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James Naismith

the inventor of basketball

James Naismith

James Naismith was born to Scottish immigrants in Ramsay Township, near Almonte, Ontario, Canada, on November 6, 1861. He attended the grade school at Bennie's Corners near Almonte and then Almonte High School, and was known as an excellent athlete at both, but not as a good student. He entered McGill University, Montreal, in 1883, where he participated in football, rugby, lacrosse and ground gymnastics, and earned a Bachelors Degree in Physical Education. He attended Presbyterian College of Theology in Montreal 1887-1890, earned a degree in religion from Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Montreal in 1890, and became a physical education instructor at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891.

Soon after he joined the faculty in Springfield, Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick Jr., the superintendent of physical education, challenged Naismith to create a new indoor game "that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light." The game he came up with was based on a children's game called duck-on-a-rock, in which players throw small rocks at a "duck" placed on top of a large rock in an attempt to knock the "duck" off. He had the school's janitor nail a peach basket on an overhead rail at each end of the school gymnasium, wrote a set of rules, and the first game of what he called Basket Ball was played on December 21, 1891.

Naismith's first basketball court
Naismith's first basketball court

Basket Ball was an immediate hit in Springfield, and by 1892 was being played in gymnasiums throughout the Unied States. Naismith replaced the peach baskets with iron hoops and a hammock-style basket in 1893, but the now-familiar open-ended nets would not be introduced for another ten years; until then, someone had to be assigned to retrieve the ball every time a basket was scored. Naismith published his 13 rules in 1894. The first ever college basketball game was played on January 18, 1896, when the University of Iowa invited student athletes from the new University of Chicago for an experimental game; the final score was Chicago 15, Iowa 12.

Naismith left Springfield in 1895 and moved to Denver, Colorado, where he studied medicine at Gross Medical School (from which he graduated in 1898) and served as physical education director at the Denver YMCA. In 1898 he became director of the gymnasium, campus chaplain, and basketball coach at the University of Kansas. Ironically, Naismith was the only head basketball coach for KU to have a losing record during his tenure (1898-1907) -- 55-60.

In 1916, at the age of 55, Naismith volunteered for the Kansas National Guard and served a short term of duty as a chaplain during the 1916 Mexican border war against Pancho Villa. In 1936, a contingent of basketball coaches, fans, and supporters raised funds to send Naismith to Berlin, Germany, where he saw basketball played as a medal sport for the first time. He retired from KU in 1937, and died of a heart attack in Lawrence on November 28, 1939.

Original Rules of Basket Ball

  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, but 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 running at good speed.
  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, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person 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 substitution shall be allowed.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 4 and such as described in Rule 5.
  7. If either side make three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
  8. Goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponents move the basket, it shall count as a goal.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the first person touching it. In case of 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 them.
  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 the power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.
  11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and decide when it 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 winners.

See Also

Denver, Colorado
Pancho Villa

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This page was last updated on November 20, 2018.