James Naismith died Nov. 28, 1939. Here are ten things you may not know about the inventor of basketball.
James Naismith died Nov. 28, 1939. Here are 10 things you may not know about the inventor of basketball.
1. Naismith was Canadian. Born in Ontario, he didn’t move to the United States until age 30, when he took a job as the physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.
2. Faced with keeping his young YMCA charges indoors during the harsh New England winters, Naismith was tasked by his boss with coming up with an “athletic distraction” to keep them exercised and occupied. His boss stipulated the game could not be too rough and must take place within the confines of a small gym. Naismith analyzed the most popular games at the time – rugby, lacrosse, soccer, baseball and football – in hopes of taking the best from each sport and including it in his game.
3. Naismith termed his new sport “Basket Ball” and pinned its 13 basic rules outside the Springfield gymnasium Dec. 21, 1891. Last month it was announced that the original copy of this document, typed by Naismith’s secretary, would go to the auction block in December. It’s expected to fetch in excess of $2 million. Also at the auction, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. Proceeds from the sale of Naismith’s rules will go to charity.
4. The first basketball games were played nine against nine using a soccer ball. The hoop consisted of a peach basket nailed to the wall. Dribbling was not yet allowed (players had to be stationary when in possession of the ball) and after each basket, play was restarted by a jump ball. Three consecutive fouls by one team would result in a point for their opponents. The game consisted of two 15-minute halves, and substitutions were not allowed. The first game ended with a score of 9-3.
5. The game proved so popular, journalists were already writing about it less than a year after its invention. The rules were published in a YMCA magazine and its influence spread. Some wanted to name it Naismith Ball as a tribute to its inventor, but James Naismith demurred.
6. Naismith took a YMCA post in Denver in 1895 and enrolled at the University of Colorado medical school, earning his degree three years later.
7. In 1898 he moved to Kansas and became the first college basketball coach in the country. Ironically, Naismith remains the only coach in the history of Kansas University to maintain a losing average of the course of his career, going 55-60.
8. It’s also amusing to note that Naismith never considered basketball his favorite sport – he thought gymnastics and wrestling provided better physical education for boys.
9. One of Naismith’s pupils, Forrest “Phog” Allen, had more success as a basketball coach, winning the national championship for Kansas on three separate occasions and becoming head of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. This organization paid for Naismith’s trip to Berlin in 1936 to see basketball played in the Olympics for the first time (the U.S. took the gold, Canada the silver, and Mexico the bronze.)
10. Today, some 400 million people worldwide play basketball, making it the second-most popular sport in the world, according to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).