On November 28, 1939, James Naismith, better known as the inventor of basketball, died.
Naismith was born in Ontario, Canada in 1861. He attended McGill University in Montreal and became one of their all-star athletes, participating in Canadian football, lacrosse, soccer, rugby, and gymnastics for the school. After receiving his BA is Physical Education, he became McGill’s first Athletic Director, but left the school to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.
Because of the extremely cold New England winters, Naismith’s students were confined to the indoor gym and thus became too rowdy to handle. The head of the Springfield YMCA Physical Education gave Naismith 14 days to come up with a game that would occupy the students as an “athletic distraction” and would also keep track athletes in shape. He also specified that Naismith create a fair game that would not be as rough as other sports. Naismith was inspired in his game creation by a game he used to play as a child called, “duck-on-a-rock.” Players would throw a small rock at a “duck” placed on top of a larger rock in an attempt to knock the duck down. The three main components of the game were team spirit, marksmanship, and passing. He thought these three qualities would be a perfect way to distract the unruly students while maintaining a high level of physical activity.
The first game of basketball was played with two peach baskets fixed 10 feet above the ground, and a soccer ball. After making a few changes, like changing the baskets out for hoops with nets, Naismith wrote the 13 basic rules of basketball. Basketball was made international in 1893 by the YMCA movement. Naismith joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in 1898 and the men’s basketball program there started, just six years after Naismith wrote the official rules for the sport. Ironically, Naismith was Kansas’ only coach with a losing record in the game.
Basketball was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1936, and since then Naismith has received many awards and had basketball awards named after him. He retired from his duties at Kansas state in 1937, with almost 40 years as a member of the faculty and athletic direction under his belt. He died just 2 years later in 1939 from a brain hemorrhage in Lawrence, Kansas.