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The Game Of Basketball

From New York to London, to Paris, to Beijing. From Sarajevo to Dafar to Buenos Aires to Los Angels and everywhere in between the game of Basketball is played. It's played in the city parks of New York and the dusty plains of Africa, and the expensive designed courts of the NBA. The game is played wherever someone can get a ball, and a mounted ring-like object. Unlike other sports that require multiple people and a lot of equipment, Basketball only requires a Ball and the willingness to play.

The First basketball type game may have been played by the early Olmec people of ancient Mexico as early as 500 years go. The Aztec, and Mayan cultures also had a game similar to basketball, only instead of a rubber ball they used the decapitated skulls of their conquered foes. The First true basketball game as we know it was in Springfield, Massachusetts.

James Naismith was a Canadian farm boy from Almonte, Ontario, a small town just a few kilometers from Canada's capital city, Ottawa. He was born on November 6, 1861. His father and mother died when he was eight and thereafter he made his home with an uncle. He wondered about his future and decided that "the only real satisfaction that I would derive from life was to help my fellow beings." In 1883 he left Almonte for McGill University where he earned a degree in theology. While studying at McGill Naismith was influenced by D.A. Budge, General Secretary of the YMCA of Montreal, to pursue a career in the YMCA and to study at the YMCA International Training School in Massachusetts (later to be named Springfield College).

The Thirteen Original Rules

Naismith came up with The Thirteen Original Rules in a last-minute flurry that included a soccer ball, a couple of peach baskets and a gymnasium. Nothing was mentioned of office pools; six-hour beer, chip-and-dip parties; more endless TV advertising featuring stupid incidents of mayhem, car salesmen, young children as foils for social media, aging NBA legends - and a steady stream of erroneous analysts from hell.

Nor did Doc anticipate one enormous change in his game: coaching. His original rules did not mention the need. In fact, in 1910 the Intercollegiate Basket Ball Rules Committee ? an apparent precursor to the dreaded NCAA ? decided: ?There shall be no coaching during the progress of the game by anybody connected with either of the teams. For the violation of this the offending side shall be warned once by the referee, and if the offense is repeated the opposing team shall be given a free throw for the basket.?
  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands. This rule seems generally still applicable. Because the original YMCA gymnasium was only 35 by 50 feet, it also meant a player could attempt to throw the ball into the basket from "any place on the grounds." All baskets were worth three points back then. A 50-footer is only worth three points now. So much for points inflation.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never the fist). Whereas in about the first 115 years of basketball the rebounders were instructed to grab and hold on to the ball as if it contained the very meaning of life, a more common modern occurrence is to see the ball tipped back outside where a wimpy guard can grab it and jack up another misguided three-point shot.
  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop. More simply put, sports fans, no dribbles were allowed in the original game of basketball; the ball was tossed from player to player to player like a hot potato. Then some precocious genius decided to flip the ball ?down? and go get it; thus was born the dribble. The early rules said the ball could only be dribbled once - and then with both hands - but where was the future in that? Ever try dribbling behind your back with two hands? Early on, however, a player was not allowed to shoot the ball after he or she had dribbled - thus making a point guard pointless anyway.
  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it. Clearly Naismith did not anticipate that moment in every modern game when a half-dozen players dive on the floor for a loose ball to screaming fan approval and analyst salutations - the free-for-all winner clutching the ball to his chest while frantically searching for a referee to signal time out, his contorted face barely visible in a tangle of arms, legs and Nike-endorsed, bright-yellow basketball shorts.
  5. No shouldering, holding, striking or pushing or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next basket is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole game. No substitution shall be allowed. One of his main goals was to have a game in which off-season football players wouldn't be batting each other around, but he also may have anticipated Big East or Big Ten basketball, in which the batted ball and/or player are often still attached to one another. It was later decided by various rules committees that three fouls and you were permanently out of a game with no substitution allowed - a rule that could end any modern-era game midway through the second half due to lack of players. Interestingly enough, up until 1923 each team was allowed a designated shooter to take foul shots, a rule that was changed when it was decided all players needed to practice foul shots - although it's certainly not evident in this century that it's done much good.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of rules three and four and such described in rule five. Reading this rule very closely it indicates running with the ball in the 1890s was a foul. And where do you suppose the modern game would be if its incessant but rarely called traveling violations were considered fouls? How about better.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul). This is a rule that never should have been changed. It would basically eliminate having the last two minutes of a modern game last two hours as the teams engage in free-throw contests while using up their final half-dozen timeouts as coaches attempt to justify their multimillion-dollar salaries to fans earning $9.50 an hour. It would also give us a lot less of Charles Barkley and Alec Baldwin.
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there (without falling), providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal. Photos of the first Naismith team would indicate it was unlikely many of them could touch the peach basket without a ladder, but Naismith had anticipated problems there, too. He must have figured that at some point the larger athletes - eventually to be known as strange creatures called "The Bigs" - would be banging on peach baskets. This was even before somebody finally figured out if they'd just cut the bottom out of the basket the whole game might proceed more smoothly. Naismith invented peach basket tending. That trend would be subsequently ignored in Europe, where slapping the ball off the rim became legal. And goaltending was legal in our college basketball until 1945. Also, almost no one dunked backed then; it was considered showboating.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side. Basketball back in those days wasn't played in 70,000-seat football stadiums in which fans paid $125 for seats so high up they watched the game on half-acre video screens while student-athletes the size of ants scurried around on portable wooden floors a half-mile below. Naismith's rule said the player from either team who first touched a loose ball out of bounds got to chuck it back in - thus calling up a mental image of a half-dozen 1890s players heading madly up into Section C chasing a bounding soccer ball. It was that practice - which came to include partisan fans as well - that led to some courts being surrounded by wire cages, hence the early 1900s name "cagers" for the often-mustachioed players.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify people according to Rule 5. Difficult as it may be, let's all show a little historic pity for the poor basketball "umpire." Naismith's first basketball games had nine men on each team in a tiny gym ? with a running track above it. The players were aggressive, although apparently not given to the whining and woofing of the modern game; coaches continually harping at referees and objecting to calls; the players stomping away or turkey-trotting down court, disbelief and smirk-smiles on their faces at the injustice of it all.
  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the baskets, with any other duties that are usually performed by a scorekeeper. This division of duties in the first days of basketball was interesting; the umpire called the fouls, and the referee kept track of the ball, baskets, time and score. The referee's job was a little more hectic because up until 1937 there was a center jump after every basket. It wasn't until the late 1970s that ever-evolving college basketball added a third referee - giving them 50 percent more eyes to screw up a charging call.
  12. The time (of the game) shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes rest in-between. This would never work in the modern era; the NCAA tournament halftimes last 35 minutes.
  13. The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner. Sure, unless The University of Louisville is playing Notre Dame.

