Your sport: Basketball

It's such a towering game that Michael Jordan just can't stay away from it. Jonathan Thompson dribbles around the history and kit of the sport of giants
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The Independent Online

On Tuesday, hundreds of millions of people across the world will tune into a basketball game. It's not an international match, a final, or even a play-off. But as the NBA season begins, all eyes will be on Madison Square Garden, New York, where Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, will return from retirement to the professional game.

Basketball has become big business. The best players, like Jordan in his prime, can earn eight-figure salaries, plus their income from sponsorship deals. It's a far cry from the wildest expectations of the sport's founder, Dr James Naismith, who nailed two peach baskets on to opposite walls of a YMCA gymnasium in 1891.

Dr Naismith had been given 14 days to design an indoor game to provide "athletic distraction" for the college's football and lacrosse players during the winter. Inspired by a childhood pastime, he drew up 13 rules of basketball – 12 of which are still adhered to. During that first winter, the sport was played between teams of nine, with a simple leather football. Every time a basket was scored, the college janitor would have to climb his ladder to retrieve it.

The sport spread rapidly, and the first professional league was founded only seven years later. Basketball was soon being played across the United States and Canada, before it arrived in Europe. Today, there are more than 300 million players worldwide. The game is played between two teams of five. Two or three points are awarded for a basket, depending on the player's proximity to the basket when the shot is taken. Single points can be picked up from "foul" shots, after an infringement. Matches are played in quarters, each consisting of 10 minutes.

The NBA remains the biggest basketball league in the world. There are two British players competing in it – Michael Olowokandi at the LA Clippers and John Amaechi at Utah Jazz. The latter, who grew up in Manchester, is reportedly the highest-paid British sportsman. His five-year contract at Orlando Magic was worth £37.7m before he opted to move to his current team at the end of last season.

The UK, which boasts an estimated two million active players, has a professional league of its own – the BBL. There are 13 clubs in the premier division, which tends to be dominated by the "big three" of London Towers, Sheffield Sharks and Birmingham Bullets.

The facts

Michael Jordan's professional comeback – with the Washington Wizards, against the New York Knicks – will be screened live on BBC1 this Tuesday at 11.05pm.

For more information on basketball, contact England Basketball, formerly known as EBBA (0113 236 1166, www.englandbasketball.co.uk), the Scottish Basketball Association (0131 317 7260, www.basketball-scotland.com), or the Basketball Association of Wales (www.bballwales.enta.net).

The English men's senior team play Slovenia in a European championship qualifier at Coventry Sky Dome, 24 November (0247 663 0693).

For comprehensive NBA updates, scores and information, visit www.nba.com. There is a special section on the site for the UK (www.nba.com/uk) and John Amaechi has a personal website (www.meech.org). Other useful websites are www.bbl.org.uk and www.fiba.com, the sport's international body.

Ball: Balls range in price from around £6 to £50. Rubber balls are light, inexpensive and good for outdoor use. Synthetic leather is suitable for indoor or out. Match balls of leather composite are more solid, softer to handle and allow a better grip but won't last long in the back garden. Adult balls are a size seven, two sizes larger than a football. Baden is the most popular make in the UK but worldwide Spalding has the edge: their Infusion ball, £39.99, available in the UK from November, is an all-surface, synthetic ball with an in-built two-inch pump to combat mid-game deflation. FIBA requires an all-tan ball at international level but national leagues often use the tan and white balls to increase visibility for spectators.

Clothing and shoes: Shoes, boots and half-boots designed for basketball give varying degrees of ankle support, flexibility and movement. Comfort is key, and look for a cushioned sole and heel and good traction. A reasonable pair will cost you £50 to £60; prices go up to £140, but beware of paying just for names or high-tech gimmicks. Players usually wear a baggy vest and long shorts in breathable material such as mesh or soft polyester. For games, the vests need a number, which has to be eight inches tall on the back and four inches tall on the front. This must stand out to allow the referee to allocate fouls, so vests have to be a solid colour. A team kit – 10 sets – starts from around £250.

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