Who Invented Basketball

The man who invented basketball, Dr. James Naismith, was born in 1861 in a small Canadian township bordering naismith_jamesAlmonte, Ontario called Ramsay. As a youth he enjoyed playing many games including a medieval sport known as duck on a rock. To play, one person defends a large drake stone from opposing players who try to knock it down by throwing smaller stones at it. Naismith figured a soft arching shot would be far more successful than a flat hard throw. A theory which he later applied to the sport he would one day create-Basketball.

Because he was orphaned early in life at age 9, Naismith was raised by his aunt and uncle. Upon graduation of High School, Naismith enrolled at McGill University in Montreal where he starred as a two-sport athlete in Canadian football and gymnastics. As a collegiate athlete, Naismith won several Wicksteed medals for outstanding gymnastics performance and is recognized as the first person to wear a football helmet in regular play.

By 1890, after earning a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from McGill and a second Diploma from Presbyterian College in Montreal, Naismith became McGill’s first director of athletics, a post he accepted after initially returning to his alma mater to teach physical education. However, one year later Naismith accepted a job as an instructor at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was there that the sport of basketball was invented in 1891.

While working at the YMCA Training School, Dr. James Naismith was challenged by the Training School’s head of Physical Education, Dr. Luther H. Gulick, to create a game that could be played in a relatively small space.  Dr. Gulick wanted to provide an “athletic distraction” to an unruly group of students who only became increasingly irritable when confined indoors during the harsh New England winters.  Dr. Gulick insisted that the game help keep track athletes in shape while not being “too rough” to promote balanced competition amongst all the players.  The entire undertaking was to be in complete 14 days.

Naismith decided he wanted to come up with a game of skill instead of one that relied solely on strength. In order to accomplish this task, the inventor of basketball studied the most widely played sports of the time (rugby, lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey and baseball). After much analysis, Naismith realized that any activity involving running, dribbling or swinging at a small fast ball would have an inherent danger, since most physical contact occurred in those instances.  Therefore, Naismith insisted that the ball be big and soft like the ones used for soccer.  He further reduced the risk of physical contact by making passing the only legal means of advancing the ball.  Lastly, he thought it best to place the goal high above the heads of the player’s to make it virtually un-guardable and forced participants to score goals by throwing a soft lob shot similar to the toss that had proven effective in his favorite childhood game of duck on a rock.  Naismith nicknamed this new game “Basket Ball” and instituted the original 13 basketball rules. (below)


Basketball’s inaugural contest was played in December 1891. Unlike the today’s game, the first basketball game was played using a soccer ball with nine players on either team, who shot at goals made from peach baskets. Moreover, since the ball could only be advanced via a pass, the original rules did not accommodate for what is known in today’s game as dribbling. There are many other differences between today’s game and the basketball rules at inception. Take a look at the original Basketball rules below.

Original Basketball 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, but 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, allowance to be made for a man running at good speed.

  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, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person 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 game. No substitution shall be allowed.

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

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

  8. Goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponents move the basket, it shall count as a goal.

  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the first person touching it. In case of 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 them.

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

  11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and decide when it 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 winners.

Image Source: KSHS.org, FamilySportsLifeToday.com