Team USA Upsets Japan!

Lots of bumping, pushing, and fouls. 24 seconds to score. Incredible spin moves and reverse layups. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? While the Team USA Men’s Basketball Team Gold Medal Game garnered nearly 900,000 views (as of mid-September), the Wheelchair Men’s Basketball USA Team Gold Medal game only had around 70,000 views; yet the outcome of the game was not a given. It does show that many people are missing out on some innovative basketball. If you’re one of the ones missing out, take a seat, and let me introduce you to what you missed!

Credit to the Wheelchair Sports Federation for Picture

A little over a week ago, the Tokyo Paralympics concluded, and I had the joy of watching the United States of America take on Japan in the Gold Medal Game of Wheelchair Basketball. Like their counterparts in the Olympics, the men’s wheelchair basketball team in the US is starting to become a powerhouse, winning gold medals in 1960, 1964, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 2016. The women’s wheelchair basketball team is also a powerhouse, winning gold medals in 1988, 1996, 2004, 2008, 2016, and taking home Bronze this year.

I was immediately intrigued by the warmups, as it seemed players glided to the basket to make layups, which was followed by the ball seamlessly falling into the rebounders lap without a second bounce. The pre-game high fives were also interesting, as instead of walking out, the players pumped their wheelchairs once, and then coasted through the line, slapping hands. Once the game started, two players jostled their wheelchairs against one another, trying to obtain possession of the ball.

The game was incredibly close, and because players were always looking for a great shot, possessions would come down to the end of the shot clock. The score remained close throughout the game, as teams traded baskets. It takes a lot of strength to shoot from a wheelchair, which is why points are so rewarding and all the players have an amazing amount of upper-body strength. Flying down the court, occasionally, players made diving saves towards their teammates. This requires pumping the iron as much as you can, collecting the ball, turning around and passing it to a teammate, potentially losing balance and often fall out of bounds.

Credit to the Wheelchair Sports Federation for Picture

As the game continued on in the second half, one player really stood out to me, and he was Steve Serio, captain of the Men’s US Wheelchair Basketball team. Serio was the undisputed leader of the team, point guard, and primary ball-handler who put up 28 points. He clearly commanded the respect and deference of his teammates. Serio sent up shot after shot, sometimes single-handedly keeping the US in the game.

Towards the end of the fourth quarter, the US had the ball and the lead, so Japan was forced to foul. However, fouling takes much longer to occur in wheelchair basketball than basketball, because in basketball, players can wrap their arms around another player. There must be contact between chairs in wheelchair basketball, so even fouling takes skill. However, once Serio nailed some more free throws and Japan missed a shot, they did not foul. The US was up by four, and they knew fouling would stall the inevitable, so they let the US take the ball up-court and then, they shook hands. The sportsmanship was remarkably refreshing. The US would win the Gold Medal with a final score of 64-60, marking their second straight gold medal in a row. The ironic thing about this win was that it came down to free throw shooting. While the US made 28 shots from the field, Japan made 29! Japan’s field goal percentage was 49% compared to the US’ 43%. I was very proud of the US, and couldn’t wait to watch another game… only to realize the Paralympics had concluded.

Credit to the Wheelchair Sports Federation for Picture

How did wheelchair basketball become the sport it is today? Initially used as a form of rehab for veterans who fought in World War Two, wheelchair basketball was officially invented in 1945. Around the same time, a man named Sir Ludwig Guttmann created a similar game at a Spinal Rehab hospital. By 1960, wheelchair basketball officially made its way to the Paralympic games.

The rules of wheelchair basketball aren’t that different from the rules of basketball as most fans know it. The hoop is the same height (10 feet), the court is the same length and width (92 by 49 feet), and the free throw line and three-point line remain the same distance from the hoop (15 feet, and 20.5 feet, respectively). Despite these similarities, there are differences such as the following:

  • No double dribbling, since it is near impossible to continuously dribble and use your hands to steer yourself.
  • Traveling violations for keeping the ball on the lap for more than two pushes. This does not account for coasting.
  • Using legs to gain an advantage is forbidden.

Check out this example:

Credit to Ishawulf for YouTube Video
A comment on the Video above

While studying the nuances of the game, one can see that wheelchair basketball is not a game for soft players. Like basketball, it is rough, with lots of bumps, fouls, pushes, wheels getting interlocked, and players following over. Something else basketball fans may recognize when watching wheelchair basketball is the full court press, something that both teams did throughout the match. It went much better for the US, as they were able to record 10 steals, to Japan’s 1.

Credit to the Wheelchair Sports Federation for Picture

So, where can we watch more wheelchair basketball? If you live in America, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) could be an option. According to the NWBA,

“We are the organization that is responsible for growing and developing wheelchair basketball in the United States, and the selection and training of the Paralympic and Parapan AM Games teams, as well as major international competitions. The U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Division and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation recognize the NWBA as the governing body for the United States.”

The NWBA’s About Us Page

The NWBA is featured in 42 different states, and it’s not just limited to one age group. You can go see Prep teams play, junior teams, Division III, Division II, Division I, Collegiate, High Performance, and Men and Women. Across all of these divisions, the NWBA has over 3,000 players.

They’re multiple other competitions to tune in to, as the Division A 2021 European Championships start on December 2nd and go until December 13th. At the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (played from July 28th-August 8th, 2022), we will see the birth of 3v3 wheelchair basketball, something that should be highly anticipated. They’re also the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Para Games, which will be held from October 9th to October 15th, 2022).

If I were Dr. James Naismith and stopped watching basketball due to its heavy emphasis on dribbling and shooting, I would certainly tune back in to watch wheelchair basketball.


One thought on “Team USA Upsets Japan!

  1. Another great Blog, very informative and interesting. Talk about overcoming adversity, I can’t imagine the upper body strength and balance required to make these shots from a sitting position and in a wheelchair. I give these players a lot of credit for not allowing their physical restrictions to prevent them from participating in such a demanding game. I will certainly watch a game when their season begins. Please keep us updated on when and how we can watch. Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.


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