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Basketball: Origins

Basketball: Origins

Unlike many other sports, where no one knows for sure how they got started, there is an exact date and place for the first-ever basketball game.  It was December 21, 1891, in Springfield, Massachusetts, when James Naismith introduced the first game at the YMCA.

But hold on a minute… even though we know the date and place and who invented the game, we must consider a game similar to basketball which has roots in ancient history The indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica played a similar game for thousands of years.  The Maya called it “pitz” and the Aztecs referred to it as “ōllamaliztli”.  Basically, two teams attempted to throw or hit a ball through a hoop mounted sideways on a stone wall.  The ball – about half the size of a basketball – was probably made from natural rubber which was abundant in the region.  Before assuming that Naismith based modern basketball on this ancient game, think about the fact that he claimed his basketball was inspired by a children’s game called “Duck on a Rock”.

Regardless of where he got the idea for basketball, the first game was not very successful.  After about 30 minutes of play, only one point was scored.  Despite this, the game caught on in popularity.

Initially, basketball was played with a soccer ball, and the object was to toss the ball into a peach basket suspended 10 feet above the ground.  After annoying delays at retrieving the ball from the basket every time a player scored, someone had the bright idea to cut a hole in the bottom of the basket thus allowing a speedy return of the ball to play.  Originally, dribbling was not allowed, only passing from teammate to teammate.  Players could not run with the ball, either.

Interestingly, a creative interpretation of one of the original rules of basketball led to the practice of dribbling the ball.  Several years after that first game in Springfield, a team representing Yale University came up with the concept of passing the ball to oneself via a bounce pass.  This move technically did not break one of Naismith’s original rules which stated, “A player cannot run with the ball.  The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it…”.  Thus, dribbling was born, as players “bounce-passed” their way down the court!

Some of the other original rules included awarding a point to your opponent if your team committed 3 consecutive fouls and allowing the ball to be batted with the hand but never the fist.  Although not in the official rules, it was customary when the ball was reclaimed from the peach basket following a successful shot, for it to be returned to the center of the court for a toss-up.

As the popularity of his sport spread, Naismith quite naturally was seen as an expert in the sport.  This would lead to him being named the first-ever basketball coach at the University of Kansas, a perennial basketball powerhouse.  Basketball’s hall of fame is named after him, too.

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