Remembering James Naismith and Basketball: December 21: Snapshots in History

December 21, 2018 | John P.

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The emotions of Canadians and Torontonians who follow the game of basketball are often intertwined with the fortunes with the only Canadian-based team in the National Basketball Association (NBA), namely the Toronto Raptors. However, Canadian ties to this popular game go right back to the game’s infancy and its invention by Canadian-born James A. Naismith (1861-1939). The versatile Naismith, who over the course of his life served as an ordained minister, a physician, and a professor of physical education, invented the game of basketball in December 1891.

While working as a physical education instructor at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, Naismith was asked to develop a game that could be played indoor within a confined space and with minimal physical contact. Such was the context for what was to become the most popular indoor sport in the United States of America. Using a Canadian childhood game called “Duck on a Rock” as a starting point, James Naismith developed thirteen rules on December 15, 1891 (12 of which are used in a modified version in the current game of basketball):

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.
  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 running at good speed.
  4. The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking 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 goal is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules three and four and such as described in Rule five.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponent.
  8. 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.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field 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 them.
  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 men according to Rule five.
  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 the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the goals, with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.
  12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
  13. The side making the most goals in that time is declared the winner.”


Two peach baskets were nailed to opposite ends of the school’s gymnasium. Opposing teams were to consist of nine players each. On December 21, 1891, the first ever game of basketball was played at the YMCA International Training School gymnasium under the watchful eyes of James Naismith. Going up ladders to retrieve the then-used soccer balls gave way quickly to having the bottoms of the peach baskets cut out to allow the balls to drop back to earth. Naismith’s original rules did not include the dribble – the ball could only be moved up the court through a pass. Following the scoring of a goal, a jump ball was taken at center court. For balls that went out of bounds, the first player to get the ball was deemed to be in possession thereof.  James Naismith published the rules of basketball on January 15, 1892.

James Naismith lived to see the increased popularity of basketball in Canada, the United States, and the world (with the establishment of the International Basketball Association). He not only encouraged the development of basketball amongst women players as well but was on hand at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to award the first-ever basketball medals to the men’s teams from the United States (Gold), Canada (Silver), and Mexico (Bronze). Basketball had previously been a demonstration sport at the 1904 Olympic Games. Women’s basketball became an official Olympic sport at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montréal.


Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


James Naismith the man who invented basketball

Book, 2009


Who invented basketball James Naismith

eBook, 2012


Hoop genius how a desperate teacher and a rowdy gym class invented basketball

Book, 2012 – Also available in eBook format.


The man who invented the game of basketball the genius of James Naismith

eBook, 2012


Basketball its origin and development

Book, 1996


Breaking barriers a history of integration in professional basketball

Book, 2019


Basketball a love story

Book, 2018 – Also available in eBook format.


My shot balancing it all and standing tall

Book, 2018 – Also available in eBook format.


Coach Wooden and me our 50-year friendship on and off the court

Book, 2017 - Also available in the following formats: eBookLarge Print Book and CD Talking Book Restricted to Print Disabled patrons .


Dust bowl girls the inspiring story of the team that barnstormed its way to basketball glory

Book, 2017


Basketball (and other things) a collection of questions asked  answered  illustrated

Book, 2017 – Also available in eBook format.


Toronto Raptors

Book, 2017