“I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began.…” – James Naismith
On today’s date, December 21 in 1891 the first basketball was played at the Springfield YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.The sport had been developed by one Mr. James Naismith as a way of giving rowdy young men a way to blow off some steam during the long winter months in that part of the country when they mostly had to stay inside.
Naismith – the Athlete/Educator
James Naismith was born in 1861 in Almonte (now part of Mississippi Mills), Ontario. He enrolled in Almonte High School, in Almonte, Ontario graduating in 1883.Later that in same year, Naismith entered the Montreal’s McGill University (below). Naismith was not a
particularly imposing man, physically speaking. He weighed 178 pounds, and was 5 foot 10 ½ tall. Nevertheless he was apparently a skilled and versatile athlete, representing McGill in lacrosse, rugby, gymnastics, soccer, and Canadian football for which he held the tough and demanding position of center. He graduated McGill in 1888 with a BA in Physical Education. He then moved from Montreal to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Naismith Develops a New Game
It was in this position that Naismith found himself with a bunch of young boys who were very rowdy and needed some sort of activity or game to keep them from getting even rowdier during the long harsh New England winters. He was given the task of coming
up with a game that would keep the track athletes in shape, but which it was clearly specified “make it fair for all players and not too rough.” So Naismith decided that the larger softer soccer ball was preferable to the objects used in lacrosse, or hockey. Next he determined that the most physical contact came when running with or hitting the ball, so he made passing the only way to move the ball from one player to the other. And finally, he made thee goal unguardable, by making it a basket high above the players heads. Above is pictured the original court, with the ball on the floor (center), and the peach basket visible way above the door. He called it “Basketball” and the first time it was ever played was on today’s date of Dec. 20, 1891.
Naismith on That First Game
Years later, in Dec. 1939, James Naismith recalled that first game: “Well I didn’t have enough (rules), and that’s where I made my big mistake. The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches.
They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them with black eyes, and one with a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder. Well after that first match I was afraid they’d kill each other. But they kept nagging me to let them play again. So I made up some more rules. And the most important one was that there should be no running with the ball. That stopped tackling and slugging. So we tried out the game with those rules. And we didn’t have one casualty. We had a fine, clean sport.”