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Origins Of Basketball

Updated on December 9, 2014

Basketball as a modern game was created in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. The game, however, has roots in a much earlier time.

The Olmec people as far back as 1,000 B.C. played a version of a ball game that was a combination of a soccer-like game and a basketball-like game. In use was a rubber ball that weighed about four pounds. The game was played outdoors and teams of contestants were allowed to use only their elbows, knees, hips and heads to move the ball. Mounted on one side of the playing field was a ring that resembled a basketball hoop on it’s edge. The first team to put the ball through the hoop was the winner.

It is suspected that a variation of this game is even more ancient where instead of a rubber ball, the skulls of wartime enemies were used.

In the early 1400’s the Aztec people modified the game slightly and began using a heavier ball. The newer game used a ball that weighed about 8 to 10 pounds. Otherwise, the game remained the same. This game is still played in Central America and is called ulama.

In the early 1890’s, Dr. James Naismith worked at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Because the winters were so severe, he felt a need to find a sport that was suitable for play indoors. He wanted to create a game that did not rely solely upon strength but one where a contestant could develop skills. It also had to be playable in a relatively small space.

The first game was played with a soccer ball. A peach basket was used at each end of the court. Because peach baskets were used as the goals, the game became known as basketball. The first game consisted of 9 players on each team and play went on for 30 minutes. Final score in the first game was 1- 0.

The game grew in popularity and within a few years, most of the YMCA centers in the northeast had facilities to accommodate players. Within a decade, however, the sport became so rough that YMCA’s began to ban the game. Rules were instituted so that fouls were called during the game. If a foul was committed, the player was suspended until the next goal was scored. If it appeared there was intent to injure, the player was suspended for the remainder of the game To strike the ball with a fist was a foul and a player would be suspended for the infraction.

The ball could be thrown or batted with the open hand but the player could not move when he was in possession of the ball.

The popularity of the game spread and professional play soon appeared. In 1896, professional players got $15 dollars per game. One player - Fred Cooper - got $16 a game and thus became the highest paid professional basketball player. Basketball leagues began forming but the financial aspects of travel and paid players resulted in teams dissolving abruptly and in the early 1930’s, professional basketball leagues disappeared.

Several barnstorming teams continued to travel and play exhibition basketball. Teams such as the Harlem Globetrotters began to draw crowds. During the days prior to World War 2, basketball again became popular and has evolved into the modern day sport.



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