January 7, 2021
Parents, grandparents, boyfriends and girlfriends sit in the stands and bleachers and watch their loved ones run up and down the court or field or the diamond. We understand the physical dangers that our athletes face and the definite benefits that come from good, safe and healthy competition. But what person would think up a game as inherently dangerous as football. Or baseball where we let one person throw a large rock at 70 to 80 miles an hour toward someone they love.
Let’s take a look at the inventors and history of some of these games and maybe what they were thinking when they thought them up.
Let’s start with basketball. Basketball is the only major sport strictly of U.S. origin. However small pieces of other sports contributed to its humble beginnings. In the late 19th century colleges in the northeast part of the country were having difficulty keeping their athletes physically fit thru the winter months due to weather conditions. Football and lacrosse were featured sports during the summer time. There were no sports or indoor activities, other than calisthenics, marching and apparatus work that compared to the excitement of football or lacrosse.
In December of 1891 at the School for Christian Workers, from which today’s Springfield College originated, James Naismith, a second year student and instructor in physical education was charged by Luther Halsey Gulick, superintendent of physical education (renowned as the father of physical education and recreation in the United States) at the college to come up with a program that would keep the students engaged and physically fit. Gulick stressed that the game had to be interesting, easy to learn and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light. Mr. Naismith was of the opinion that “the work needed to motivate and inspire the young men. It should be of a recreative nature, something that would appeal to their play instincts”.
Naismith went to work to create a game that was easy to assimilate, yet complex enough to be interesting. It had to be playable indoors or on any kind of ground, and by a large number of players all at once. It should provide plenty of exercise, yet without the roughness of football, soccer, or rugby since those would threaten bruises and broken bones if played in a confined space. Many hours of thought went into the game. Naismith combined American rugby (passing), English rugby (the jump ball), lacrosse (use of a goal), soccer (the shape and size of the ball) and something called duck on a rock. Duck on a rock used a ball and a goal that could not be rushed. The goal could be slammed through, thus necessitating “a goal with a horizontal opening high enough so that the ball would have to be tossed into it rather than being thrown” .
Naismith originally wanted to have two 18 inch square boxes as the goals. But unable to locate any, he instead was given 2 peach baskets. He then nailed them to the lower balcony rail of the gym, which just happened to be 10 feet. He would station a man on the balcony to pick the ball from the basket and put it back into play. It was a couple of years later before they cut the bottoms out of the basket so the ball could fall through. After figuring out the game dynamics he then drew up 13 rules which he described, among other facets, the method of moving the ball and what constituted a foul. There would be a referee, two fifteen minute halves with a 5 minute break in between.
Rules were typed up and posted in the gym. A couple of days later teams were chosen consisting of 2 centers, 3 guards and 3 forwards per side. Two centers would meet at mid court and Naismith would throw the ball up and………basketball was invented.
The new game spread like wildfire. Since the school consisted of students from all around the country, they each took the sport back to their own school or country. The rules were printed in a college magazine which was mailed to YMCAs around the country.
There you have it. Basketball was invented in 1891 by Mr James Naismith in a small gym at the School for Christian Workers in Springfield, Massachusetts. For the simple task of keeping athletes in shape over the winter months so they could more easily transition into the summer sports of football and lacrosse.
Information for this article was drawn from:
-Article by: Mary-Beth A. Cooper, PhD DM
13th President of Springfield College