History Of Basketball: James Naismith & Journey Through The Years

Basketball is an exciting and engaging sport that has a rich history behind it. There are many interesting and surprising details on how basketball started, how the first game was played, and how the game has managed to evolve and stay relevant.

Join me as I take you through the history of basketball and uncover the fascinating facts about this popular sport. We will tackle questions like:

  • Who created basketball?
  • Where was basketball invented?
  • When was basketball invented?
  • How was basketball created?
  • And many more…

James Naismith And Springfield College

James Naismith’s Life

Dr. James Naismith’s continuous pursuit of learning and innovative spirit is an inspiration.

1905 image of Dr. James Naismith from Spalding's official collegiate basketball guide (public domain)
James Naismith 1905 (public domain)

He was born on November 6, 1861 in Almonte, Ontario. His parents died of typhoid fever when he was young. His uncle raised him and supported him through his college education.

He graduated with a theology degree from the McGill University Presbyterian College. He continued his learning and pursued a relatively new academic discipline, Physical Education, from Springfield College (previously known as School of Christian Workers) in Massachusetts.

He began his career as a faculty at Springfield College in 1891 where he would invent basketball.

He later took up medicine at Gross Medical School in Denver. He received his medical degree in 1898.

He became the department head of physical education at the University of Kansas. He remained there until his death on November 28, 1939.

Origin of Basketball

How Basketball Started

James Naismith, who was then a new faculty at the Springfield College, was tasked by his supervisor, Luther Halsey Gulick, to come up with a new game that would be suitable for indoors during winter. The class of young men needed an activity to motivate them while they are unable to play soccer and other outdoor games.

Requirements

Apart from being suitable for indoors, the other requirements given to James Naismith were:

  1. The new game should have plenty of exercises and movement but it should not be as rough as soccer or rugby.
  2. The mechanics should be easy to learn but should have enough intricacies to keep it exciting.
  3. It must allow for a large number of people to play at the same time.

Taking Inspiration From Other Sports

Dr. Naismith combined details from several sports to come up with the concepts for basketball.

  1. Passing – American rugby
  2. Jump ball – English rugby
  3. Use of a goal – Lacrosse
  4. Shape and size of the ball – Soccer
  5. Use of a goal suspended high up from the ground – Duck on a rock

The idea for using a suspended goal was to get the players to toss the ball into the goal instead of hitting it through a kick or other forceful motions. Duck on a rock was a game James Naismith played with his childhood friends back in Ontario, Canada.

The First Basketball Game

Where was the first basketball game played? It was in the Springfield College gymnasium in 1891.

The first game was played quite differently from how basketball is played today.

Two peach baskets that were given to Dr. Naismith by the school janitor were used as the goals.

There were two teams, each having nine players. Each team was composed of three guards, three forwards, and three centers. This is unlike what we have today where there are five players in each team.

There was one referee and an umpire to officiate the game and to keep things in order. Two men were stationed near the goals. Their task was to retrieve the ball from the peach baskets after a shot was made. The bottom of the peach baskets were not removed until a few years later.

The game started with a jump ball. The two centers stood in the mid-court to grab the ball in order for their teams to get the first opportunity to take the shot.

The game lasted for a total of 35 minutes:

  1. 15 minutes for the first half
  2. followed by a five minute resting period
  3. another 15 minutes for the second half

Original 13 Rules

These are the original 13 rules of basketball written by Dr. James Naismith in December 1891. The rules were published in January 1892. The text below was taken from the Springfield College page on the birthplace of basketball.

  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 for 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 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.

Basketball Milestones

After the first basketball game, the popularity of the sport spread quickly throughout the country. I have rounded up the most notable milestones of basketball in the below timeline.

  • 1892: First women’s basketball game. Senda Berenson adapted the rules of the game to make it less strenuous. Eleven months later, the  University of California-Berkeley and Miss Head’s school competed in the first official women’s basketball game.
Senda Berenson, founder of women’s basketball
Senda Berenson 1893 (public domain)
  • 1894:  Spalding made the first proper basketball. The early basketball games used a soccer ball.
Spalding Basketball 1922 (public domain)
Spalding Basketball 1922 (public domain)
  • 1896: Bloomers were introduced as the attire for women playing basketball. Prior to that, women wore dresses to games. Imagine how challenging that would have been!
  • 1898: First professional basketball league (National Basketball League) was created but disbanded after five years.
  • 1905: Basketball became a permanent winter sport
  • 1932: The International Basketball Federation, more commonly known by the French acronym FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) was founded in Geneva on June 18. The FIBA is an association of national organizations which governs international basketball competitions.
  • 1936: Men’s basketball was officially included in the Olympic Games
  • 1939: The first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship was won by Oregon state
  • 1946: The National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded on June 6 at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. Maurice Podoloff was the league’s first president and there were eleven teams. This was a merger of two organizations, the National Basketball League (founded 1937) and the Basketball Association of America (founded 1946)
  • 1950: First FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup
  • 1953: First FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Both the men and women’s cup are held every four years, alternating with the Olympics.
  • 1989: FIBA opened the door to Olympic participation by professionals. This meant that NBA players in the United States can now participate.
  • 1997: First Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game was held in June

To wrap up…

The evolution of basketball continues. It has come a long way since it was invented in 1891. The original rules have been enhanced, measurements of the court and other details have been adjusted, and even what the players wear have advanced over the years.

The sport which was born out of a need for something new keeps reinventing itself to remain relevant with the times. This resiliency will ensure that the game we love will be here to stay.

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