Story: Basketball

Basketball spread in New Zealand from the early 20th century, partly due to the influence of the YMCA and YWCA – and of Mormon missionaries from the US. In the 2000s the women’s team was the Tall Ferns and the men’s team the Tall Blacks.

Story by John Saker
Main image: Tall Blacks captain Pero Cameron at the 2002 World Championships, Indianapolis

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Basketball is a fast-moving sport played on an indoor court. Two teams of five try to score by shooting a ball through a hoop (called a basket). In 2012 Basketball New Zealand was the national organisation.

Competitive basketball

  • The national women’s team is the Tall Ferns and the men’s team is the Tall Blacks.
  • The New Zealand Breakers are an Auckland-based professional men’s team, which plays in the Australian National Basketball League.

Participation

In 2008 basketball had the 17th-highest participation rate of sport and recreational activities, with 6.3% of adults playing it in the previous 12 months.

Early years

Basketball was invented by James Naismith, a Canadian, in 1891. His former student, J. H. Greenwood, introduced the game to New Zealand when he became physical director of the Wellington YMCA in 1908. From the 1920s the YMCA and YWCA network helped spread basketball, often helped by American Mormon missionaries. The first national tournament was held in Wellington in 1938.

National women’s and men’s organisations were set up in 1945 and 1946. Mormons continued to influence the game and improve player skills and coaching.

Later 20th century

From 1968 New Zealand competed with Australia every two years to decide which country would represent Oceania in the Olympic Games and the world championships. In 1978 New Zealand beat Australia for the first time.

Basketball boomed in the 1980s. A national men’s league began in 1981 and a women’s national league in 1986.

1990s to 2000s

In the early 1990s the national leagues struggled to find sponsorship, and audiences shrank. However, the national sides played more matches, and the Tall Ferns reached the 1994 world championship. In 2002 the Tall Blacks, coached by Tab Baldwin, finished fourth in the world championship. However, both teams had mixed results over the next few years. The New Zealand Breakers have competed in the Australian National Basketball League since 2003, winning the league in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

How to cite this page:

John Saker, 'Basketball', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/basketball (accessed 21 September 2018)

Story by John Saker, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 7 Oct 2015