Dr. James Naismith worked as a physical education instructor. In the winter of 1891, he was tasked with creating a game for his students that would keep them active during the snowy storms that were hitting the area. Armed with a couple of peach baskets, a soccer ball, and a ladder, it took him just two weeks to invent the sport that we know as basketball today. Naismith lived long enough to see it become an Olympic sport in 1936.
1. Three Weeks of Loss
Naismith was the eldest child of three from his parents. They moved to a milling community when he was 8 so that his father could get work as a saw hand. In just three short weeks at the age of 10, he and his siblings became orphans because of typhoid fever. The Naismith children would then move to live with their maternal grandmother for two years until she passed away. Eventually they would find stability with their Uncle Peter.
2. An Interesting Double Major
We know Naismith for his work in physical education, but this wasn’t the initial foundation of his studies. He graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Hebrew. From there he went on to study theology at Presbyterian College. His love of sports aggravated his professors with some of them even referred to his actions as legalized murder. Despite it all, Naismith held onto his believe that it was possible to be religious and athletic active at the same time.
3. Trained By the YMCA
After finishing his training as a minister, Naismith became actively involved with the YMCA. He would wind up studying at their international training school in Springfield, Massachusetts and playing rugby with the local team. The winter operations of the YMCA at the time were focused on gymnastics and calisthenic drills, which was bothersome to Naismith. He thought that there should be something more to do.
4. Duck On a Rock
After being given permission to think about new winter sports, Naismith remembered a childhood game called “Duck On a Rock.” It basically just involved throwing rocks into a basket or a box. Naismith realized that if there were baskets or boxes placed on either end of the gymnasium that they would make for a good goal. This became the cornerstone of how the first 10 rules of basketball would be created.
5. Spreading Like a Virus
The idea of basketball as a sport didn’t take long to spread around the world. Because Naismith was working at an international training school, many people would come to study at the YMCA, become exposed to this new game, and then take it home with them. In just 2 years, formal tournaments were being formed around the world and numerous universities were forming their own teams. Despite this, Naismith is known to have only played in two formal games ever in his life.
6. Back To His Passion
After the invention of basketball, Naismith would pursue his own career of combining fitness and spirituality. He would serve as an education director at the Denver YMCA and then eventually take a teaching position at the University of Kansas. Yet when the US entered World War I, he would also volunteer to serve in the Kansas First Infantry and become an ordained Presbyterian minister as well. Despite all of this, he wouldn’t actually become a US citizen until 1925.
7. The Father of Basketball
Naismith never sought out to profit from the invention of one of the world’s most popular sports. Even his acceptance of an invitation to throw at the first ball in the first basketball game in the Olympics was an unusual step for him. He focused on learning and held degrees in medicine, religion, philosophy, and physical education. It wouldn’t be until after his death that he would become known as the Father of Basketball and become the first member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
8. A Big Team
The original game of basketball was very different to how we know it today. There were 9 people on the court for the first games, including 3 centers, a goalkeeper, two guards, and two wings. Naismith organized 9 boys out of more than a dozen applicants and toured around the East Coast to play games, making it the first organized basketball team in history. Imagine having to climb a stepladder to fetch a ball out of the goal – that was how the first games were played.
Basketball is considered one of the four top professional sports in the US and has a global presence today with regular championship tournaments and an ongoing presence in the Olympics. Considering its humble beginnings from a man who was told that he was participating in legalized murder as a seminary student, this sport and its inventor has stood well against all the obstacles placed in front of it.