Silver Screen Artists

The Origin of BASKETBALL: How this Amazing Game Came to be!

Go to page 1

Everything has a beginning…there is a source, a spark, that started it all. Often times we forget that everything has roots and there once existed a time when this certain something simply did not exist.  So when we take something as large and broad as the game of basketball it can be fun to investigate “where it came from”…and how it grew into the entity that we know of today. In short, The game of basketball as we know it today was created by Dr. James Naismith in December 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts to condition young athletes during cold months and keep them in tip-top shape.  It consisted of fruit baskets (mainly peaches) and a soccer-type ball.  There were a basic set of 13 rules that were published for the inception of this new found game.  Dr. Naismith had a class consisting on 18 pupils so he divided this class into two teams consisting of nine players each. He spent ample time teaching them his new vision of this game.  The basic object of this new game was to throw the ball into the fruit baskets nailed to the lower railing of the gym balcony. You put the “ball” into the “basket”, simple enough, right, “basketball”…this is not rocket science here! Being that the ball was thrown into an actual basket, every time a point was scored; the game was paused so that the janitor could grab the ladder and grab the ball. This quickly proved to be a daunting halt in the game’s flow so it was quickly figured out that the bottoms of the fruit baskets needed to be removed. The first “public” basketball game was played in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 11, 1892.


Dr. James Naismith published his rules for this new game using five basic concepts and thirteen rules. This was officially published on December 21, 1891. On this particular day, he asked his class to play a game in the Armory Street court.  As earlier stated the match was played 9 versus 9, using a “soccer” ball and two peach baskets.  Being that Dr. Naismith invented this new game someone suggested simply calling it the "Naismith Game", but Dr. Naismith stated;

"We have a ball and a basket: why don’t we call it basketball?"

The original eighteen players who played in the first known match were John G. Thompson, Eugene S. Libby, Edwin P. Ruggles, William R. Chase, T. Duncan Patton, Frank Mahan, Finlay G. MacDonald, William H. Davis and Lyman Archibald, who defeated George Weller, Wilbert Carey, Ernest Hildner, Raymond Kaighn, Genzabaro Ishikawa, Benjamin S. French, Franklin Barnes, George Day and Henry Gelan 1–0. The goal was scored by Chase.  There were a few minor differences between Naismith’s first idea and the game we know and play today. The peach baskets were closed, and balls had to be retrieved manually, which was obviously a nuisance.  The first remedy to this situation was simply putting a small hole in the bottom of the peach basket to poke the ball out using a long stick. Finally in 1906 we saw the inception of metal hoops, nets and backboards and this discovery changed everything. The original use of a soccer ball was also replaced by a “Spalding” ball, which is very similar to the type of ball used today.


As we know the YMCA was on the forefront of creating an environment fostering personal growth through the power of activity and togetherness. The YMCA played a major role in the spread basketball throughout the United States, Canada, and the overall world. There was a new activity on board and it was quickly growing in popularity.  The first European match happened in Paris, in Montmartre (1893), and was put together by Mel Rideout.  Somewhere around the same time, Bob Gailey went to Tientsin, China, Duncan Patton went to India, Genzabaro Ishikawa to Japan, and C. Hareek to Persia. The game was spreading faster than anyone had ever imagined!

So who would have thought that war would be a part of spreading this infectious game?  When the First World War broke out in 1914, the American Expeditionary Force brought basketball wherever it went. Together with the troops, there were hundreds of physical education teachers who were already on board with this new game of “basketball”.  Naismith also spent two years with the YMCA in France during this period.

The first “professional” basketball league was founded in 1898. It consisted of six teams that took part in the “National Basketball League”, and the first official “champions” were the Trenton Nationals, followed by the New York Wanderers, the Bristol Pile Drivers and the Camden Electrics. This new “National Basketball League” was abandoned in 1904.  Then, many small championships were organized, but most of them were not as important as some teams who played for money against challengers. The Original “Celtics”, for example, are considered the "forefathers of basketball" and they were hailed as "World’s Basketball Champions".  These players had to sign a contract to play and Jim Furey organized matches, moving daily from town to town. The Celtics quickly became the strongest team and were quite the force from 1922-28. But then the team disbanded due to ownership problems. The “Original” Celtics are often confused with the current Boston Celtics of today’s NBA.  However, they share only the name because today’s Boston Celtics were founded in 1946, almost two decades after the folding of the Original Celtics.  In 1922, the first all-African American professional team was formed, the Rens, who were also known as New York Renaissance or Harlem Renaissance.  The average price to see a game, like the Rens VS the Original Celtics, cost $1.00. They took part in some official championships and won the first World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1939 but then the team folded in 1949.

The Basketball league was founded in New York City on June 6, 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The league adopted the name National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League (NBL). As of the early 21st century, the NBA is the most significant professional basketball league in the US in terms of popularity, salaries, talent, and level of competition. Clearly, with the inception of the NBA the popularity spread like wildfire.  Over the decades many players have reached superstar status which allowed basketball to be a part of the “creating superstars” sporting model. With players like Michael Jordan basketball started to reach international audiences, especially during the 1992 Olympics with the United States men's Olympic basketball team, known as the “Dream Team”. There have been many international players who helped globalize the game as well. The most memorable standout would be Yao Ming. He was the first ever Chinese player to be selected as the number one overall pick in 2002 by the Houston Rockets. His play was attributed to the growing attention to basketball in Asian countries.

It is quite obvious that the style of basketball has evolved over time, since its invention.  Now the game is a very fast paced setting and the use of the three pointer is a huge part of offensive strategy.  Some modern day heroes, like Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, have been trendsetters with their magical shooting abilities. It is players like Stephen Curry that are credited with popularizing and re-energizing the art of shooting among the youth of today’s game. Like many other of the major sports, basketball came from a humble background with the sole intention of keeping young athletic scholars in shape during the off-season of their footballing…Dr. Naismith also saw basketball as a way for these young athletes to stay in shape via a much less physical activity. The bodies of these growing athletes of the time period couldn’t withstand the rigorous football-caliber training year round so this idea seemed like a good fit. It is just amazing how a ball, 2 fruit baskets and a few good ideas can change the world forever. We tip our hats to Dr. James Naismith!


Go to page 1