Basketball is among the most popular sports in the world and is now a multibillion-dollar industry. But where was it invented?
Basketball was invented in 1891 by a Canadian physical education instructor in the United States, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The instructor, James Naismith, invented the sport as an inside winter sport and it rapidly grew in popularity in the United States in the early 20th century.
To find out more about the history and development of basketball, read on.
Invention of Basketball
Basketball is a surprisingly new sport that was invented in 1891 at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education instructor employed there.
While athletes at the school could play games like baseball or football during the warmer months, the colder months inspired a search for a winter sport to play inside so that athletes could stay in shape.
Given the mission by his boss to create a sport that could be played safely inside, Naismith created a team sport played using a ball like one used in soccer and peach baskets nailed to the railings of the gym balcony.
With 18 in his class, he divided them into two teams of nine and gave them a set of 13 rules to use to play the game, with the goal being to throw the “basketball” into the peach baskets, which the school janitor would then retrieve with a ladder after every point as there was no hole in the bottom. The modern style of baseball hoop was only introduced in 1906.
The first game was played in 1892, which the pupils referred to as the “Naismith Game” or “basketball” due to it being played with peach baskets and a ball. The game then took off in popularity from the 1890s in the United States via the YMCA and later as a college sport, then spreading the game around the world.
Growth of Basketball
The sport became very popular in American colleges, with the first intercollegiate game held in 1895. Colleges would be instrumental, along with the YMCA, in developing its popularity and the rules started to change and become more standardized, with established college rules in 1905 and the National Collegiate Athletics Association assuming control over the game in 1909.
In 1898, the National Basketball League was established, the first of its kind despite only lasting until 1904. However, other basketball leagues were quickly established, and basketball began to become a professional sport as audiences were willing to pay to see teams perform, with the first World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1939.
This was won by the Rens, the first all-African-American team in the country, and the sport would not be integrated until 1950. The 1920s saw several other leagues established, such as the Metropolitan Basketball League and the American Basketball League.
In 1932, after Americans had introduced the sport to areas including Canada and Europe, FIBA was formed as an international body for basketball before becoming an Olympic sport in 1936. The National Basketball Association (NBA) was formed in 1949, which would play a hugely significant role in popularizing the game around the world and making basketball the international institution and American symbol we know today.
While there is no doubt that basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, ball games had been played for millennia before this point. Old ball games have been noted to resemble modern-day games in some respects, such as the Chinese game of cuju and soccer and the old English game of stoolball and baseball.
There is also an ancient variety of ball games that features some similarities to basketball called pok-ta-pok by the Mayans and ullamaliztli by the Aztecs. Some varieties of this game would be won by throwing a rubber ball through an elevated horizontal stone circle in an I-shaped court, something like a mix between racquetball and basketball.
Over 1,300 courts used to play this game have been found in Central America, and although many do not feature stone rings, many later courts do have them. Many legends surround this game, including one that the loser would be executed, although this may not explain its apparent popularity with so many courts.
The Mesoamericans were able to make rubber balls at least 3,000 years ago, with the Olmecs using rubber balls in ball games in a way that subsequent Mayan and Aztec cultures would.
This game is undergoing a renaissance and is now known as ulama, after having been suppressed by the Spanish Empire. However, the rules in ulama and basketball are very different, with basketball being a very modern game invented in the United States.