Naismith attended as a student in 1890 and was asked to join the faculty in 1891 by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, the director of the physical education department. During a psychology seminar Dr. Gulick challenged his class to invent a new game. Gulick was desperately looking for an indoor activity that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play indoors in the Winter. Such an activity was needed both by the Training School and YMCAs across the country. Naismith believed that one way to meet that challenge was to take factors of known games and recombine them.

At the same time Dr. Gulick assigned Naismith one particular class that was completely uninterested in the routine exercises, marching and mass calisthenics that formed a part of their compulsory daily physical education session. Three instructors have gone down in defeat trying to rouse enthusiasm in this group of young men. "When he had assigned me the class of incorrigibles," writes Naismith in his own version of the invention of the game basketball, "I had felt that I was being imposed on; but when he told me to do what all the directors of the country had failed to accomplish, I felt it was the last straw".

Naismith struggled with the class of young men with no success. He made attempts at modifying football and soccer. "I had pinned my hopes on these two games and when they failed me, there seemed little chance of success," writes Naismith. He tried lacrosse, a game he had learned to play in Almonte, Even though some members of the class were Canadians and knew how to play the game, it didn't succeed. The beginners were injured and the experts were disgusted; another game went into the discard. "With weary footsteps," recounts Naismith, "I mounted the flight of narrow stairs that led to my office directly over the locker room. I slumped down in my chair, my head in my hands and my elbows on the desk. I was a thoroughly disheartened and discouraged young instructor."

The game that grew out of Naismith's discouraged but determined spirit on that day has since gone worldwide, attracting millions of players and spectators young and old. It was invented by a man sitting at his desk thinking it through. "As I sat there at my desk, I began to study games from the philosophical side. I had been taking one game at a time and had failed to find what I was looking for, this time I would take games as a whole and study them". Naismith invented the game to give the young men some beneficial winter exercise. Not to provide Charles Barkley and Alec Baldwin with endless television commercials.

Naismith then methodically studied the elements of existing team games and factored out a number of specifics he would mold into a new game. "My first generalization was that all team games used a ball of some kind; therefore, any new game must have a ball." He settled on the existing Association (soccer) football after eliminating smaller balls because they were difficult to handle, could be hidden, and required equipment to use them, thereby making the learning of skills more difficult. He sought a game that could involve many and was easy to learn.

