players with a disability.

Able-Bodied Athletes Can Also Play

But not every player that plays in a Wheelchair basketball team has disabilities. The national championships in Canada actually welcome able-bodied athletes. They can participate in this discipline and competition playing on the same team as other players with a variety of disabilities.

While still not accepted in International level games, this practice is common in Canada. It has helped the country with reverse integration of the stigma and discrimination that usually comes with all forms of disabilities.

It started out of a necessity to popularize Wheelchair Basketball in a country like Canada where people and athletes are quite dispersed and rare. Even though certain playing skills transfer well into the game, playing wheelchair basketball is quite tough for the able-bodied players. Adapting to navigating the wheelchair and also the ball from a sitting position is an additional challenge for players that don’t have disability issues.

To date, having an able-bodied athlete play hasn’t been accepted in US Wheelchair Basketball competitions.

Different Basketball Wheelchairs For Different Players

Of course using the wheelchair itself when playing basketball is a challenge in itself. Not only must players focus on playing the game well. They also need to coordinate dribbling the ball while pushing a wheelchair.

This disadvantage demands the basketball wheelchair design to be enhanced for optimum stability. It needs to distribute the athletes’ mass equally in all directions as they move around the basketball court. That is why the wheelchairs are made with lower seats and outwardly angled wheels. The design keeps the wheelchair from tipping over while giving the appropriate mobility and speed that each player needs.

Depending on the player’s position, the wheelchair designs are also made differently.

– Centers and Forwards who are usually under the net use higher seating for maximum shots and rebounds but less mobility.

– On the other hand, Forwards need to handle the basketball and travel down the court as quick as possible. In that case, they use lower seats that maximize their mobility.

Look for your own basketball wheelchair here.

Can You Do Dunks Or Layups In Wheelchair Basketball?

The modern basketball playing is identical to slam dunks and layups. Now, one of the most common questions regarding wheelchair basketball is this:

Is doing dunks and layups possible in a wheelchair?

While dunks are probably off the table, layups have been proven possible. Just ask Brian Bell of the RHI Pacers during a 2013 NWBA National Championship. Brian had to make a split-second decision to deliver a layup shot. Just when he was falling off to the ground after being knocked over by another player close to the net.

The moment was recorded in a short but memorable video. If you watch it, you can see how Brian moved quickly and made fast decisions while still controlling the basketball. That’s a move that not many basketball athletes could make, even the skilled ones.


No wonder that winning over Spain 68-52 during the Rio 2016 Paralympic finals was considered a memorable feat by the Men’s US Team in the history of US Wheelchair Basketball. It simply was nothing short of easy to achieve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge