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The Doctor Who Invented Basketball

by Dr.Sal MD on author

Dr.Naismith with first basketball and net

Two things that might astonish you about the pedigree of basketball is that it was created by a Canadian, and that he was a medical doctor. Doctors today will recommend regular exercise to keep you fettle, but that was the last thing on Dr. James Naismith’s mind in 1891 when he created the game that would become one of North America’s most beloved pastimes - basketball.

Why did he invent basketball?

Born in 1861 in Ontario, Canada, James (the fourth of eleven children), was an all-round athlete himself having represented McGill University (where he did a BA in Physical Education) in Canadian football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, and gymnastics. Circa 1891, James moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and was working as a physical education instructor at the local YMCA chapter when he found himself locked indoors by a bitter winter with a bunch of rowdy pupils. Naismith was given two weeks by his boss to come up with an indoor game that would provide an “athletic distraction” and that was “not too rough”.

Thanks to James’ mixed sport background, he figured that a big ball like that of soccer would be safest, and to reduce physical contact between players, he ruled that passing would be the only legal ball transfer mode, and as a final contact safeguard, he placed the goal - the net - well above players’ heads where it would be unguardable.

the first basketball court and net

The first basketball game was played in December 1891 using a soccer ball and peach buckets 10 feet off the floor as bespoke nets on each side of the court. By the next year the game had become so popular that it was written up in the Springfield college newspaper, and by 1893 it went viral via the YMCA network across North America.

Today it is hard to find a suburb in North America without a basketball hoop dangling from a pole somewhere in the neighborhood. The 5 foot 10½ inch tall Dr.Naismith could never have imagined the lofty heights that his game would reach, the passions it has ignited, the billion dollar industry around it, or the 7 foot tall giants it has attracted. Dr.Naismith has been inducted into Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the International Basketball Federation FIBA Hall of Fame, the Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

dr. naismith with basketball

“You can’t coach basketball; you just play it” - Dr.James Naismith


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