Springfield, Massachusetts is the home of modern basketball. Although through time in several different locations throughout the world similar games have been played, the form of the game we know and love today is relatively new. 1891 Dr. James Naismith was tasked by his principal at the YMCA International Training School (now known as Springfield College) to devise a game that could be played to help the athletes of the school to maintain their physical fitness during the cold winter months and be less physical than football which players were more injury prone when playing.
Originally a fruit basket and a ball similar in style to a soccer ball were used. Having a class of just 18 Dr. Naismith divided the class into two teams of nine and devised 13 rules for the game
. The original rules are mostly in use today with the exception of the out of bounds rule which was changed in 1913 to ensure the last team player to cause the ball to go off court loses possession to the opposing team.
The only drawback with the game was that every time a point was scored the janitor at the school had to use a ladder to retrieve the ball from the basket due to no hole for the ball to pass through.
The First Competitive Game
The first game played on 21st December 1891 was played at the Armory Street court. The game consisted of 9 versus 9 and ended 1-0, with no three-pointers back then. But the most influential aspect of the game was that the term Basketball was adopted. Many wanted to call it “Naismith's Game” but being a modest man he felt “Basketball” was more appropriate after the two main components of the game, fruit baskets, and a soccer-style ball.
The Advent Of Basketball Attire
Originally the players wore only their normal school clothes, some opting to wear other sportswear including football uniforms and or tracksuits. At this time footwear wasn’t really considered a major factor and only was considered a factor many years later due to the tempo of the game increasing and the risk of ankle injuries. Today the basketball shoe industry alone is worth over $3 billion US dollars with many now buying retro basketball shoes
made famous by Michael Jordan, a far cry from using your school shoes and much safer.
Similarly, the shorts and shirts that were worn in the years of the game consisted of trousers and a regular shirt but, things started to change when A.G. Spalding started to introduce specially designed long sleeve and sleeveless shirt specifically designed for basketball also the design of shorts was improved to essentially what we know today, allowing more freedom of movement.
The Rise In Global Popularity Of Basketball
The YMCA had an instrumental role in promoting the fledgling game in the United States and Canada. In 1893 representatives of the sport began to look abroad to spread the word about basketball. China, India, Persia, and Japan were introduced to basketball but the first game held abroad was played in Montmartre, France.
With the onset of the 1st World War
and the deployment of the American and Canadian Expeditionary Forces, basketball was a mainstay of their entertainment and introduced many other nations to a relatively new sport. Many hundreds of physical education teachers served in the theater of war including Dr. Naismith who spent over 2 years in Europe, helping to win a war and at the same time helping to promote basketball.
In the ensuing years after the Great War, there was a professional league that although was not the first national league to have been played, now such teams as the New York Wanderers, Camden Electrics, and the Trenton National who were the first winners of the new league. The league had now become such a success that the first club to sign players and place them under contract was the Original Celtics (not to be confused with the Boston Celtics). The Original Celtics
enjoyed a period of domination before being disbanded due to an ownership dispute in 1928.
The Creation Of The NBA
Before the NBA came into existence there were two separate bodies governing basketball, the NBL or National Basketball League and the BAA or Basketball Association of America. In 1949 after merging the leagues in a meeting at the Empire State Building, New York they became known as the NBA.
The NBA is now the most organized basketball league in the world and a leader in ensuring salaries, the popularity of the sport, enhancing talent and competition. Originally formed with 17 teams the league was losing fans and by the league of 1954/1955, only 8 teams remained. The following year the 24-second clock was introduced which dramatically increased the speed of the game making it more attractive to spectators, this was a huge boost, and interest in the game was re-ignited.
The Following Years
After the creation of the NBA and the renewed interest in part brought on by the rule changes, a new phenomenon helped change the game. Segregation and racial tensions in the United States became less of a problem and the emergence of African American players
helped to elevate the sport to a wider audience, players such as Chuck Cooper who was the first African American to be drafted by the newly formed NBA in 1950 and the Washington Capitols became the first basketball team to sign an African American on an NBA contract.
The league has gone from strength to strength and made superstars of many of the athletes becoming household names, players such as Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Dennis Rodman, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and the most famous player of all time
, Michael Jordan. To show just how popular the sport has become Michael Jordan through his playing career, sponsorship and endorsements has become a billionaire and a world-recognized name.
This is a long way off what Dr. Naismith could ever have imagined by creating a game out of a passion for his student’s health he has created a sport played globally by millions. Generating a sense of community in inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities alike.