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The History of Basketball

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The basketball player steals the ball. He passes it down the court to an open teammate. The teammate shoots. A defender tries to block the shot. No luck. The ball is sailing toward the hoop. Swish! The basket is good. The crowd cheers! Two points are added to the home team’s score. Many people throughout the world love the game of basketball. It is an exciting game to watch and to play. Who do we have to thank for inventing this great game?

Dr. James Naismith and Dr. Luther Gulick are the men to thank. In December 1891, Nausmith, a 31-year-old Canadian native, invented the game, and Gulick prompted him to do so. Nausmith was a graduate student at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was studying physical education, and Gulick was the superintendent of the physical education department. 

Gulick challenged the physical education graduate students to come up with “an indoor game that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter by artificial light.” He wanted a game that would force players to use their minds and their bodies—a game of skill and strength.

Only Naismith took the challenge seriously. The concept of basketball began as a game Naismith enjoyed as a child. He and school friends would play “duck-on-a-rock.” The game involved attempting to knock a “duck” off the top of a large rock by tossing another rock at it.

The first games of basketball were played with a soccer ball (it was easier to dribble than a football) and two peach baskets. The baskets to be used as goals were nailed to the gymnasium's balcony at the height of ten feet. A person stood on top of a ladder to retrieve the ball. Naismith devised a set of thirteen rules for this new game of basketball. The original thirteen rules have stood the test of time pretty well. Here are some of them:

1. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot at which he catches it.

2. No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking, or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person 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 substitution shall be allowed.  

3. The time shall be two fifteen minute halves with five minutes’ rest between.

4. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners. 

The popularity of basketball spread quickly. It was introduced in many nations as early as 1893. It became an Olympic sport at the Berlin games in 1936. Naismith was flown to Berlin to watch those games. He died in 1939.

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