At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
The United States is known for its sports culture, from Olympic gold medals to Super Bowl rings and World Series titles. Sports like (gridiron) football and baseball are seen as thoroughly American, but their origins can be traced to earlier English pastimes like football (soccer), rugby, cricket, and rounders. Basketball, however, is the exception – it's the only major sport to have been invented in the United States, and the only one that can be linked to an individual inventor, rather than evolving from an existing sport.
James Naismith – who was actually Canadian – invented the game (then called "basket ball") in 1891 while working as a physical education teacher at a YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Armed with a soccer ball and dealing with a rowdy class in the harsh New England winter, Naismith wanted to create a simple yet interesting team game that could be played indoors, give all of the participants a good workout, and avoid injuries due to the confined space.
Although Naismith wanted to use boxes as the goals, the school's janitor turned up with peach baskets, which Naismith nailed to the bottom of the gymnasium balcony, 10 feet (3 m) above the ground. With two nine-person teams and 15-minute halves, the only objective was to get the ball into the other team's basket. That first game involved an impressive amount of kicking, tackling, and punching, ultimately leading Naismith to devise a set of 13 rules for further competitions – most importantly, that you couldn't run with the ball. Dribbling and free throws (and using a hoop instead of a basket) came about later.
- It didn't take long for the new sport to spread far beyond Springfield, with YMCAs, high schools, and colleges quickly adopting it as a permanent winter sport, played by both men and women. The first intercollegiate game is thought to have taken place in 1893, and the first professional league, the National Basketball League (NBL), was founded in 1898.
- Although basketball was included in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis as a demonstration event, it wasn't added as an official medal event until 1936 for men and 1976 for women.
- Naismith became the first head coach of the University of Kansas men's basketball team in 1898. Ironically, he is the only Kansas coach with a losing record.
- The original 13 rules written by Naismith were sold at auction for $4.3 million. Things have changed slightly since the 1890s – the NBA Official Rule Book is now 65 pages long.