Could Be the Start Of Something Big JULY 13 1904 THE FIRST OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

November 29, 1999

DEAR MOTHER AND FATHER,

I am writing from St. Louis, where I have discovered something
called basket ball, a relatively new sport that was played here
this week in the Olympic Games for the first time, as a
demonstration sport. It seems fitting that this basket ball was
introduced at the first Olympics ever held within our national
borders, as the game was apparently invented a few years ago by
an imaginative chap in Massachusetts named Naismith. I'm quite
sure that Americans can become adept at this sport, as evidenced
here by the spirited play of Hiram College of Ohio, which won
the gold medal in the collegiate division by beating Wheaton
College of Illinois, and then Latter Day Saints University of
Salt Lake City. The game has not yet taken hold all over the
country--much less outside the United States, which explains why
there were no foreign teams competing here--but I can foresee a
day when college teams engage in regular interstate
competitions, provided, of course, that travel does not exact
too much time from academic pursuits.

The basket ball competition offered a splendid respite from the
negative aspects of the goings-on in St. Louis these past few
weeks, which in my opinion demonstrate that an Olympics should
never again be held in conjunction with a World's Fair. Superior
athletic endeavors were sometimes lost amid the dreadful social
science experiments ordered up by a gentleman with the lofty
title of Chief of the Department of Physical Culture. It was his
addle-brained idea of staging Anthropology Days, the nadir of
which was reached--I am not making this up--with a mudslinging
fight among African pygmies. I suspect that as the century
progresses America will have a much more enlightened view of
sport and that shameless promoters who do not have in mind the
best interests of athletics will be kept far from the fray.

At any rate, I was on my way to watch this basket ball when I
met a delightful gentleman from Hiram who regaled me with tales
of his team's state championship and slapped his leg in delight
at the mere mention of the team from Salt Lake City. "I look
forward to the game with these Mormon lads," he said. "It will
be this century's first grudge match!" It seems that one Joseph
Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was tarred and feathered and
run out of Hiram in 1831 because the citizens were concerned
that the religion granted far too much power to Mr. Smith. My
own suspicion was that the athletes themselves would pay scant
attention to this subplot, which was mostly fodder for pregame
conversation, and I was proven correct in that assumption.

Despite heavy rains that had fallen the night before, the
Hiram-Wheaton game was played on the clay field outside of the
Physical Culture Building, rather than in the gymnasium. This
struck me as unusual, considering that this Naismith fellow, a
physical education teacher, had invented basket ball to provide
his charges with a challenging indoor activity during the winter
months. From time to time the ball had to be dried off after it
fell into one of the puddles that had collected near the side
lines, and, in fact, Wheaton had a distinct advantage in the
early going because its players wore heavy cleats to combat the
sloppy footing. If this basket ball is to flourish, it surely
must become primarily an indoor sport, as field conditions
should not be a factor in a game with such a vertical element to
it. At any rate, the superior speed and quickness of the Hiram
College athletes won the day, and Wheaton was dispatched by the
score of 25 to 20.

Later in the afternoon, Wheaton bested the Latter Day Saints
squad by 40 to 35, so a victory in the third and final game over
L.D.S.U. would assure the Hiram lads of the gold medal. The
summer sun had dried the field by then, and Hiram had little
trouble vanquishing the Saints by 25 to 18. As I watched the
game unfold, I sensed that this basket ball, particularly as it
was played by the fast and graceful Hiram quintet, could become
a real pulse-raiser for fans, though one would not have known it
by watching this particular tournament. Olympic rules barred any
noise from the side lines, and, except for some muted cheering
by several female basketball players from the Government Indian
School, all was silence. Still, I couldn't help but feel that I
had witnessed something important, and it was splendid to have
been there, in the first frame, so to speak, of a film that I
suspect will continue to unreel throughout the century.

I was surprised to find my new friend from Hiram sitting by
himself after the game with hands folded under his chin. "I am
pleased with the win," he said, "but I wonder how long it will
be that small schools like Hiram will be able to achieve great
things in this game. I can see the day coming when the large
universities will search from coast to coast to find and secure
the best players. You only need a few of them, remember, to make
a successful squad."

I had no answer for that but told him to be thankful that the
physical culture chief had kept his nose out of basket ball.
"Otherwise," I said, "he might well have imported a tribe of
giants from some far-off continent and had them simply reach up
and lay the ball into the basket, while the smaller lads watched
helplessly from below!"

We shared a good laugh at that absurd image, and I thanked him
for introducing me to this promising game.

Sincerely,

Your son, Jack

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY LOREN LONG The lads from Hiram held off Wheaton in a game with few cheers but much import.

AS I WATCHED the game unfold, I sensed that this basket ball
could become a real pulse-raiser.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)