During the long winter of 1891, a Canadian physical education teacher working as an instructor at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts was looking for an indoor game to keep his students interested and physically fit. His name was Dr. James Naismith and the game he invented was basketball.
Loosely based on a children’s game called “duck on a rock”, the sport involved two teams of five to nine players trying to throwing a soccer ball into peach basket nailed high on a railing at either end of the school gymnasium.
The game was popular from the very first game and Naismith and his students and staff introduced the game to YMCA’s throughout the United States and Canada. By 1895, basketball was being played by both men and women at colleges across the continent.
The rules were refined and standardized over the next few years (although it took ten years before someone came up with the clever idea of cutting the bottom off the peach basket so the ball would fall through). Soon, all teams had five players per side. Originally, the ball was moved up the court only by passing. Dribbling – or bouncing the ball while running – did not become common until the modern-day basketball was invented in the 1950s. Until then, the balls were not perfectly round, so they were hard to control by bouncing. Twelve of Naismith’s original 13 rules are still used today, including the rules against physical contact.
Despite the fact that basketball is considered an American game, the sport has a long and rich international history. In1932, The International Basketball Federation (FE9dE9ration Internationale de Basketball Amateur – FIBA) was formed by Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland. In 1989, the word Amateur was dropped from the name, but the organization continues to be known as FIBA. FIBA World Championship Tournaments for both men and women began in the 1950s.
The Basketball Association of America (BAA) – which later became the National Basketball Association (NBA) – was formed in 1946. The first professional BAA game took place in Toronto, between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knickerbockers. So not only was the game invented by a Canadian, the NBA’s first professional game took place here.
Although an Olympic basketball demonstration tournament was held in 1904, the sport wasn’t included in the Olympic Games until 1936. The U.S. men’s team has come away with the gold medal all but three times. From the moment women’s basketball was added to the Olympic roster in 1976, teams like Brazil and Australia have challenged the Americans for the gold.
In recent years, national teams from many different countries have managed to beat the American teams, despite the fact that NBA players are permitted in both World Championship and Olympic play. The US
finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships which were won by Yugoslavia. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the United States took the bronze behind Argentina and Italy. The 2006 FIBA World Championships in Japan, were won by the Spanish team, featuring two members of the current Toronto Raptors (Garbajosa and Calderon).
The growing popularity of basketball around the globe can be seen in the make-up of modern NBA teams. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the NBA is Canada’s Steve Nash, who won in both 2005 and 2006. The tallest current NBA player is Yao Ming of China, who stands at 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in). Other outstanding international players include German superstar Dirk Nowitski of the Dallas Mavericks and Spanish all-star Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA two time champion San Antonio Spurs have three international players in their starting line-up: Tim Duncan of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Manu Ginobili of Argentina and French all-star Tony Parker. Most of the NBA’s top teams feature players from around the world. The Phoenix Suns have players from Canada, Brazil, Ireland, France and New Zealand. The Dallas Mavericks have stars from Germany, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Congo as well as a British player of Ghanaian ancestry.
As the only NBA team based outside of the USA, the Toronto Raptors are also one of the most international teams in the league.
Italian Maurizio Gherardini is the Raptors’ vice-president of basketball operations and assistant general manager. One of the most important and successful personalities in international basketball, Gherardini is so respected that NBA teams have long sought his advice when drafting and scouting European players. It is only fitting that he become the first European to become an NBA executive.
Here are the international players who have helped the Toronto Raptors achieve the first division title in the club’s history.
Andrea Bargnani, nicknamed “Il Mago”, has lived up to all the hype around being selected first overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. His style has drawn many comparisons to that of NBA superstar Dirk Nowitski. In fact, Bargnani has a better rookie record than Nowitski. Twice selected as the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, he had an emergency appendectomy in March, but is expected to be a
marquee player for his Canadian team.
JosE9 CalderF3n was a key part of the Spanish national team which won the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Even though he has played off the bench for most of the season, he is half (along with T.J. Ford) of what is considered to be one of the best point guard duos in the NBA.
Jorge Garbajosa nicknamed “Garbo”, was one of the stars of the Spanish championship team – scoring 20 points in the final against Greece. He is known for his tough, team-oriented play, his excellent three point shooting and his high basketball IQ. At 29 he is one of the oldest rookies ever to make it into the NBA. After helping the Raptors make the playoffs, his 2007 season ended abruptly in March with a broken leg. But he will be back to help the Raptors make another play-off run next year.
Radoslav (Rasho) Nesterovic, is a 7-foot Serbian centre. An NBA veteran, he was part of the title-winning 2004 San Antonio Spurs. He brings strong play and valuable playoff experience to this young Toronto team.
Pape Sow from Senegal showed great promise during his NBA rookie season for the Raptors, but injuries have kept him sidelined for much of his professional career. He spent much of this season recovering from a broken neck he sustained during summer league play. His talent and hard work make Sow a fan favourite.
Uros Slokar, the 2002 Slovenian League Rookie of the Year went on to play for Maurizio Gherardini’s Benetton Treviso. In his limited playing time this year for the Toronto Raptors, the second round draft pick from 2005 has displayed considerable talent and a strong work ethic.
Anthony Parker is an American who played for three NBA teams between 1997 and 1999. He made his name in the Euroleague, playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, where he was two time Euroleague MVP.
There are even a few Americans on this year’s Toronto Raptors (the only Canadian is assistant coach Jay Triano), including team stars Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford, head coach Sam Mitchell (named 2006/2007 Coach of the Year) and General Manager Brian Colangelo. This is truly one of the most international teams in NBA – and with the teamwork they’ve shown this season they may become a model for other NBA teams looking to improve in a hurry.