21 Interesting Facts About The History Of Basketball

Everybody has probably watched an NBA game by now. But how did the game start and how did it evolve?

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at all the facts about the history of basketball so you can learn all about one of the most popular sports in the world that is played everywhere!

1. The game was invented by a Canadian.

The inventor of basketball was a Canadian physical education instructor named James Naismith (born November 6, 1861). He was a Canadian farm boy who lost both his parents at an early age, therefore living in the house of an uncle.

He grew up in a small town called Almonte in the Canadian Province of Ontario, just a few miles outside of Canada’s capital Ottawa.

Dr. James Naismith
James Naismith, the inventor of basketball / Wiki Commons

2. Naismith moved to the United States.

When Naismith moved out of his hometown of Almonte, he went on to study at the University of McGill in Montreal.

He earned himself a degree in theology and a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education. During his stay at McGill, he was influenced by D.A. Budge, General Secretary of the YMCA of Montreal to study there

They offered an opportunity to study at the YMCA International Training School in Massachusetts, which later became “Springfield College.”

springfield college

3. When was basketball invented?

James Naismith moved to YMCA in Massachusetts as a student in the year 1890. By that time he was already 28 years old.

It was only a year later in 1891 that he was asked to join the faculty by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, the director of the physical education department.

It was shortly after James Naismith became a physical education instructor in early December 1891 that the game of basketball was invented.

facts about the history of basketball

4. Why was basketball invented?

Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, the man responsible for James Naismith becoming a teacher at the YMCA, was desperately looking for an indoor sport to keep his athletes fit during the long and cold New England winter period. So he gave the assignment to invent a new game for this purpose.

Naismith was also assigned the most boring class possible which involved marching and mass calisthenics. He was desperate and unable to keep the young men entertained.

Because of the assignment and the fact that he was losing control of his students, he invented basketball, a game his students clearly enjoyed playing.

The world's first basketball court
The world’s first basketball court / Wiki Commons

5. Basketball faced some issues initially.

Just as soccer, basketball was derived from a couple of other sports. This caused a few issues initially with the newly integrated features, equipment, and rules of the game.

Basket version 1

The first basket that was used to score points was an actual peach basket. The problem was that this basket still had a closed bottom, meaning the ball needed to be manually retrieved after every score.

Basket version 2

Getting tired of having to climb up a ladder to retrieve the ball, they came up with a solution. The second version of the basket had a hole at the bottom, allowing them to poke the ball out of it with a long stick after every score. This happened until 1906 when the peach baskets were replaced with the metal rings we know today.

Playing without a backboard

The original baskets didn’t have backboards and they were usually nailed to the mezzanine balcony of the basketball court. This caused trouble as spectators started interfering with shots. For this reason, the backboard we know today was created.

Dribbling didn’t work

The original version of basketball didn’t have dribbling at all. The game was played with a soccer ball that had laces to close the whole that the inflatable bladder was put into. This made dribbling nearly impossible. It wasn’t until 1928 that an inflatable ball was invented resembling the ball that is used to play the game with today.

historic basketball with laces
Historic basketball with laces / Wiki Commons

6. The game didn’t have a name.

During the period the game was invented and the draft rules were created, the game didn’t have a name. So they basically had been playing a nameless game.

It wasn’t until after the Christmas break of 1891 that Naismith gave it some thought. A player of the original game named Frank Mahan suggested calling it “Naismith Ball” but that was laughingly rejected.

To keep it simple, the two figured out that they had a ball to play with and a basket to score points, so basketball was the only logical name for the game.

basketball history facts
James Naismith and his invention / Wiki Commons

7. The first official basketball game.

Everything has to start somewhere, and the first official basketball game was played on January 20, 1892, in the YMCA gymnasium in Albany, New York.

The game was only played with 9 players and was played on a court only half the size of a modern-day NBA court.

Apparently, it was much more complicated to score in the early days of basketball, as there was only 1 point scored so the game ended 1-0.

world's first basketball team
The world’s first basketball team including coach James Naismith / Source

8. Why is basketball played with 5 players?

The reason the game of basketball is played with just 5 players is the same reason the game was invented in the first place.

Football and soccer were played with 10 players in the 1890s (this was later increased to 11), so when basketball was played indoors during the cold winters, the team was simply split in half.

By 1897-1898, playing basketball with 5 players on each side was standard and eventually became the official rule.

9. Basketball’s surprising influence.

It appears James Naismith was nervous when he first created the basketball rules and had his students play them.

The reason?

Many of the rules of basketball come from a children’s game called “duck on a rock,” a popular medieval game amongst kids.

10. Basketball’s growth.

As basketball is one of the most played and watched games in the world, it’s hard to imagine that one man sitting on his desk came up with it.

In the early years, basketball was spread amongst all YMCA’s and became one of the most popular games in colleges and high schools all over the United States.

Professional basketball teams emerged, including the still existing Harlem Globetrotters, but without a solid league, these pros earned mostly from exhibition matches.

It wasn’t until 1946 that the BAA (Basketball Association of America) was formed. Just 3 years later it merged with the NBL (National Basketball League) and formed the NBA, the most popular professional basketball league in the world today.

basketball history facts

More interesting facts about the history of basketball

11. Basketball was James Naismith’s final attempt at inventing a game. He had tried basically everything including variations of football, soccer, and even lacrosse but nothing worked.

12. Because of the tragedy in his childhood, losing both his parents at the young age of 8, James Naismith had a special philosophy in life. He stated: “The only real satisfaction that I would derive from life was to help my fellow beings.” We believe he definitely succeeded!

13. One tweak made the game a success. What is that? The fact that players aren’t allowed to run with the ball! This tweak avoided the carnage that resulted in players tackling each other on indoor wooden floors.

14. The first set of rules of basketball only contained 13 items and were written with a stenographer in less than an hour at the desk of James Naismith.

original basketball rules
The original rules of basketball, created by Dr. James Naismith / Wiki Commons

15. The original typed rules you see above were rediscovered in the early 2000s by Naismith’s granddaughter, along with various other documents that go back to the birth of basketball.

16. The original rules have been auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2010 and were sold for an astounding 4,338,500 USD.

17. The original rules of basketball were bought by David G. Booth, a billionaire investment banker and KU alumnus, and his wife Suzanne Booth and subsequently donated to the University of Kansas.

18. James Naismith became the head coach of the University of Kansas‘ basketball team in 1898 and was so for 9 years.

first basketball team
The University of Kansas Team in 1899 with coach Naismith at the back right / Wiki Commons

19. The irony about his coaching career is that he remains the only head coach in the history of the University of Kansas that has a losing record. He won 55 games and lost 60.

20. Springfield, Massachusetts is home to the “Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” a museum dedicated to the history of basketball and appropriately named after the inventor of the game.

James Naismith statue
Statue of James Naismith at the Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts / Source

21. To end this list with facts about the history of basketball, here’s a little anecdote. James Naismith died in 1939, but in 1936 he had the pleasure of witnessing an epic moment for basketball as it was the first time it was played at the Olympic Games, which were held in Berlin that year.

Not just that, he actually presented the medals to the winning teams. He referred to this moment this way:

“Seeing the game played by many nations was the greatest compensation he could have received for his invention.”

But one of the most important quotes he made about this moment was:

I never thought of basketball as more than just a little game until he actually realized the global impact his invention had.

A perfect reflection of how the inventor of basketball remained humble, yet excited about a game that has become a multi-billion Dollar business played by over 300 million people worldwide!

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