The History of Basketball: Your Ultimate Guide to the Game

Basketball playing shooting free throws at park.

Most people know about the sport of basketball, yet don’t know of the history that makes up the dynamic game we’ve come to love. To understand the game of basketball you need to be familiar with the history that makes it up. 

With that said, let’s dive into the history of basketball.

Basketball was created by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. Throughout history, basketball has gone through many changes to increase the tempo and to make it more accessible for the general public. Originally, there was no limit to the number of players per team and dribbling wasn’t part of the game.

Although this provides some good background, it’s only a snapshot of the history of basketball. There’s much more behind the game we know today, which we’ll cover throughout this article.

Who Created Basketball?

A Canadian man named Dr. James Naismith invented basketball. He was a physical education teacher, amongst other things, with a knack for inventing stuff. He was born in Almonte, Ontario Canada, and attended McGill University in Montreal. There he would excel in sports during his years of attendance while earning a BA in Physical Education.

He played Canadian football for the University as a center, however, Naismith wasn’t done there! He was also on the soccer, rugby, and gymnastics teams. He was awarded numerous medals, on both scholastic and athletic levels for his outstanding achievements. 

James Naismith began his teaching career in Canada at his alma mater, McGill University, but moved to the United States only a few years later.

At the age of 30, Dr. Naismith moved to Springfield Massachusetts to become a physical education teacher for the YMCA International Training School (known today as Springfield College). Springfield Massachusetts is where his life as he knew it would forever change.

Where and How Did Basketball Originate?

Professional basketball game going on with fans in attendance.

Basketball started in Springfield, Massachusetts in December of 1891. Originally, it was created as a game to distract students of James Naismith from the winter weather.

His class was getting frustrated with the inability to do outside activities, and James was struggling to keep his class in order. Dr. Luther Gulick, head of the physical education department at the time, wanted this taken care of.

Naismith was given the task of creating an indoor sports game for his students that would solve the problem. The hope was that this would give students a way to stay active and in shape during the harsh New England winters while keeping them from getting too rambunctious.

Naismith sat down and used his knowledge of sports to draw up an outline for what his game would look like. He was limited in time to complete this so he needed to act fast.

He took certain aspects of other popular sports and thought of ways to incorporate them into this new game. He wanted a safer sport so he took out all the major contact parts of games he was basing his off of. 

A childhood game he used to play called “Duck on a Rock” was the inspiration for his idea. Duck on a Rock used a bigger rock as a target and smaller rocks as objects used to knock down the bigger rock.

One person would defend the rock while others tried to knock it down. James Naismith recalled a more lobbed shot being more effective over a hard shot directly at the target. This would later prove to be one of the most critical factors in the way his game would be played. 

Once a little boy playing a friendly game of Duck on a Rock, James Naismith was now an adult with an idea for a twist on a childhood favorite of his. Now instead of rocks being hurled at an opponent’s target in an attempt to hit it off, people would attempt to lob a ball into one of two peach baskets (prior to metal hoops).

The height of these peach baskets was intentionally put higher than the height of the player. This forced the players to take a more arched shot, which faired well for him in his youth. It also reduced player-to-player contact.

The idea of a shot, as opposed to another form of scoring, came thanks to the physicality of other sports. James determined that physical contact would be limited best by minimizing the chance for that contact.

He took the scenarios in other sports that welcomed physical contact between players and used them to his advantage. 

Now that he had his game outlined and ready he just needed one thing. One little thing left to complete his game. That one thing would be extremely important to the structure of a basketball game. The last piece left to complete the puzzle was a set of rules.

What Were the Original Rules of Basketball?

Youth basketball player shooting free throws.

There were originally 13 rules when Naismith invented basketball in 1891. The original rules are as follows:

“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 (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 who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.

5. 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 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 substitute allowed.

6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3,4, and such as described in Rule 5.

7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).

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 of play by the person first touching it. In case of a 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 that side.

10. The umpire shall be 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 5.

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 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between.

13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.”

When Was the NBA Created?

The National Basketball Association, or NBA as we call it, was created on August 3, 1949. It was created from the merging of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL). For context, the NBL was the first professional league in basketball (it had six teams), but it disbanded in 1904, before coming back in 1937.

For years the BAA rivaled its predecessor professional league for dominance in the sport. It wasn’t until four teams from the NBL (Fort-Wayne, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Rochester) moved to the BAA that there were discussions of the merge.

Reps from both sides sat and agreed to a deal to combine the two leagues to form the National Basketball Association. Maurice Podoloff was elected to head the new basketball league, which was made up of 17 teams at the time.

The teams represented both cities and towns respectively throughout the United States. Currently, the NBA is comprised of 30 teams that make up two conferences, the Eastern and Western conferences. Each conference is made up of three divisions containing five teams in each division. 

Who Is the NBA Logo?

The NBA logo is said to be a silhouette of a photo of Jerry West, taken by the late Los Angeles Lakers photographer, Wen Roberts. Alan Siegel was hired by the NBA as a brand identity consultant and given the project to design the logo for the organization.

He was the same person a year prior that headed the creation of the logo for the MLB. Siegel came across the iconic photo of West dribbling and chose it as the base for the logo.

While the NBA commissioner doesn’t openly admit that Jerry West is the man behind the mask, due to legalities, everyone knows the truth.

I feel it is important to note that there was a petition to make Kobe Bryant the new logo of the NBA. While it may never actually happen, I note it because of the support it received.

The petition was signed over 2.5 million times. If it weren’t for the time and cost to change and rebrand the NBA logo, we might have seen the late great Kobe on everything basketball-related.

How Basketball Has Changed Over Time

College basketball game going on outdoors.

Dr. Naismith is credited with not only creating the game of basketball itself but as well as being a pioneer in its rise to popularity. However, basketball is not the same game it was back in its inception in 1891.

From nine players on a basketball team to the in-game tactics used by teams, the sport has come a long way. Along its road to being a dominant force in modern sports, basketball saw numerous tweaks to its gameplay. For instance, originally there was no set number of players.

A 9-on-9 format was originally used because James Naismith’s class had 18 students; so nine players on each team made sense. Any number of people could play originally, and some games had upwards of fifty players per team.

This became an issue and eventually changed. The modern NBA game features two teams with a roster of 15 players: five starters and eight bench players.

Only thirteen of the fifteen basketball players are allowed to be active on the roster per game. International rules differ from the ones in the NBA slightly as there are only seven players allowed to be active on the bench.

Fouls are another aspect of the game that has changed since its early days. In the beginning, a person would be ejected from a game after committing their second foul. Today, a player isn’t ejected until they have accrued six total fouls. 

Technology has played a big part in the evolution of basketball as well. Instant replay has dramatically altered the outcome of games. Social media and television platforms have given fans across the world access to watching games in ways that weren’t previously possible.

The players themselves have changed since the beginning of the sport. Athletes nowadays are bigger and more agile. They continue to push the boundaries of their physiques as well as their performance.

The game is totally different in tempo and physicality. Like any other sport, basketball is changing with the times. As new technology and research are being discovered so will ways to further the sport.

The progression of science and the will of human beings to be better will continue to further advance the game which over 100 years ago was nothing more than a thought that hadn’t been brought to life.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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