Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15, 1891: Basket Ball

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - It was a long winter in New England. The athletes at the Springfield YMCA were getting rowdy on the days that they were stuck inside. Dr. James Naismith was instructed to invent a new game that could be played indoors, was safe, and could be played in a small space.

Looking for inspiration, Naismith studied the most popular sports of the time: rugby, lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey, and baseball. He decided that the smaller the ball, the more dangerous the sports seemed to be. He also saw that the more running was involved, the more likely it was that players would be injured. And finally, he saw that the best way to avoid injury was to make sure the goal was unguardable; players were less likely to get hurt if they weren't trying to stop shots.

With that background inspiration as the backdrop, Naismith compiled 13 rules for a sport he would call "basket ball." He nailed a basket on the balcony on either end of the court - the fact that the balcony was 10 feet high was a mere coincidence. He forbade players from running with the ball, forcing them to pass or shoot. And he watched as the players reluctantly, then enthusiastically, started to play his new game.

On that cold winter night, Naismith became the father of basketball. Unlike most other sports, many with rules that developed over time and with indeterminate origins, basketball can be traced to one specific day at one specific place. The players playing Dr. Naismith's new game at the Springfield YMCA on December 15, 1891, certainly had no idea the history they were making; they were probably just happy to have something to do in the winter. But with the first jump ball that day, they were all making history.

The game that people see when they watch basketball doesn't have a lot in common with the game that Dr. Naismith invented in 1891. Dribbling wasn't allowed in the first rules, for example, and the game is now five-on-five rather than nine-on-nine. Naismith's rules also called for a jump ball after every basket, rather than just having the team that didn't score take the ball out. But the basic premise remains - the players still can't run with the ball, and the goal is still to get the ball through a target that is 10 feet off the floor.

It's a game that has spread around the world, played by teams on every continent. At this point, basketball might be the second most popular team sport in the world behind soccer. And it all started on a cold winter's day in New England, with James Naismith trying to find a distraction for kids at the Springfield YMCA.

Naismith's 13 original rules can be found here:

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