Tackling, a popular component of football, was a problem in Naismith's mind, he could see the carnage that would result indoors on wooden floors. "But why was tackling necessary," he reasoned, "It was because the men were allowed to run with the ball, and it was necessary to stop them. With these facts in mind, I sat erect at my desk and said aloud: 'If he can't run with the ball, we don't have to tackle, and if we don't have to tackle, the roughness will be eliminated.' I can still recall how I snapped my fingers and shouted, 'I've got it!'

He then concluded that a game must have an objective, and there must be some kind of goals, but he eliminated the goal used in soccer, lacrosse and hockey and turned instead to a game he played as a child called "Duck on the Rock." "With this game in mind, I thought that if the goal was horizontal instead of vertical, the players would be compelled to throw the ball in an arc; and force, which made for roughness, would be of no value.

A horizontal goal, then, was what I was looking for, and I pictured it in my mind. I would place a box at either end of the floor, and each time the ball entered the box it would count as a goal. There was one thing, however, that I had overlooked. If nine men formed a defense around the goal, it would be impossible for the ball to enter it; but if I placed the goal above the players' heads, this type of defense would be useless."

He settled on a toss-up between two players as a way to start the game after considering several alternatives. Naismith was ready to try the new game with the class and set down on a scratch pad the first set of 13 rules in less than an hour. A stenographer typed them up. He asked the building superintendent to fetch two boxes about eighteen inches square. "No, I haven't any boxes," replied the superintendent, "but I'll tell you what I do have. I have two old peach baskets down in the store room, if they will do you any good." A few minutes later, baskets tucked under his arm and a few nails and a hammer in hand, Naismith tacked the baskets to the lower rail of the balcony, one at either end of the gym. Thus were born "baskets" and the 10-foot goal; some things are just supposed to happen.

Naismith posted the rules on the gym bulletin board and lay in waiting for his class of "incorrigibles.". "The first member of the class to arrive was Frank Mahan. he gazed at me for an instant, and then looked toward the other end of the gym. Perhaps I was nervous, because his exclamation sounded like a death knell as the said "Huh! another new game!"' There were eighteen men in the class and Naismith promised them that if this game proved to be a failure he would not try any more experiments on them. They went over the rules, divided the group into two teams of nine players each and tossed up the first basketball in history. The date was December 21, 1891.

The game was a success from the first toss-up onward and word spread that Naismith's class was having fun. Within a few days the class attracted a gallery. Teachers from a nearby girls school watched the game and took it away with them to organize the first girls' basketball team.

Senda Bereson Abbott read about basketball in the newspaper and introduced it to women at Smith College. By 1894, Smith's annual spring game between the freshman and the sophomores was attended by more than 1,000 (The doors were locked; no men were allowed to watch.) women waving violet and yellow banners. The Sunday Boston Globe covered the game and reported that when the sophomores won 13-7, fans hoisted the captain on their shoulders and celebrated in the streets of Northampton.

The nascent women's game suffered a mighty setback in 1895 when a Clara Baer at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans wrote the first rules for women's basketball which, among other things, flatly forbade the dribble. She codified a game called "basquette" in which student-athletes were not allowed to dribble, guard, snatch the ball or make two-handed passes, as it was believed that could injure the chest.

This was also an era when women wore floor-length dresses over corsets to play basketball and were warned of attacks of "vapors" created by too much exercise. Their courts were often divided into three sections, each with shooters, passers or defenders - and no players allowed to leave their zone.

Bad became worse. Amid fears basketball was making women too competitive, UK abolished its women's team in 1924. As the University Senate explained, "basketball had proven to be a strenuous sport for boys and therefore was too strenuous for girls." In 1932 the Kentucky girls' state tournament was suspended for more than 40 years after the high schools decided they did not want to put money into the sport. The tournament was resurrected in 1975 only after Title IX was passed.

In those earlier days of the game it was reported as "an uproarious game accompanied by much yelling and undignified cheering". In that respect it has changed little through the ages. "When the first game had ended", says Naismith, "I felt that I could now go to Dr. Gulick and tell him that I had accomplished the two seemingly impossible tasks that he had assigned to me; namely, to interest the class in physical exercise and to invent a new game."

Naismith continued to control the development of the game and its rules for five years. He left Springfield for Denver to become the physical education director for the YMCA in that city and to study for his medical doctorate. On his graduation the University of Kansas was seeking an athletic coach and a director for their 650 seat chapel which students attended every morning. He was ideally prepared for the post and was recommended to the University as "..inventor of basketball, medical doctor, Presbyterian minister, teetotaler, all-round athlete, non-smoker, and owner of a vocabulary without cuss words."

Frank Mahan suggested the game be given a name, and he and Naismith settled on "basketball". Dr. Naismith and his wife attended the Olympic Games in 1936 when basketball became one of the Olympic events. He died in 1939 at age 78.

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