It is interesting to know that a Canadian invented the game of basketball. Great games are supposed to originate in Europe, in exotic countries, or perhaps in the great cities of the United States of America. But no one will consider a Canadian as the originator for something that is as popular as basketball. It is so popular that the game is virtually in all countries all over the world (Grasso 1). In countries where basketball is played, the game is ever-present at all levels, from primary school to college.
Men, women, children, play the game of basketball. People from all walks of life enjoy watching players dribble a round ball, in order to shoot it into a hoop. One of the greatest moments came in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games when the U.S. Dream Team showcased what a great basketball team could accomplish in a world stage. A well-written history of basketball must retrace the game’s evolution, from its rudimentary beginnings in a YMCA gym, to its global impact through the National Basketball Association.
The Invention of Basketball
An unlikely candidate invented basketball. James Naismith was an orphan growing up in the Northern territories of Ontario, Canada. The emergence of an inventive spirit in order to push back boredom characterized his childhood years. He needed to be inventive in order to solve the problems brought about by financial difficulties and isolation. Naismith fondly recalled the happy memories in a place called Bennie’s Corners.
Naismith fondly remembered the time when they utilized available items and transformed ordinary things into a plaything. The rope that the blacksmith used to control the beasts of burden when they were brought to his shop never stayed long on the wall display. Children and teenagers from his neighborhood often borrowed it for their tug of war games.
Naismith recalled the joyous celebration of summer. However, he also recalled the bitter struggles during the winter months. The indomitable spirit of young people compelled them to go hunting or fishing. When Ontario’s Indian River was frozen solid during the winter months, the boys and girls came out to play with their skates, and they glided over the ice. Naismith remembered the time when he was an eight-year-old orphan boy, and he did not have the money to buy a pair of ice skating shoes.
He also recalled how pride prevented him from asking money from his uncle, who was acting as his guardian during one of the most challenging times of his life. But when everyone went to bed, the young Naismith went to his uncle’s shop, and he labored all night in order to produce a pair of crude, but functional skating shoes. It was this ability to create solutions that forged an inventive spirit within the young boy.
A curious brain set on fire by a passion for life and tempered by the socio-cultural context of Ontario, Canada enabled Naismith to do things without fear of censure. He was not afraid of the negative backlash from his friends, relatives, and town mates. It also gave him and similar minded people the freedom to solve problems in order to improve the lives of the people around them.
This was the same mindset that prodded Naismith to succeed in life, and to intervene when his help was needed the most. The same spirit guided him on that fateful day of 1891. He was a gym teacher in Massachusetts when he decided to create a game that his students could play indoors. He was working in a YMCA gym.
In the initial stages of development, the inventor utilized a soccer ball to play the new game. However, Naismith had forbidden kicking. The only allowable actions were throwing, catching, and jumping. The players were able to score when they succeeded in shooting the ball into a peach basket. Naismith found a peach basket and cut a hole through it.
The peach basket was made from wooden planks that are held together by a binder. Dr. James Naismith asked one of the janitors to nail the peach basket to the balcony (Helmer and Owens 4). It so happened that the distance between the ground and the basket was ten feet (Helmer and Owens 4). And so, basketball was born that day (Helmer and Owens 4).
The emergence of basketball as a popular ball game that would make someday rival the popularity of football was a slow and torturous process. There was no YouTube or Cable TV in the year 1891. There was not even a radio to broadcast the potential of the game to change people’s lives.
The boys from Massachusetts had to play the game in order to spread the good news of basketball. Nevertheless, Dr. James Naismith was the tireless promoter of the sport. In fact, in 1892, the town folks witnessed the first women’s basketball game at Springfield, Massachusetts, YMCA (Helmer and Owens 5).
It is interesting to note that it was the women’s game in 1892 that was the crucial moment in basketball history. The audience was enthralled by the new way of dribbling and shooting a ball into a hoop. After the contest, the word about the new game quickly spread, particularly through the YMCA network all over the country. Teachers and volunteers at the YMCA followed Naismith’s footsteps, and they began teaching the rudimentary rules of the game all across the United States of America.
In 1893 the first women’s basketball game that utilized Senda Berenson’s newly adapted rules was played at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts (Grasso 1). It became very clear during basketball’s early days that the game was popular with both men and women.
In 1895 Clara Baer published her own version of basketball rules. In February of the same year, the first men’s intercollegiate basketball game was played at Hamline College in St. Paul, Minnesota. During this particular game, the Minnesota School of Agriculture defeated the Hamline players with a score of 9-3 (Grasso 1).
It is also interesting to note that less than five years after its inception, the game of basketball was already exported to distant shores. In January of 1896, spectators who flocked into a YMCA gym in Tianjin, China, witnessed the first basketball game ever played in Asia.
