Wheelchair basketball: A new kind of 'madness'

If you have never been to a wheelchair basketball game, you will be shocked by three things: The pace, the aggressiveness and the fierce competition. 

“Most people that have never seen wheelchair basketball picture a few people sitting around in a circle in chairs, trying to make baskets” says John DeAngelo, a 30 year basketball veteran.

What you would in fact see is people wheeling up and down the court faster than lightening, players falling out of their chairs on a very frequent basis and getting back up in 10 seconds flat.

There are a few things that traditional and wheelchair basketball have in common:

1)      The court. It’s set up the same—even the hoop is regulation size.

2)      The rules. They’re basically the same, with a few notable differences outlined below. For example, traditional standing players can only take two steps before they dribble, pass or shoot. A wheelchair player can take a maximum of two pushes. Same, yet different.

Things that differ include:

1)      Cost of equipment. Wheelchair athletes need to purchase sports wheelchairs in addition to their primary wheelchairs. This can run between $2,000 and $2,500 for a decent chair, every two to three years. Luckily, Magee Rehab pays for this equipment for all the athletes in our Wheelchair Sports Program.

2)      No slam dunks.  This is said tongue in cheek, but it’s true. The distance to shoot to make a basket is from significantly longer than it would be for a standing athlete (remember: regulation hoop), making highlight reel dunks an impossibility.

3)      Practice space and traveling for games is more challenging.This is due to limited accessible gyms, and often needing to pack two wheelchairs for a short trip.

4)      No double dribbling. At all. Ever.

5)      More falls.  Because the wheels on a basketball chair favor speed over stability, these athletes fall frequently—the team averages between 5-10 falls a game.

John, a congenital bilateral lower extremity  amputee, had always been a sports fanatic and played a lot of sports in Philly’s neighborhoods as a child. On a whim, he started playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 12 for an Easter Seals team.  At that time, the average player was 21 years old. This taught him to be aggressive and to grow up quickly. He has been playing for Magee Rehabilitation’s team, the Magee Spokesman, for about 20 years. Over the years, he has inspired many new players to try basketball.

Most wheelchair athletes begin playing after a traumatic injury such as a spinal cord injury or traumatic amputation. According to DeAngelo, participating in wheelchair sports enables them to move out of their comfort zone, and focus on what they are still able to do by being physically competitive. There is a big learning curve with managing the chair and the ball at the same time. The fear of falling out of the chair is something that they need to get over quickly.

Why does John love wheelchair basketball so much?

“It gives me a chance to be very physically competitive,” he said. “It also provides a fun way to maintain health and fitness.”

For game schedules, or more information on the Magee Spokesmen, please visit MageeRehab.org.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.

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