What year was basketball invented? The nets used by athletes to dunk the ball and score points in the beloved game of basketball evolved from peaches, or rather the baskets used to collect peaches.
That’s what a young athletic director ultimately used on a cold day back in 1891 for a new game he created to keep his students engaged.
James Naismith was a 31-year old graduate student teaching physical education at the International YMCA Training School, now known as Springfield College, in Springfield, Massachusetts when students were forced to stay indoors for days due to a New England storm. The usual winter athletic activities were marching, calisthenics, and apparatus work but they weren’t nearly as thrilling as football or lacrosse which were played during the warmer seasons.
Naismith wanted to create a game that would be simple to understand but complex enough to be interesting. The game had to be playable indoors, and it had to accommodate several players at once.
The game also needed to provide plenty of exercise for the students, yet without the physicality of football, soccer, or rugby since those would threaten more severe injuries if played in a confined space. (See 100 years of football in pictures.)
Naismith approached the school janitor, hoping he could find two square boxes to use for goals. When the janitor came back from his search, he had two peach baskets instead. Naismith nailed the peach baskets to the lower rail of the gymnasium balcony, one on each side. The height of that lower balcony rail happened to be 10 feet.
The students would play on teams to try to get the ball into their team’s basket. A person was stationed at each end of the balcony to retrieve the ball from the basket and put it back into play.
The first game ever played between students was a complete brawl.
“The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the crunches, they ended up in a free for all in the middle of the gym floor before I could pull them apart,” Naismith said during a January 1939 radio program on WOR in New York City called We the People, his only known recording. “One boy was knocked out. Several of them had black eyes and one had a dislocated shoulder.” Naismith said. “After that first match, I was afraid they’d kill each other, but they kept nagging me to let them play again so I made up some more rules.”
The humble beginnings of the only professional sport to originate in the United States laid the foundation for today’s multi-billion-dollar business. The current National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) March Madness college basketball tournament includes the best 68 of more than 1,000 college teams, stadiums that seat tens of thousands of spectators and lucrative television contracts.
Naismith didn’t create all of the rules at once, but continued to modify them into what are now known as the original 13 rules. Some are still part of the modern game today. Naismith’s original rules of the game sold at auction in 2010 for $4.3 million.
In the original rules: The ball could be thrown in any direction with one or both hands, never a fist. A player could not run with the ball but had to throw it from the spot where it was caught. Players were not allowed to push, trip or strike their opponents. The first infringement was considered a foul. A second foul would disqualify a player until the next goal was made. But if there was evidence that a player intended to injure an opponent, the player would be disqualified for the whole game.
Umpires served as judges for the game, made note of fouls and had the power to disqualify players. They decided when the ball was in bounds, to which side it belonged, and managed the time. Umpires decided when a goal had been made and kept track of the goals.
If a team made three consecutive fouls, the opposing team would be allowed a goal.
A goal was made when the ball was thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stayed there. If the ball rested on the edges, and the opponent moved the basket, it would count as a goal. When the ball went out of bounds, it was thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. The person throwing the ball was allowed five seconds; if he held it longer, the ball would go to the opponent. In case of a dispute, an umpire would throw the ball straight into the field. If any side persisted in delaying the game, the umpire would call a foul on that side.
The length of a game was two 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between. The team making the most goals within the allotted time was declared the winner. If a game was tied, it could be continued until another goal was made.
Who Invented Basketball?
James Naismith invented basketball. In the late 19th century, a young Canadian physical education instructor named James Naismith found himself faced with an unusual challenge. It was December 1891, and Naismith was tasked with creating an indoor game to keep his students physically active during the harsh winter months. Thus, the game of basketball was born.
During those cold Massachusetts winters, outdoor sports like football and soccer were not feasible options for physical activity. Naismith’s objective was to devise a game that could be played indoors within the confines of a gymnasium, using minimal equipment. His vision was to create a sport that would promote physical fitness, teamwork, and fair play.
Naismith began to brainstorm ideas for a new game. Drawing inspiration from other sports like soccer and rugby, he crafted a set of rules and guidelines for this innovative activity. His primary goal was to design a game that would minimize physical contact and prevent injuries, a significant departure from the rough-and-tumble nature of other sports of the time.
The First Basketball Game
On December 21, 1891, James Naismith unveiled his creation at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. The first game of basketball was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets serving as goals. Naismith’s original rules emphasized passing, dribbling, and shooting, and the game quickly gained popularity among his students.
The Legacy of James Naismith
James Naismith’s invention of basketball not only provided a solution to the winter exercise problem but also left an indelible mark on the world of sports. His dedication to promoting physical activity, teamwork, and fair play laid the foundation for what would become a global phenomenon. Today, basketball is the world’s second most popular sport, following behind football.
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