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Naismith

Basketball (Game)

Canadian-born James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball, was born November 6, 1861 in Almonte, Ontario. He and his three siblings were orphaned when both parents died of typhoid fever in 1871. They lived with their grandmother until she passed away, then moved in with an uncle who had a farm in Bennie's Corners, Ontario.

Naismith As a youngster, Naismith was an outstanding athlete, and clearly showed leadership qualities. When he entered McGill University in Montreal, he pursued athletics including rugby and gymnastics, winning the Silver and Gold Wickstead Medals for "Best All-Around Athlete" in 1885 and 1887, respectively. He graduated with honors with his B.S. in philosophy and Hebrew in 1887; he was one of the top ten in his class.

Naismith continued his education, studying theology at Presbyterian College. He took a job at McGill as Physical Education director in order to finance his schooling. In 1890 Presbyterian awarded him his Master of Divinity degree. Meanwhile, the Young Men's Christian Association, which had been founded in London nearly 50 years earlier, had been established in Boston and Montreal in 1851. Naismith had visited often and thought he could help young people through athletics at such an organization. He learned of the Y.M.C.A International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts and that summer he enrolled there, where he took and taught classes, and participated in sports.

For one of the classes he instructed, Naismith was charged by the superintendent to come up with new games that could help bring recreational sports into the gymnasium. He needed to come up with a game that could be played indoors during the winter months between the football and baseball seasons that would keep athletes in top shape over this period. The game that resulted, which was reminiscent of a childhood game Naismith had played called "Duck on a Rock," used two peach baskets and a soccer ball.

Naismith taught his class, with 18 students in it, to play the game, dividing them into two teams of nine, each with a goal keeper, two guards, three centers, two wings, and a home-man. Each team would try to toss a soccer ball into the peach baskets. Eventually they decided to cut the bottoms out of the baskets so they didnít have to climb up and grab the ball out each time someone scored. In 1893 the metal rim was invented, and in 1895, the backboard appeared. The first official basketball arrived in 1909.

The popularity of basketball spread very quickly. Soon it was played in all the YMCA gymnasiums in the eastern United States. Within seven years, the first intercollegiate game was played, in 1897. In 1898, the first Collegiate Association was formed. The National Basketball League (NBL) was formed in 1937. In 1949, a competing league, the Basketball Association of America (BAA), joined the NBL to form the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Basketball has changed somewhat—today it is less brutal than it was in its early days, and is now played by five players from each team on the court at a time—two forwards, two guards and a center. Now men's professional baseketball has two conferences (Eastern and Western) made up of four regional divisions.

In 1936, basketball became an Olympic sport. In 1976, women's basketball was added to the Olympics roster. The Women's Professional Basketball League was established in 1978. Naismith, who had been ordained as a minister in 1914, never pursued self-recognition, honors, or riches for his invention. He died on November 28, 1939. Today, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts is dedicated to Naismith, as well as to basketball's greatest players, coaches and teams. An estimated 300 million people play the game worldwide.

[March 2003]

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