Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Women's basketball

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Team sport, ball sport

Basketball court

Women's basketball

Highest governing body
International Basketball Federation

Team members
Five on-court players per team

Women's basketball is one of the few women's sports that developed in tandem with its men's counterpart. It became popular, spreading from the east coast of the United States to the west coast, in large part via women's colleges. From 1895 until 1970, the term "women's basketball" was also used to refer to netball, which evolved in parallel with modern women's basketball.


The FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup features the top national teams from continental championships. The main North American league is the WNBA, whereas the EuroLeague Women has been dominated by teams from the Russian Women's Basketball Premier League. The NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship is also popular in the United States.

Early women's basketball

Women's basketball began in the winter of 1892 at Smith College. Senda Berenson, an instructor at Smith, taught basketball to her students, hoping the activity would improve their physical health. Basketball's early adherents were affiliated with YMCAs and colleges throughout the United States, and the game quickly spread throughout the country.

However, Berenson was taking risks simply in teaching the game to women. She worried a little about the women suffering from "nervous fatigue" if games were too strenuous for them. And, in order to keep it "acceptable" for women to play at all, she taught modified rules. These included a court divided into three areas and nine players per team. Three players were assigned to each area (guard, center, forward) and could not cross the line into another area. The ball was moved from section to section by passing or dribbling. Players were limited to three dribbles and could hold the ball for three seconds. No snatching or batting the ball away from a player was allowed. A center jump was required after each score. Peach baskets and the soccer ball were the equipment. Uniforms consisted of attire similar to school uniforms, including long baggy shorts. Meanwhile current women's basketball uniforms consist of a jersey and gym shorts. Variations of Berenson’s rules spread across the country via YMCAs and colleges.

The first intercollegiate women's basketball game was played between teams from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, in 1896.

Recent women's basketball

The popularity of women's basketball grew steadily around the world for decades. By the 1970s the sport had attracted the notice the International Olympic Committee, which added women's basketball as an official sport of the Olympic Games in 1976, the men debuted in 1936. Throughout the 1970s, funding for (and interest in) women's basketball began to dramatically increase as schools receiving federal funding began to come into compliance with new laws mandating a lack of discrimination based on sex. The sport was also gaining attention at the collegiate level, under the auspices of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). A major development in women's basketball occurred in 1982 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began to sponsor the sport.. After several failed attempts at women's professional leagues in the U.S., the NBA founded the WNBA in 1996.

Rules and equipment

Rules for women's basketball are nearly the same as the rules for men's basketball. Probably the biggest difference is that the circumference of the women’s basketball is one inch smaller than the circumference of the size of the men's basketball. Also, in American professional basketball, the women’s three-point line is slightly closer to the basket than men’s.

Basketball size

The regulation WNBA ball is a minimum 28.5 inches (72.4 cm) in circumference, which is 1.00 inch (2.54 cm) smaller than the NBA ball. This is a standard size 6 ball. As of 2008, this size is used for all senior-level women's competitions worldwide.

Court dimensions

The standard court size in U.S. college and WNBA play is 94 feet long by 50 feet wide. The FIBA standard court is slightly smaller at 28 metres long by 15 metres wide (91 ft 10.4 in by 49 ft 2.6 in). The three-point line is 20 feet and 6.25 inches (6.25 m) from the middle of the basket in WNBA competition but 6.75 m (22 ft 1.7 in) in FIBA competition. Also, there is no block/charge arc under the basket in WNBA, whereas FIBA's 2010 rules created a 1.25 m (4 ft 1 in) block/charge arc.

Shot clock

The WNBA shot clock was changed from 30 to 24 seconds, which has been in FIBA play since 2000, and has been used by the NBA since the shot clock was first introduced. Both men's and women’s NCAA college basketball uses a 30-second shot clock; men used a 35-second shot clock until the 2005-2006 season, when they switched to 30 seconds as well.

Game clock

Most high school games are played with four 8-minute quarters, while NCAA, WNBA, and FIBA games are played in four 10 minute quarters. In 2015-2016 the NCAA changed the rules to 10 minute quarters from 20 minute halves.


Women's basketball is governed internationally by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Since 1953 FIBA has hosted a world championship tournament for women, currently known as the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. The event, renamed from "FIBA World Championship for Women" after its 2014 edition, is currently held in even-numbered non-Summer Olympic years. There has been some concern about the reach of the sport after one governing body disallowed Muslim women playing in hijabs.


Berenson's freshmen played the sophomore class in the first women's collegiate basketball game held on 22 March 1893. University of California and Miss Head's School, had played the first women's extramural game in 1892. Also in 1893, Mount Holyoke and Sophie Newcomb College, coached by Clara Gregory Baer, the inventor of Newcomb ball) women began playing basketball. By 1895, the game had spread to colleges across the country, including Wellesley, Vassar and Bryn Mawr. The first intercollegiate women's game was on 4 April 1896. Stanford women played California, 9-on-9, ending in a 2–1 Stanford victory. Clara Gregory Baer published the first book of rules for women's basketball in 1895 she first called the game 'Basquette', a name later dropped in her first revision of rules called Newcomb College Basketball Rules published in 1908. In 1971 five player, full court game was adopted followed by women's sports foundation which was formed in 1974.

