James Naismith was a P.E. teacher at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA. The head of the physical training department, Dr. Luther Gulick, was concerned about keeping people active during the winter months. During a teaching session on the psychology of physical education, Dr. Gulick brought up his concern that there was not a suitable indooor game to replace football and basketball in the winter months. All of the instructors except one scoffed at the notion that a new indoor activity could be created. That one, of course, was James Naismith.
Naismith struggled for two weeks to come up with an idea that made sense. Everything that he came up with was either too juvenile or too dangerous. He was ready to go to Dr. Gulick to admit to his failure when he decided to give it one more try. He approached his challenge by thinking in a new way. He recognized that all team sports started with a ball so that is where his new game began.
His next question was how to advance the ball. He ruled out tackling and kicking for obvious safety reasons and came up with passing. Now, what was the purpose of passing the ball? He knew that he wanted to add a goal, but hurling a ball at full force in close quarters seemed dangerous. He thought about putting a box on the floor with the goal being to get the ball into the box. He realized that the defense could easily surround the box making it nearly impossible to get the ball into the box. The solution came to him when he realized that putting the box above the players heads would make the game challenging and would promote exercise and athletic skill.
So out of this process came five guiding principles:
- There must be a ball: it should be large, light and handled with the hands.
- There shall be no running with the ball.
- No man on either team shall be restricted from getting the ball at any time that it is in play.
- Both teams are to occupy the same area, yet there is to be no personal contact.
- The goal shall be horizontal and elevated.
The next morning Mr. Naismith went to Mr. Stebbins, the YMCA janitor, looking for two boxes. There were none to be found, but there were two empty peach baskets. Mr. Naismith hung the two baskets at ten feet on the balcony of the gym floor.
Basketball was born.
We can't say for sure that December 1 is the actual day that basketball was first played, but it is certain that Mr. Naismith's development of the game did take place in the early days of December 1891. So, the first of December is widely recognized as the day that basketball was first played.
Thanks to Mr. Naismith for not giving up.
The gymnasium where the first game of basketball took place in December 1891.