Wheelchair basketball began in 1946 when many young men returned from World War II paralyzed and used wheelchairs for mobility. The first games were played at Veteran’s Administration Hospitals in California and Massachusetts. The sport spread across the nation to VA hospitals in Boston, Chicago, Memphis, Richmond and New York.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) was created in 1948 with six teams. All teams were members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and were operating from VA hospitals. A team from Birmingham, California toured the nation in 1948. From this tour, the first team outside of VA hospitals was created in Kansas City. In April of 1949, students from the University of Illinois formed and hosted the first National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NWBT). The Kansas City Pioneers were the first NWBT champions in 1949. The St. Louis Rams won the NWBT for the next three years.
Wheelchair basketball expanded into an international sport when the Montreal Wheelchair Wonders of the Canadian Paraplegic Association were invited to participate in the sixth National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in 1954. The international movement gained momentum the following year when the Pan American Jets journeyed to England to compete in the International Stoke Mandeville Games. That year the U.S. wheelchair basketball team won the international championship.
As the years passed, more and more teams were developed and membership within the association increased. The expanding number of teams led to more conferences and a change to the way team’s qualified for the NWBT. The top two teams from each regional tournament advanced to the NWBT. In 1973, the qualifying structure was altered to provide the emergence of four sectional tournaments. The two top teams from the regional tournament advanced to the sectional tournament. The winner from each sectional advanced to the NWBT. This final four was a showcase event for the sport.
The first intercollegiate game was played in 1970. The Central Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Conference was formed in 1978, following the first Intercollegiate Tournament in 1977. Their mission was simply to address the unique needs, interests and abilities of the student-athlete while maintaining active membership in the NWBA.
Nowadays wheelchair basketball has spread to every continent and is now an integral part of all regular international wheelchair games: The Pan American Games, the Commonwealth Games, the European Games, the Far Eastern as well as the South Pacific Games. Wheelchair Basketball has been a part of the Paralympics since the first games in Rome in 1960. In 1975 the first Gold Cup Championships was held in Bruges, Belgium. Now called the World Championships, this event is held every four years. The women ‘s first World Championship was held in St. Etienne, France in 1990.