The Invention of Basketball, in Naismith's Own Words
December 30, 2015 5:55 AM   Subscribe

The only known recording of the voice of James Naismith, inventor of basketball, has been discovered -- and it contradicts the official story of the writing of the Original 13 Rules and the first game.

The story has always been that Naismith typed up the rules in December 1891 at Springfield College, handed them to his players, and the first game was a rollicking 1-0 defensive classic. But on a 1939 radio program, Naismith said that they first played a version without the all-important third rule -- A player cannot run with the ball, as he must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, with allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed. -- and the result was essentially a brawl:
The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder.
Despite the injuries, the students insisted on playing again, at which point Naismith came up with the more genteel version that essentially defines the modern game of basketball.

From the Slate podcast Hang Up and Listen, always good and particularly interesting this week, with a "reminiscence" about the first Super Bowl and the tale of a series of computer-generated boxing matches from the 1960s, including an Ali-Marciano "fight" that the two boxers filmed footage for mere months before Marciano's death in a plane crash.
posted by Etrigan (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
A player cannot run with the ball, as he must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, with allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed.
...
The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder.


Essentially, the kids thought of it as a version of rugby. When in thought of those terms, it sounds like this would be an entertaining game; murder included.
posted by NoMich at 6:20 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder.

Naismith felt a tap on his shoulder.

"You were born in Canada, right?"

"Why yes I was!" Naismith replied.

"Well, we already have a game like this, eh? It's called hockey."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:25 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


All joking aside, this is fascinating. Great post!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:27 AM on December 30, 2015


Those kids were the Detroit Piston Bad Boys before the Detroit Pistons were!
posted by AugustWest at 6:33 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


So the Detroit Pistons were the first- dammit, AugustWest!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:39 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is there a Hanson Brothers joke here?
posted by lagomorphius at 7:22 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Record time on making this basketball thread about hockey, great work Mefites.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:55 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm just teasin', it does actually sound like it could have been a contact sport. In fact it was for a while much slower and lower scoring because of the lack of a shot clock, 3pt line, and closely observed fouling rules. Highly recommend everyone follow @ProHoopsHistory who contends that real basketball began almost overnight in the 50s, though it started as a reaction to the brutality of football.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:00 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the other hand I play basketball in a YMCA league in Massachusetts and let me tell you not much has changed about the overall defensive strategy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:01 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Damn. There's a classic bit by a famous older comedian called "The Invention of Basketball" that only a year-and-a-half ago I would not have hesitated to provide a link for, as it's really funny. Alas...
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2015


Basketball is a contact sport. It's just less physical contact. It's certainly more contact than football (soccer)
posted by trif at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2015


The thing that always got me is that initially they didn't take the bottoms out of the baskets, so every time someone scored, a person had to climb up a ladder to get the ball back. (According to this, legend has it that when they finally did cut the bottoms out, the school janitor was upset that his peach baskets had been ruined.)
posted by LeLiLo at 10:12 AM on December 30, 2015


The thing that always got me is that initially they didn't take the bottoms out of the baskets, so every time someone scored, a person had to climb up a ladder to get the ball back. (According to this, legend has it that when they finally did cut the bottoms out, the school janitor was upset that his peach baskets had been ruined.)

This scenario was the subject of a Canadian Heritage Minute (despite, uh, not happening in Canada).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:16 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even funnier to me, as that Canadian Minute shows, Step 2 of the evolving process was not cutting out the bottom of the basket, it was cutting a hole in the bottom so that the ball could be poked back out. That got rid of the ladder, but still required a broom (or long stick) to keep the game going.

Eventually the entire bottom of the basket was removed, and gravity was awarded the task of returning the ball to the players.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eventually the entire bottom of the basket was removed, and gravity was awarded the task of returning the ball to the players.

Particularly funny when you think that back then, teams would score only a few times a game, so it's not like anyone would miss it if the ball just whooshed through a hoop, whereas today, you get upwards of a hundred scores per game at the professional level.
posted by Etrigan at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2015


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