London Spy

Sport guide: Basketball

London Spy

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Basketball is played on an indoor court 28 metres long and 15m wide. Teams are made up of 12 players, with five on the court at any time and unlimited substitutions.

Two points are awarded for a regular shot from open play, one point for each successful free throw (following a foul) and three points for a shot from distance (beyond what’s known as the three-point line, 6.75m from the basket).

Basketball at the Olympic Games begins and ends with the United States. They have been at the centre of the best, the worst and the most controversial that the sport has had to offer.

With all respect to the women, who have been competing since 1976, it is the men's event that frequently provides a highlight of every Games, although things didn't get off to a very auspicious start in 1936. Matches were played outdoors and heavy rain for the final dashed any hopes of a spectacle as the Americans beat Canada 19-8.

Victory set the United States on a winning run that was ended in 1972 by the Soviet Union — a defeat so hotly disputed that the Americans refused to accept their silver medals.

The United States have failed to win gold on only two other occasions, losing to the Soviets in the semi-finals in 1988 and to Argentina at the same stage in 2004, although the boycott of Moscow in 1980 enabled Yugoslavia to win their only basketball gold.

The all-time high came in 1992 when IOC clearance to admit professional players paved the way for the United States to field their 'Dream Team' of stars (pictured) from the NBA — including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and more — and win every game by an average margin of 44 points.

The low was that 'Nightmare Team' of 2004, whose defeat against Argentina followed upsets against Puerto Rico and Lithuania.

1 United States
2 Lithuania
3 Spain
4 Argentina
5 Brazil
6 France
7 Australia
8 New Zealand
1 United States
2 Czech Republic
3 Australia
4 Russia
5 Brazil
6 Argentina
7 China
8 France

Games run for 40 minutes, and are split into four 10-minute quarters. The clock stops for breaks in play, such as fouls.

Both the men’s and women’s competitions begin with a round-robin preliminary stage, with the 12 teams in each competition being divided into two groups of six. The top four teams in each group qualify for the quarter-finals and the bottom two are eliminated from the competition.


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