The hoop is still 10 feet from the floor, but the reachable height for dunking and blocking the ball is much higher for wheelchair basketball players. But distance is no obstacle for this group of determined athletes, with their muscular arms, extraordinary moves with outstanding equipment. They push with speed and agility, and dribble and shoot with skill.
This is wheelchair basketball. Prepare to be astonished.
The United States and Iran faced off on Sept. 10 during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The foes entered Arena Carioca 1 in the Olympic Park. The Americans are the gold medal favorites, whlie the Iranians are on an emerging path.
However, all rankings are dismissed when the game starts. The action features permanent wheelchair crashes. This is, in fact the main strategy of defense to prevent your opponent from entering the lane.
There is no room for "victimization" in the Paralympic Games, as one of the dedicated guards proved with a shot in the last quarter of the game. The ball escaped into the back line, he stretched to reach it, then collided with an advertising sign. He ended up falling with his face to the ground, the wheels of his chair upside down, as applause and cheers roarded from the stands. The game continued.
A few minutes after the game started, excitement transformed the crowd. Fans respected the athletes and treated them just as they would professionals. "How can you lose this?" and "You gotta stop the three-pointers!" were two phrases heard here and there. With equal expectations, it fulfills the mission of equality.
Like good Brazilians, the crowd supported the weaker team: Iran. But with one key difference: the Paralympic Games atmosphere does not allow vocal allegiances typical in soccer. No one cheers against another team.
The rules, in fact, are not very different from traditional basketball. The primary exception penalizes players for standing up on their chairs, or pulling an opponent’s chair. The equipment is considered part of the player. Penalties at the beginning of the game caused friction, especially when the wheelchairs turned over.
It’s silly to see disabled people as fragile. They manage really well, just like the superhumans they are.
In the end, Team USA won 93-44. The audience, mostly made up by fans who were watching a Paralympic sport for the first time, applauded gratefully and loudly. The real loser on that carioca afternoon at the Arena was bias.