Celebrating 129 Years of Basketball

6 December 2020
A group of YMCA youth sports players

YMCA celebrates 129 years of basketball—a game that calls the Y home.

Kobe, Shaq, Leslie—some of basketball’s greats. Who do they owe their greatness to? Some argue their coaches. Others the positive influences that encouraged and inspired them. But what if we told you it was this guy—James Naismith. And what if we told you that if these basketball greats had played the game back when Naismith invented it at the Y in 1891 that they would have been dunking on a peach basket? It’s all true. 
Here’s the real story.

Let’s set the scene. It’s the Winter of 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Location—Springfield College, or back then known as the International YMCA Training School. A group of young men, restless from the cold winter and left with an overwhelming boredom from all other sports at the time since the ending of their football season, were required to participate in indoor activities. Who led those activities? Yep, you guessed it—Naismith. After graduating with a degree in Theology, Naismith moved to Springfield to pursue his love for physical education, soon finding himself leading this lot of young men in their journey to burn off their copious amounts of energy. 
In 1891, the concept of physical education as a collective focus for someone to incorporate as part of their routine was a new one, but Naismith was studying under the best: Luther Halsey Gulick, superintendent of physical education at the College and today renowned as the father of physical education and recreation in the United States. Gulick had challenged Naismith and his fellow graduate student classmates earlier in the year during their psychology of play course to invent a new game, one that would be interesting, easy to learn, not as rough as football/rugby/soccer, and most importantly could be played in the winter months indoors. 

Guess what happened next? Yep, you guessed it (you’re a good guesser)—the game of basketball became the most popular game with Naismith’s students after many failed attempts at other creations concocted by other graduate students. 

Originally played with two peach baskets (the only baskets the janitor could find for Naismith) nailed to the bottom of the gymnasium’s balcony (that just so happened to be 10ft from the ground), the game quickly spread to the students’ home YMCA locations. By 1905 the game became officially recognized by colleges and educational institutions as a permanent winter sport. In all, the original 13 rules (listed below to satisfy your curiosity) that Naismith laid out at the International YMCA Training School back in 1891are very close to the rules of play today (except with the obvious use of real hoops and backboards, not woven peach baskets, and the adjoining of the two-word original name of the game “basket ball”). 

Next time you go up for a dunk or catch nothing but net (or watch your favorite pros do their magic), remember Naismith. And be grateful that we found something more durable than a peach basket! (I mean, could you imagine Michael Jordan taking it to the “PEACH” basket?)

Naismith’s Original 13 Rules:

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.

  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).

  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, with an allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.

  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.

  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3,4, and such as described in Rule 5.

  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).

  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.

  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

  11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.

  12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes' rest between.

  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.