Two teams of five players trying to arrow a ball through a hoop ten feet off the ground. Basketball’s simplicity is inversely proportional to the complexity of actually playing it.
The game as played at the Olympics differs slightly from the NBA, in that each quarter is 10 minutes long, rather than the 12 minutes that are standard Stateside. What doesn’t differ is the dominance of the Americans. The fuzzy nature of the Olympics toward the amateur / professional divide means that the US men’s team is stacked with imposing NBA talent, and they usually bring home the gold… although not always — in one of the more amazing reversals in Olympic history, the Munich 1972 final saw the Soviet Union beat the Americans in a controversial, though spectacularly exciting, last-ditch score:
Should the Americans reach the final — a not unlikely prospect — they may have the added incentive of having the President, himself a noted basketball fan, watching from the stands.
As for our homegrown prospects, the men’s team can barely have had a worse run-up to the competition: they’ve lost three of their warm-up games. In Brixton’s own Luol Deng, however, they have a genuine star: the 6’9″ Chicago Bulls forward made his first appearance in the NBA’s annual All-Star game earlier this year. The women have fared slightly better, beating France and starting out well against the US before falling away. Both teams are hoping to reach the quarter-finals.
The sport’s Paralympic cousin is wheelchair basketball, which follows the same rules. In 2004 and 2008 Britain’s men won a bronze medal, and they’ll hope to better or improve upon that result in front of a home crowd. Leading the line will be Simon Munn, who will be representing the nation at his sixth, and final, Paralympic Games.
Most of the basketball events at the Olympics and Paralympics will take place at the Basketball Arena, which we visited last year as part of a test event, while in the latter stages the action moves to the O2 (or North Greenwich Arena, as its Olympic guise).