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Who invented Basketball? (It wasn’t an American!)

The NBA makes $8 billion dollars a season in revenue. This amount of money would allow you to buy the Brooklyn Nets twice over and still have change! The NBA is followed worldwide and is one of the most exciting leagues. However, this may leave you wondering how it all started.

Who invented Basketball? Basketball was invented in 1891 by 30 year old Canadian James Naismith, a physical education instructor who had been tasked to create an indoor game for his rowdy college class at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. After analysing multiple sports and playing the game using trial and error he created the sport we now know as Basketball.

Above images depicting the original rules of Basketball that James Nsismith wrote down and updated in the early days of creating Basketball

As you can appreciate, creating a sport is one thing but that sport becoming a global phenomenon, still played over a hundred years later is another thing entirley. Below we dive into how humble beginnings became the game we know and love today.

The early life of Canadian James Naismith, creator of Basketball

To understand how basketball was invented, we need to look at the early life of James Naismith and how it shaped his ideas on sport. Naismith was born in Canada in 1861 and worked on a farm. Naismith liked outdoor games and one of his favourite games was a mediaeval pastime called Duck on a rock. This is where a big rock is put on a tree stump and guarded by an individual. An opposing player uses smaller stones to hit the large rock off the stump. Naismith had a knack of winning Duck on a rock by using a lob shot to displace the rock. Naismith’s  arcing lob shot was a more effective way of knocking off the rock rather than a straight direct throw.  His enjoyment and success at this  game probably had some impact on Naismith when he was inventing basketball.

Naismith was orphaned from a young age and threw himself into sports he played American Football, Rugby and Soccer (if you like soccer then make sure you check out !) Naismith studied physical education at college in Montreal. In 1890 Naismith became a teacher and moved to Springfield Massachusetts to work at the International YMCA Training School.

How Did James Naismith Invent Basketball?

In 1891 James Naismith created the game of basketball. Purportedly, Dr Luther Gulick asked Naismith to come up with a new game for the boys of the YMCA. However, in 1939 Naismith was interviewed by Gabriel Heatter who was the radio host of ‘We the People’ for WOR Radio, Heatter asked Naismith why he invented basketball he explained:

We had a real New England Blizzard and for days we couldn’t go outdoors. The students were roughhousing in the hall and the teachers tried everything to keep them quiet. They tried playing a modernised type of football in the gymnasium but they got bored of that……one day I had an idea. I called the boys to the gym, divided them up to teams of nine and gave them an old soccer ball. I showed them two peach baskets I nailed to each end of the gym and told them the idea was to score in the opposing teams basket. I blew my whistle and the first game of basketball began.

The first game of basketball had taken place, although it had not had the impact Naismith had hoped for. The whole intention of the invention was to entertain the boys and ensure trouble was kept to a minimum when stuck indoors. Naismith stated:

The boys began tackling punching and getting into clinches and they ended up in a free or all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out and several of them had black eyes. One had a dislocated shoulder. After that first match I was worried that they would kill each other but they kept nagging me to play.

Thanks to the continuing nagging of his students, Naismith decided to create rules for this new game and christened the game Basket Ball. By 1893, the game of Basket Ball had spread across the country however, from the newspaper clipping below there were seven players on each side and games were made up of two fifteen minute halves.

The game took off quickly around the country with the game being featured in a number of national newspapers as shown below. However, from the below newspaper you will be able to see that the game was played inside and outside. It was the inside game which featured five players and involved into basketball.

The Dalles daily chronicle. [volume] (The Dalles, Or.), 20 June 1893. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Why did James Naismith create rules for basketball?

As mentioned the first game of basketball had ended in disaster with numerous boys being injured during play. When asked about the rules for the first games of Basketball Naismith stated that

I didn’t have enough, that’s where I made my big mistake. So I made up some more rules and the most important one was that there should be no running with the ball. That stopped tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those rules and we didn’t have a casualty so we had a fine team sport.

What are the 13 original basketball rules?

The 13 original rules of basketball were published on 15 January 1892, in the Springfield College school newspaper named The Triangle which, coincidentally, would later be the name of the offence that would fuel both Jordan and Kobes on court success.

The rules were as follows: 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, an 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.

When was James Naismith inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

James Naismith was proud of the sport he created. He never profited from creating the game. He turned down endorsement offers and never sought a patent for the game which would most likely  have earned his family millions of dollars. However, Naismith was just happy to have helped his students. The greatest enjoyment that Naismith received from working with young people came years later when he ran into those same people, and they told him how big an influence he had on their lives.

Given the above statement, it is only fitting that the basketball hall of fame is named after Naismith. Furthermore, once the hall of fame was created in 1959, it was poignant that Naismith was inducted in the first class of the hall of fame.

How did James Naismith change the world?

Naismith didn’t really comprehend how he changed the world until very late in his life. Although Basketball was popular it was seeing his game played at the 1936 Olympic Games that made him realise what an impact his invention had had. He wept as the players for 21 countries walked in front of him, lowering their countries flags in recognition as they passed. Naismith later stated that:

In 1936, I saw it being played for the first time in the Olympic games. The whole thing started with two peach baskets that I put up in a gym 48 years ago. I guess it just goes to show what you can do if you have too.

Is James Naismith still alive?

No, James Naismith is not still alive. Naismith passed away in 1939. Although Naismith got to see basketball introduced to the Olympics and played across the world, Naismith died seven years before the NBA was officially formed and would never see how truly globally impactful his game would become.