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History of Wheelchair Basketball and NWBA

World War II veterans gave birth to wheelchair basketball in 1946.  They played in Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals in Birmingham (CA) and Framingham (MA), as well as at the Corona Naval Station (CA) where World War II veterans were being treated for various degrees of paralysis. The Birmingham Report published an article on November 26, 1946, titled "Plegics Win Wheelchair Game, 16 to 6". The veterans competed against doctors who practiced at the Birmingham Hospital.  In 1947 the Birmingham team traveled to the Corona Naval Station where they competed in the first match between two wheelchair basketball teams.

Within two years, six teams emerged representing VA hospitals across the US.  National tournament were organized and hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

In 1948, the NWBA and the first official National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NWBT) were organized by the NWBA pioneer and Hall-of-Fame inductee Tim Nugent of the University of Illinois.  That same year, in a remarkable act of self-determination, the Birmingham VA Flying Wheels took to the air and challenged VA hospital teams throughout the US.  Wheelchair basketball soon became the number one sport of individuals with disabilities.  VA teams and players joined the NWBA shortly after 1948.

Wheelchair basketball for women began to surface in the mid-1960's. In 1968, a US team competed alongside US men in the Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel. Since only a men’s division existed in the NWBA at that time, the few women who played in the US competed on teams consisting of men only. As of 1970, one team had been formed, the University of Illinois Ms. Kids. During the 1973-1974 season, the Ms. Kids played the Southern Illinois University Squidettes in the Men’s Old Gym on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. This was the first recorded wheelchair basketball game between two organized women’s teams in the US, and the first women’s wheelchair basketball game between two collegiate women’s teams. In 1977 a proposal to create a Women’s Division was submitted to the NWBA delegates by University of Illinois graduate student and future Hall-of-Fame inducted Bob Szyman. Following the approval of the proposal, six teams were formed. In 1978 these six teams competed in the national tournament, hosted by the University of Illinois. 

Since 1991, the NWBA has attained considerable recognition in the public domain. It became an associate member of the US Congress. It is now an active member of USA Basketball. Its former Commissioner, Stan Labanowich, yet another University of Illinois graduate and NWBA Hall of Fame member, was appointed to USA Basketball’s Board of Directors.

Wheelchair basketball has come a long way since its origins in the US in 1946. The NWBA has since grown to over 200 teams. We are also proud to say that the pioneering National Wheelchair Basketball Association has given birth to hundreds of teams from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The US now competes against teams from these regions at the Paralympic Games and the World Championships.