As the rules evolved, so does the quality of the game. On January 16, 1896, the first men’s intercollegiate basketball game featuring five players per team was played between the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa. The University of Chicago won the contest with a score of 15-12 (Grasso 13).
It did not take long before basketball joined the ranks of baseball and football as a team sport with a professional league. In July of 1898, the National Basket Ball League (NBL) was born. In December of that same year, the first professional league basketball game was played. The Trenton team defeated the Hancock Athletic Association with a score of 21-19 in Philadelphia.
In January of 1903, the second professional organization called the Philadelphia Basketball League (PBL) was created to compete with the NBL. Due to the emergence of other professional basketball leagues, the NBL played its last game in 1904. But in the same year, the game of basketball was introduced to the Olympic games as an exhibition type of event.
Due to the directive of President Theodor Roosevelt, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States was created. Four years later, the same organization became the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
In the year 1913, it has become apparent that the game of basketball has already grown in popularity beyond the shores of the United States. In that same year, the first Far Eastern Championship Games were contested in Manila, Philippines. The participating countries were comprised of the host nation, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.
In 1935 the arrival of the game of basketball into the international stage was no longer in doubt. In the same year, the first FIBA men’s European Championship was held in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1936, the first Olympic basketball tournament was held at the Berlin Olympics. It was during the Berlin Olympics that Dr. Naismith was honored as the creator of the beloved game. Dr. Naismith accepted the invitation and attended the Olympic Games (Grasso 14).
The games foothold into America’s sports scene was strengthened even further when the NCAA organized the first National Championship tournament in 1939. In 1945 significant changes were made to the rules governing the game of basketball. One of the rules that were later adopted into the game was the rule that the player is awarded three points for every successful attempt made beyond the 21 feet mark from the basket.
The year 1949 was another major milestone in basketball history when two of the most prominent professional leagues in the country, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League, were merged to form the present-day National Basketball Association.
The decade of the 1970s was a tumultuous decade for American basketball. The demise of various professional leagues paved the way for the titanic conflict between two powerful professional leagues. The first one was the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the National Basketball Association. NBA officials knew the potential growth of the sport if the ABA can be persuaded to merge with the NBA.
It was a strategic move that was advantageous to the NBA because the CBA had in contract several exciting African American players. For example, Dr. J or Julius Erving was under contract with an ABA team. As a result, it was not easy to merge both leagues. Nevertheless, it was the desire to see basketball in the highest levels that prompted officials to agree to the terms of the merger.
The Impact of the NBA and the U.S. Dream Team
The merger between the ABA and the NBA was one of the brilliant business decisions ever made. Due to the merger, the NBA was able to consolidate resources and the fan base for both leagues. As a result, the merger created a profitable system that attracted more people to watch a diversified and talented group of people.
The NBA’s resources enabled the league to broadcast games all over the planet. At the same time, the additional resources allowed the NBA to create favorable working conditions for the workers. The NBA made possible the gathering of talented players under one league.
The NBA was instrumental in promoting the game of basketball in the far corners of the globe. Nevertheless, it was the 1992 U.S. Dream Team that competed in the Barcelona Olympic games that proved to be the most effective ambassador of basketball throughout the planet. The Basketball Hall of Fame considered the U.S. Dream Team as the greatest collection of basketball talent in the games 100-year history.
Consider the following basketball talent compressed into one basketball team:
- Michael Jordan;
- Scottie Pippen;
- John Stockton;
- Karl Malone;
- Magic Johnson;
- Larry Bird;
- Patrick Ewing;
- Chris Mullin;
- David Robinson;
- Charles Barkley;
- Clyde Drexler;
- Christian Laettner.
In order to provide a little perspective, the champions of the NBA finals are called World Champions. This serves as a reminder to the world-class talent within the NBA. In addition, one can select five players from the 12-man roster mentioned earlier, and that person can expect to defeat the best team around the world. If one can do that using only five players from the U.S. Dream Team, one has to wonder what they could do if the 12 men are allowed to play as a team.
Their opponents discovered the bitter truth when the Dream Team destroyed the opposition, where games that have 40 point differential was a common occurrence. The U.S. Dream Team destroyed their opponents, but they inspired the next generation of basketball players all over the world to study the game of basketball. It can be argued that their performance during the 1992 Barcelona Games influenced the current crop of superstar basketball players to follow in their footsteps.
Grasso, John. Historical Dictionary of Basketball. MD: Scarecrow Press, 2011. Print.
Helmer, Diana and Tom Owens. The History of Basketball. New York: Rosen Group, 2000. Print.