A brief history of the sport

Basketball was invented by a Canadian academic named Dr. James Naismith in 1892. Naismith was challenged by his colleague Dr. Luther Gulick to invent “an athletic distraction” to focus the minds of the students of Springfield College in Massachusetts. In the midst of a harsh New England winter, Naismith struggled to design an indoor sport which would keep his young charges in prime physical and mental condition. The result was an early version of the game now known throughout the world as ‘basketball.’

In January 1892 Dr. Naismith published these 13 original rules of basketball in ‘The Triangle,’ the Springfield College student newspaper:

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
  1. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
  1. The player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it. Allowances are to be made for a man who catches the ball when running if he tries to stop.
  1. The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  1. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall come as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole game, no substitute allowed.
  1. A foul is striking the ball with the fist or violation of rules 3, 4 or 5.
  1. If either side makes 3 consecutive fouls, it shall count as a goal for the opponents. (Consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
  1. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, 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.
  1. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person touching it. He has a right to hold it unmolested for 5 seconds. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed 5 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.
  1. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when 3 consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to rule 5.
  1. 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 the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the goals, with any duties that are usually performed by a referee.
  1. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with a 15 minute rest between.
  1. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In the case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

The game quickly became popular in YMCAs, schools, colleges and sports clubs across the United States. Interestingly, the sport was immediately as popular amongst women as amongst men. A version of Naismith’s game was introduced to Smith College (a renowned women’s college in Massachusetts) by Senda Berenson and the first women’s basketball match took place there in 1892. By 1896, a number of women’s colleges had also embraced the sport.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the game of basketball has evolved considerably since the first match took place in January 1892. Alterations first took place at the end of the 19th Century in the interests of practicality. For example, when the first matches took place, peach baskets with the bottoms still intact were erected at each end of the course to serve as goals. When players and referees began to tire of poking the ball out of the baskets after each goal was scored, somebody came up with the idea of cutting the bottom of the peach baskets out, in order to allow the ball to fall freely through the basket each time a goal was scored.

The version of basketball the world is now familiar with has taken over a century to evolve. It was not until the 1950s, for example, that the iconic orange ball was introduced. For many years, players had continued to make do with a soccer ball. It was not only the standard type of ball and basket that was altered over the years. The rules of the game have also altered considerably since Naismith published his 13 original rules in ‘The Triangle.’ Originally, for example, rules about passing had resembled passing rules in netball: the ability to move with the ball whilst ‘dribbling’ (bouncing the ball at knee-height) was only phased into the rules after 1909.