KU University Archives

It’s been nine days since the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, but 123 years since the birth of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

By Danielle Zhu
November 06, 2014

It’s been nine days since the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, but 123 years since the birth of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
Kansas Historical Society

Naismith was born in Ontario, Canada, on November 6, 1861. He graduated from McGill University with a B.A. in physical education and then studied theology at Presbyterian College in Montreal. After receiving his diploma, he moved to Springfield, Mass., to work as a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School. 

Naismith (center, far right) was a member of the football team when he attended McGill University. He is also often credited with being the inventor of the football helmet.
McGill University Archives

In 1891, he was given 14 days to come up with a game to tame a restless class of young men during the New England winter. Existing sports had proven too rough, so Naismith set out to create a new activity, one without tackling. 

A soccer ball, two peach baskets and 13 rules later, “Basket Ball” was born. 

The first game of basketball was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets nailed to the lower rail of the gymnasium balcony.
KU University Archives

The first game featured two teams of nine and only one field goal. Despite the initial skepticism of the students, the game proved successful. Basket Ball spread quickly around the country due to the travels of the YMCA graduates, and within a few years, it was introduced internationally. 

Basketball was first played in the gymnasium of the School for Christian Workers, where the young men were training to become secretaries of the YMCA.
Hulton Archive
Naismith (center right) with his first basketball team in Springfield, Massachusetts.
KU University Archives
The original pages of Naismith's 13 rules of Basket Ball were auctioned off in 2010 for $4.3 million. The document is housed at the University of Kansas DeBruce Center.
Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

Naismith earned his M.D. and moved to Kansas in 1898, where he started the official men’s basketball program at the University of Kansas. In 1936, he attended the Olympic Games in Berlin when basketball became a recognized Olympic sport. Naismith died on November 29, 1939 at the age of 78. So today, we celebrate the life of a man whose genius gave us one of the biggest sports in the world and whose humility saved us from calling it "Naismith Ball." 

Happy birthday, Dr. James Naismith!
AP Photo


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