Women's college basketball remains very popular throughout North America, with the sports being sponsored by all of the major college athletic associations: the NCAA, the NAIA, the NJCAA, the NCCAA, the CCAA and the CIS. Division I of the NCAA is considered the highest level of college competition, with the winner of the annual NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship game declared 'national champion.' The University of Connecticut Huskies have won the last four NCAA Division I national championships (2013–2016).

Professional leagues

There have been several professional leagues established in several countries including the United States, Europe, Japan, England and Australia.

International competitions

Though it was originally an American sport, it quickly spread internationally and outstanding players and teams are found today all over the world. Women's basketball leagues now exist in most areas of the world including Australia, Asia, South America, and Europe.


Women's basketball has been contested in the Summer Olympics since 1976.

Additional International Competitions

In addition to the Olympics and Women's World Cup, women's basketball is also contested in the Pan American Games and the Central American and Caribbean Games. Women's basketball made its first appearance at the Commonwealth Games in 2006. Basketball (for both men and women) is one of the sports that the host nation of the Island Games may select for competition. Women also compete in wheelchair basketball in the Paralympic Games.


The FIBA Africa Women's Championship is the women's basketball continental championship of Africa, played biennially under the auspices of FIBA, the basketball sport governing body, and the African zone thereof. The tournament also serves to qualify teams for participation in the quadrennial FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup and the Olympic basketball tournament.

United States

One of the major important events in the development of women's basketball in the United States was Title IX.

Title IX was passed in 1972 to end sexual discrimination and stereotyping in admission to colleges and also in academic subjects (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). Therefore, Congress’ original goal was eliminating this discrimination in academic and educational processes. “Title IX is today generally viewed as having fixed the problem of gender inequality of sports, at least in educational settings” (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008, 79). It started out as simply involving education but then shifted in a debate to sports. Some groups such as the NCAA fought to keep things the way they were in reference to men’s sports. The NCAA had built up the programs and earned financial support and popularity and did not want to throw that down the drain (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). In 1974, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued Title IX regulations regarding intercollegiate athletics (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). Title IX implies that if a school has a specific sport’s team for boys then they must have a team in that same sport for girls. This will occur unless the men’s sport happens to be a contact sport in which the rule will not necessarily apply (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). In 1978, colleges and universities were forced to apply Title IX’s rules and regulations. Athletic departments had to adhere to one of three requirements which were the proportionality rule, the gender equity rule, or historical progress rule (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). Each of these requirements addressed Title IX and its regulations in a fair manner. To ensure that schools comply with Title IX, they face the consequence of losing federal funding for any violation (Sadker, 2001).

The proportionality rule entails that a school provides opportunities proportional to its enrollment. As an example, if a school is 55% male and 45% female then the athletic participation should be 55:45 (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). Not only does the proportionality rule apply to athletic participation, but it also addresses scholarships. “So if a college is spending $400,000 per year on athletic scholarships and half of the athletic participants are women then half of that amount, $200,000, should be funding athletic scholarships for women (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008, 299). The gender equity rule entails that a school must prove that it “meets the interest of the gender that is underrepresented” (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008, 107) which happens to be women. The historical progress rule entails that if a school is unable to provide proportional opportunities then they must put forth an effort to create more opportunities for the underrepresented gender (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008).

Between 1971 and 2000, Title IX has proven to have had a huge impact on female collegiate sports. “Sports participation among college women has risen from 372 percent over that time, from 32,000 to more than 150,000 women (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008, 108). Also now 33.5% of female students participate in sports (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008). The issue still remaining is that women’s sports beyond college do not benefit from Title IX. As a whole, they make less income than men in professional sports which Title IX cannot do much about. However due to Title IX some women have gotten recognition as a result of the debate. “Women athletes receive greater respect today but relatively skimpy media attention. Thank Title IX for…the growing visibility of women’s college basketball that has USA Today producing a pullout section for the women’s NCAA March Madness tournament” (McDonagh, Pappano, 2008, 109).

Professional women's basketball has been played in the United States. There have been several leagues, the most recent of which is the WNBA. The first attempt was the Women's Pro Basketball League. The league played three seasons from the fall of 1978 to the spring of 1981. The league is generally considered to be the first American professional women's basketball league to be founded.

The second women's professional league to be created in the United States was the WBA. The league played three seasons from the summer of 1993 to the summer of 1995. The league is considered to be the first American professional women's basketball league to be successful as a summer league, like the WNBA. The league played three full seasons with plans to play as a 12-team league in 1997 but disbanded before 1997 season. The WBA played a 15-game schedule and games were broadcast on Liberty Sports of Dallas. When FOX Sports purchased Liberty Sports and the WBA, they disbanded the league.

