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The Origin of the Game of Basketball

1891 – Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

One of the most popular sports in the world, played daily by millions of people had humble beginnings. Basket Ball (as originally spelled); created in 1891 in a Springfield, Massachusetts YMCA gymnasium has grown into a game played worldwide by more than 300 million people.

The person responsible for the popular game was Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939). Dr. Naismith was a Canadian-American Physical Education teacher at the School for Christian Workers located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  In 1891, under direction from Dr. Luther Gulick, the head of the School, Naismith was given 14 days to create an indoor game. The goal of this directive was to provide a creative and healthy indoor “athletic distraction” for a rowdy class of students during the brutal New England winter.

James Naismith

Naismith’s invention did not happen quickly. He struggled to come up with a game that met the objectives of his directive. At first he thought to bring outdoor games such as soccer or lacrosse inside. However, such outdoor games were not feasible due mainly to the small indoor space of the school gymnasium. 

Running out of time and at the limits of his patience, Naismith recalled a game he played as a child in Canada. Called “duck on a rock”, the game involved tossing rocks at another, larger rock atop a boulder and knocking the rock down. He also remembered observing rugby players throwing a ball into a box in the gymnasium.

With creativity now flowing through his mind, Naismith had the idea of attaching boxes high on the wall and having players attempt to throw a ball into the box as a score. Having trouble finding boxes, Naismith used discarded peach baskets from the school cafeteria. Confronted with the problem of constantly needing someone to remove the ball from the basket, Naismith cut out the bottom of the basket, allowing the ball to fall through. 

It is believed that Naismith drew up the rules of his new game of Basketball in about an hour. Most of these rules still apply today. The game of Basketball became an instant success. The students found the game easy to play and the rules easy to understand. Moreover, the idea of getting a good exercise workout without having to go outside in the very cold winter was very attractive to the players and the coaches. The fans also liked the idea of not having to go outside in the cold to watch this new and fun game.

Basketball became popular very quickly and its popularity spread widely. The graduates of the YMCA school traveled across the country and introduced their new game to people in towns and cities across the land. Naismith and his players disseminated the rules of Basketball freely and the need for an indoor sport by many schools and organizations helped spread the popularity of the game. 

As Basketball grew in popularity, Naismith did not engage in promotion of the game or push for publicity or self-promotion. His main interest was his career as a physical educator. He embraced recreational sports but was not enamored with the glory of competitive athletics. Naismith was a serious student and he was most proud to have earned four degrees in diverse fields of Religion, Physical Education, Philosophy and Medicine.

Naismith never imagined or witnessed the immense popularity and huge financials of Basketball as we know it today. His biggest reward was when he was sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches to witness his game of Basketball become an official Olympic sport at the 1936 Games held in Berlin.

Naismith never earned money or fame for his unique invention during his lifetime. However, after his death in 1939 his many accomplishments and his historic invention of Basketball were widely and enormously acclaimed. Naismith’s name adorns the world’s only Basketball Hall of Fame.

Naismith’s legacy includes coaching and launching the first great college Basketball coach, Forrest “Phog” Allen (1885-1974). Allen played for Naismith at the University of Kansas. Allen won 771 games as a coach at the University of Kansas. Many of Allen’splayers became popular stars of the game. The most famous was Wilt Chamberlain, who became one of Basketball’s first superstars. During a game in 1962, Chamberlainscored a record 100 points.

Professional Basketball

In 1898 the first professional basketball league was formed. Players were paid $2.50 for playing home games and $1.25 for road games. In less than 100 years later, Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) star, Juwan Howard received offers from the Bullets and the Miami Heat for over $100 million for seven seasons.

Basketball has grown tremendously and is now played in almost every country throughout the world by millions and millions of people. Dr. James Naismith most certainly would be proud to witness the current success of a simple game that he invented over 100 years ago.

The Original 13 Rules of Basket Ball, written by Dr. James Naismith in 1891.

Note: Basketball was originally two words and these original rules were published in the Springfield College school newspaper, The Triangle, January 15, 1892.

1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands. 

2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist). 

3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop. 

4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it. 

5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed. 

6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3, 4, and such as described in Rule 5. 

7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul). 

8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal. 

9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side. 

10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5. 

11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee. 

12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between. 

13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.


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