Basketball, a game that started with 18 men in a YMCA gymnasium in Springfield, Mass., has grown into a game that more than 300 million people play worldwide. The man who created this instantly successful sport was Dr. James Naismith.

Under orders from Dr. Luther Gulick, head of Physical Education at the School for Christian Workers. Naismith had 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an "athletic distraction" for a rowdy class through the brutal New England winter. Naismith's invention didn't come easily.  Getting close to the deadline, he struggled to keep the class' faith.  His first intention was to bring outdoor games indoors, i.e., soccer and lacrosse. These games proved too physical and cumbersome. At his wits' end, Naismith recalled a childhood game that required players to use finesse and accuracy to become successful. After brainstorming this new idea, Naismith developed basketball's original 13 rules and consequently, the game of basketball. As basketball's popularity grew, Naismith neither sought publicity nor engaged in self-promotion.

Naismith devised a set of thirteen rules of basketball:
The first basketball court, Springfield (Massachusetts) YMCA.

He was first and foremost a physical educator who embraced recreational sport but shied away from the glory of competitive athletics. Naismith
was an intense student, collecting four degrees in the diverse fields of Philosophy, Religion, Physical Education and Medicine. Although he never had the opportunity to see the game become the astonishing spectacle it is today, Naismith's biggest thrill came when he was sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) to witness basketball become an Olympic sport at the 1936 Games held in Berlin. Naismith became famous for creating the game of basketball, a stroke of genius that never brought him fame or fortune during his lifetime, but enormous recognition following his passing in 1939. For his historic invention, Naismith's name adorns the world's only Basketball Hall of Fame, a tribute that forever makes James Naismith synonymous with basketball.

The original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith in 1891

  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.
The following is a letter written by Dr. James Naismith shortly after the very first game of basketball was played in Springfield, Mass. in February 1892.

The First Game

ImageWhen Mr. Stubbins brought up the peach baskets to the gym I secured them on the inside of the railing of the gallery. This was about 10 feet from the floor, one at each end of the gymnasium. I then put the 13 rules on the bulletin board just behind the instructor's platform, secured a soccer ball and awaited the arrival of the class. I busied myself arranging the apparatus, all the time watching the boys as they arrived to observe their attitude that day. I felt that this was a crucial moment in my life as it meant success or failure of my attempt to hold the interest of the class and devise a new game.

I had neither the advantage of age nor the benefit of experience to help me put this across. But I did then what I have found universally successful since. I gathered the class around the platform and frankly stated the difficulties confronting me-telling them how I tried my best to give them the kind of work I thought suitable for secretarial students, frankly stating that I had made a failure of my attempts to modify games but told them that I had an absolutely new one and asked them to give it a trial assuring them that I thought it would be good.

he class did not show much enthusiasm but followed my lead. I lined them up, called the roll and asked T.D. Patton & E.S. Libby to step out and divide the class into two teams. I then explained what they had to do to make goals, tossed the ball up between the two center men & tried to keep them somewhat near the rules. Most of the fouls were called for running with the ball, though tackling the man with the ball was not uncommon.

If we had rules there must of necessity be some one to interpret and enforce the penalty. Two officials were appointed, one to watch the play with the ball, the other to watch the actions of the players & call the fouls.

We were ready to try out the game but as yet had no goal. I went to Mr. Stubbins, the supt. Of the building, and asked him if he had a couple of boxes about 18 inches square, as I had concluded that the goal must be small enough so that a goal could not be made at every attempt. He replied, "No," and after a moment's hesitation he said, "I'll tell you what, I have a couple of peach baskets about that size if they will do you any good." I asked him to bring them up to the gym floor-I nailed them to the gallery one at each end and the equipment was ready.

We now had a team game with equipment and an objective. The next question that arose was how are we going to start the game? I reviewed the games and found that the intent of the start was to give each side an equal chance of obtaining the ball. In water polo the teams were at each end of the pool and the ball was thrown into the center. I felt that this would not do as two teams rushing at each other would at least make for roughness. The plan of soccer was dismissed as it gave too much opportunity to keep the ball in the hands of the thrower's team, thus giving them a decided advantage.

I then recalled the method of putting the ball in play in Eng. Rugby when the ball had gone over the side lines. The forward lined up in a row perpendicular to the side line, the teams opposite each other. The umpire with his back to the field threw the ball in between these lines with no chance for determining who would receive it.

I then thought of lining the teams up across the center of the floor and tossing it in between these lines. At this point I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach caused by the recollection of events that occurred in such a play. When one of our opponents saw that the opposite side secured the ball he would arrange things in such a way that as the player descended with the ball in his hands over his head his shoulder, elbow or knee was in the spot where his stomach was landing. This again made for roughness.

I then thought that if two men were selected to jump for the ball that it would eliminate roughness and give each side an equal chance.

Again a problem presented itself and no solution appeared. By what line of association it occurred I do not know but I was back in Bennie's Corners, playing duck on the rock. The whole scene came before me--across the road that led to Walter Gardner's home was a large rock higher than our knees & larger than a washtub. On this rock one or more would place their ducks-a rock twice as large as our fists. The rest of us stood behind a line about ten feet away from the rock. The object of the game was for "it" to tag one of the boys who was retrieving his duck. He could do this only when his duck was on the rock. It was the object of the men behind the line to knock "its" duck off the rock when he would need to replace it before he could tag anyone.

In throwing at the duck on the rock, I recalled that at times we would throw our duck as hard as we could & thus knock his away some distance. If, however, we were all back of the line and "it" was ready to tag us we would throw our duck in a curve so as to knock his off & ours would fall on the near side & thus be easily retrieved. In this other case the duck was thrown in a curve and accuracy took the place of force. The idea occurred to me that if the goal was horizontal instead of vertical the player would be compelled to throw in a curve and force which made for roughness would be of no value. I then concluded that the goal into which the ball should be thrown would be horizontal. I then thought of a box, somewhat resembling our old rock, into which the ball should be tossed. It then occurred to me that the team would form a nine man defense around the goal & it would be impossible to make a goal. The shot would need to be highly arched to win any chance of entering the goal.

It then occurred to me that if the ball did not need to reach the ground the defense would be useless in that condition. I then thought of putting the goal above the heads of the defense & their only chance to prevent a goal was to go out & get the ball or prevent his opponent from throwing to the goal.

For more information on the history of basketball, check out the following links...

International Basketball Hall of Fame

Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame

Naismith Museum & Hall of Fame (Canada)

History of Basketball in Canada (
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