In 1996, two professional women's leagues were started in the United States. They were the American Basketball League and the WNBA. The American Basketball League was founded in 1996 during an increase in the interest in the sport following the 1996 Summer Olympics. The league played two full seasons (1996–97 and 1997–98) and started a third (1998–99) before it folded on 22 December 1998.


The Women's National Basketball Association or WNBA is an organization governing a professional basketball league for women in the United States. The WNBA was formed in 1996 as the women's counterpart to the National Basketball Association, and league play began in 1997. The regular WNBA season is June to September (North American Spring and Summer). Most WNBA teams play at the same venue as their NBA counterparts. Most team names are also very similar to those of NBA teams in the same market, such as the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx.

Officially approved by the NBA Board of Governors on 24 April 1996, the creation of the WNBA was first announced at a press conference with Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes in attendance. While not the first major women's professional basketball league in the United States (a distinction held by the defunct WBL), the WNBA is the only league to receive full backing of the NBA.

On the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women's National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA began its first season on 21 June 1997 to much fanfare. The league began with eight teams. The first WNBA game featured the New York Liberty facing the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles and was televised nationally, in the United States, on the NBC television network. At the start of the 1997 season, the WNBA had television deals in place with NBC, ESPN and Lifetime Television Network.

The league is divided into two conferences, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each of the 12 teams play a 34-game regular season schedule, beginning in June and ending in mid September. The four teams in each conference with the best Win/Loss records go on to compete in the WNBA Playoffs during September with the WNBA Finals in early October.

An All-Star Game is typically held in the middle of July, while regular play stops temporarily for it. In Olympic years, there is no all-star game, but a break of about five weeks in the middle of the WNBA season allows players to participate in the Olympics as members of their national teams.

There have been a total of 18 teams in WNBA history. A total of five teams have folded: the Charlotte Sting, the Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, the Miami Sol and the Portland Fire. Three other teams have moved—the Utah Starzz to San Antonio, where they are now the Stars; the Orlando Miracle to Uncasville, Connecticut, where they now play as the Connecticut Sun; and the Detroit Shock to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they played as the Tulsa Shock, until a relocation to Dallas, Texas in 2015 where they now play as the Dallas Wings.


The Women's Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) is a professional women's basketball league established in 2002.

The Women's Hong Kong Basketball Association is the highest women's professional club basketball competition in Hong Kong.

The Indian National Basketball Championship for Women is a professional basketball tournament in India for women

The Women's Japan Basketball League is a premier women's basketball league in Japan.

The Lebanese Basketball League or FLB League is the top-tier professional basketball league in Lebanon.

The Women's Philippine Basketball League was a women's basketball league in the Philippines

The Women's Korean Basketball League (WKBL) is the premier women's basketball league in South Korea

The Women's Super Basketball League is the highest women's professional club basketball competition in Republic of China


The Russian Women's Basketball Premier League is the dominant league in Europe. Other notable leagues are the Italian Serie A1 and Turkish Women's Basketball League.


Professional basketball exists in England. Women's English Basketball League is major professional competition. The league has grown steadily over recent years, and has now reached a level of thirty national league sides. The league is split into two levels. Division 1 is as close to professional as women's sport gets in the United Kingdom, with teams such as Rhondda Rebels and Sheffield Hatters bringing in players from the USA and Europe. The Nottingham Wildcats make up the trio of clubs that helped establish the women's league and remain amongst the top three or four places. The gap between these top teams and the rest of the league has remained, but gradually as the women's game has developed, the gulf in results has been reduced, and each year there have been more competitive games.

Promotion from Division 2 has always reinforced the gap between the two leagues, as the winner of the Division 2 promotion play-offs has found the step-up difficult. The Division 2 play-offs take the top four teams from the North and South of the Second Divisions, with the top playing the bottom of the other pool. This year (2006/7) saw several new teams join the second division, showing the continual growth of the women's game. These included the SevenOaks Suns, Enfield Phoenix, Taunton Tigers and Bristol Storm.


Professional women's basketball exists in Australia in the form of the Women's National Basketball League. The league was founded in 1981 as a way for the best women's basketball teams in the various Australian States to compete against each other on a regular basis. Today the WNBL is the premier women's basketball league in Australia.


  • "Off the Rez" — A 2011 documentary for TLC about the journey of future WNBA player Shoni Schimmel from the Oregon Indian reservation where she was raised to Portland in high school, and ultimately to the University of Louisville.
  • "She Got Game" is based on the high school basketball success of Brigid Touey Humphrey
  • Theatrical releases

  • Believe in Me (2006 film)
  • Double Teamed
  • Love & Basketball
  • The Heart of the Game
  • The Mighty Macs
  • The St. Tammany Miracle
  • Salaam Dunk
  • The Winning Season
  • Woman Basketball Player No. 5
  • References

    Women's basketball Wikipedia