How was basketball invented?

Updated: 12/18/2022
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The game of Basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891.

Naismith was a Canadian physical education instructor at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. In December of 1891, the director of the school, Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, asked Naismith to find a physical activity to occupy a "class of incorrigibles."

Naismith may have had other motivations as well. Apparently, the class was tired of calisthenics. Naismith wanted to create a game of skill for the students instead of one that relied solely on strength. He needed a game that could be played indoors in a relatively small space. And he wanted to keep his football players in shape off-season.

Luckily Naismith and his wife, who were Christians, subscribed to a Christian Missionary magazine from Central America. In it Naismith saw the feature article about the Aztec ball game called Ollamalitzli and the Mayan game of Ulama. He had also read articles by a New Zealander called Tom Ellison who wrote about ancient Maori ball sports that required a lot of aerial handball skills. He took account of the hole that the round bouncy ball had to go through in the Central American games, and the excitement of the traditional Maori game where a round flax ball was aerially passed with speed and dexterity. With his supportive wife he then devised a game suitable for a gym.

Taking to the task at hand, Naismith rounded up two peach baskets (the janitor didn't have any boxes handy) and a soccer ball. Next, he developed 13 rules for the new game. He divided his class of 18 into 2 teams of 9 players each (the team today would be the equivalent of 3 guards, 3 centers, and 3 forwards) and set about to teach them the basics of his new game of basketball.

The object of the game was to throw the soccer ball into the peach baskets nailed to the lower railing of the gym balcony. Every time a point was scored, the game was halted so the janitor could lug out a ladder and retrieve the ball (the bottoms of the peach baskets were intact at first). Of course, that didn't happen too often -- the score of the very first basketball game ever played was an amazingly low 1-0.

The first public basketball game was in Springfield, MA, on March 11, 1892.

Basketball has grown into a game that more than 300 million people play worldwide. Springfield is now where you will now find the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Ball

Basketball was originally played with a soccer ball. The first balls made specially for basketball were brown, and it was only in the late 1950s that Tony Hinkle, searching for a ball that would be more visible to players and spectators alike, introduced the orange ball that is now in common use.

Facts about Dr. James Naismith

James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario in 1861.

He was educated at McGill University and Presbyterian College in Montreal. He was the physical education teacher at McGill University (1887 to 1890) and at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts (1890 to 1895). At Springfield College (which was then the YMCA training school), James Naismith, under the direction of American phys-ed specialist Luther Halsey Gulick, invented the indoor sport of basketball.

As an interesting aside, Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was the only coach to ever have a losing record in his sport at the University of Kansas. Three years after inventing the game, he was hired as the chaplain and physical education instructor at KU. While here he also developed the first football helmet. He is buried in Lawrence, in the same cemetery as his succesor the legendary coach Phog Allen, the man who brought Wilt Chamberlin to Kansas.

Naismith died in 1939.

James Naismith was a coach and his athletes had no sports to play during the winter so they started to get out of shape. So he invented the sport of basketball, which could be played indoors.

Women's Basketball

Women's basketball began in 1892, at Smith College, when Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher, modified Naismith's rules for women. The first official basketball game was played in the YMCA gymnasium on January 20, 1892 with nine players, on a court just half the size of a present-day NBA court. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of Naismith's students, was popular from the beginning.


Not only was basketball invented by a YMCA institution, but the game's first professional team came from a Y. The Trenton (N.J.) YMCA had fielded a basketball team since 1892 and in 1896 its team claimed to be the national champions after beating various other YMCA and college teams. The team then severed its ties with the Y. It played the 1896-97 season out of a local Masonic temple, charging for admission and keeping the proceeds.

Basketball's early adherents were dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, and it quickly spread through the country. By 1896, it was well established at several women's colleges. While the YMCA was responsible for initially developing and spreading the game, within a decade, it discouraged the new sport, as rough play and rowdy crowds began to detract from the YMCA's primary mission. However, other amateur sports clubs, colleges, and professional clubs quickly filled the void. In the years before World War I, the Amateur Athletic Union and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (forerunner of the NCAA) vied for control over the rules for the game.

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12y ago

It was invented by educational philosopher, James Naismith, in 1891.

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