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James Naismith

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James Naismith
James Naismith with a basketball.jpg
Sport(s) College Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1861-11-06)November 6, 1861
Almonte, Province of Canada, British Empire
Died November 28, 1939(1939-11-28) (aged 78)
Lawrence, Kansas, United States
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1898–1907 University of Kansas
Head coaching record
Overall 55–60
Accomplishments and honors
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

James Naismith (November 6, 1861 – November 28, 1939) was a Canadian-American physical educator, physician, chaplain, sports coach and innovator. He invented the sport of basketball in 1891. He wrote the original basketball rulebook, founded the University of Kansas basketball program, and lived to see basketball adopted as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904 and as an official event at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, as well as the birth of both the National Invitation Tournament (1938) and the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship (1939).

Born in Canada, Naismith studied physical education in Montreal before moving to the United States, where he developed basketball in late 1891 while teaching at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts.[1] Naismith studied medicine in Denver, receiving his MD in 1898 before moving to the University of Kansas. After a decade (1898–1907) serving there as a faculty member and part-time basketball coach during the sport's fledgling years, he became the Kansas Jayhawks' athletic director. He became a U.S. citizen in 1925 in Lawrence, Kansas.[2][3]

Naismith's contributions to basketball have earned him several posthumous honors, such as in the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, the McGill University Sports Hall of Fame, the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame, the NAIA Hall of Fame, and the FIBA Hall of Fame. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he is a member of the original Hall of Fame class, was named in Naismith's honor.

Naismith was also a National Guard chaplain with the First Kansas Infantry Regiment. He taught his soldiers basketball to control their excess energy. His effort helped increase morale and even lowered the rate of disciplinary actions among soldiers.

Early years

Sculpture, Almonte, Ontario

Naismith was born in 1861 in Almonte (now part of Mississippi Mills), Ontario, Canada.[4] He never had a middle name and never signed his name with the "A" initial. The "A" was added by someone in the administration at the University of Kansas. In 1982 Dr. Naismith's only living child stated that his father never had the middle initial "A". The Basketball Hall of Fame also clarifies this as do other members of his family and personal friends of his. Noted historian Curtis J. Phillips has done extensive research on the subject.

Struggling in school but gifted in farm labor, Naismith spent his days outside playing catch, hide-and-seek, or duck on a rock, a medieval game in which a person guards a large drake stone from opposing players, who try to knock it down by throwing smaller stones at it. To play duck on a rock most effectively, Naismith soon found that a soft lobbing shot was far more effective than a straight hard throw, a thought which later proved essential for the invention of basketball.[5] Orphaned early in his life, Naismith lived with his aunt and uncle for many years and attended grade school at Bennies Corners near Almonte. Then he enrolled in Almonte High School, in Almonte, Ontario, from which he graduated in 1883.[5]

In the same year, Naismith entered McGill University in Montreal. Although described as a slight figure, standing 5 foot 10 ½ and listed at 168 pounds,[6] he was a talented and versatile athlete, representing McGill in Canadian football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer and gymnastics. He played center on the football team, and made himself some padding to protect his ears. It was for personal use not team use.[7] He won multiple Wicksteed medals for outstanding gymnastics performances.[8] Naismith earned a BA in Physical Education (1888) and a Diploma at the Presbyterian College in Montreal (1890).[5] From 1891 on, Naismith taught physical education and became the first McGill director of athletics, but then left Montreal to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.[8][9]

Springfield College: Invention of "Basket Ball"

At Springfield YMCA, Naismith struggled with a rowdy class which was confined to indoor games throughout the harsh New England winter and thus was perpetually short-tempered. Under orders from Dr. Luther Gulick, head of Springfield YMCA Physical Education, Naismith was given 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an "athletic distraction": Gulick demanded that it would not take up much room, could help its track athletes to keep in shape[8] and explicitly emphasized to "make it fair for all players and not too rough."[6]

In his attempt to think up a new game, Naismith was guided by three main thoughts.[5] Firstly, he analyzed the most popular games of those times (rugby, lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey, and baseball); Naismith noticed the hazards of a ball and concluded that the big soft soccer ball was safest. Secondly, he saw that most physical contact occurred while running with the ball, dribbling or hitting it, so he decided that passing was the only legal option. Finally, Naismith further reduced body contact by making the goal unguardable, namely placing it high above the player's heads. To score goals, he forced the players to throw a soft lobbing shot that had proven effective in his old favorite game duck on a rock. Naismith christened this new game "Basket Ball"[5] and put his thoughts together in 13 basic rules.[10]

The first game of "Basket Ball" was played in December 1891. In a handwritten report, Naismith described the circumstances of the inaugural match; in contrast to modern basketball, the players played nine versus nine, handled a soccer ball, not a basketball, and instead of shooting at two hoops, the goals were a pair of peach baskets: "When Mr. Stubbins brot [sic] up the peach baskets to the gym I secured them on the inside of the railing of the gallery. This was about 10 feet from the floor, one at each end of the gymnasium. I then put the 13 rules on the bulletin board just behind the instructor's platform, secured a soccer ball and awaited the arrival of the class... The class did not show much enthusiasm but followed my lead... I then explained what they had to do to make goals, tossed the ball up between the two center men & tried to keep them somewhat near the rules. Most of the fouls were called for running with the ball, though tackling the man with the ball was not uncommon."[11] In contrast to modern basketball, the original rules did not include what is known today as the dribble. Since the ball could only be moved up the court via a pass early players tossed the ball over their heads as they ran up court. Also following each "goal" a jump ball was taken in the middle of the court. Both practices are obsolete in the rules of modern basketball.[12]

In a radio interview in January 1939, Naismith gave more details of the first game and the initial rules that were used:

“I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began. … 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. [The injury toll: several black eyes, one separated shoulder and one player knocked unconscious.] “It certainly was murder.” [Naismith changed some of the rules as part of his quest to develop a clean sport.] The most important one was that there should be no running with the ball. That stopped tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those [new] rules, and we didn’t have one casualty.”[13]

By 1892, basketball had grown so popular on campus that Dennis Horkenbach (editor-in-chief of The Triangle, the Springfield college newspaper) featured it in an article called "A New Game",[4] and there were calls to call this new game "Naismith Ball", but Naismith refused.[5] By 1893, basketball was introduced internationally by the YMCA movement.[4] From Springfield, Naismith went to Denver where he acquired a medical degree and in 1898 he joined the University of Kansas faculty at Lawrence, Kansas after coaching at Baker University.[6]

The family of Lambert G. Will has claimed that Dr. Naismith borrowed components for the game of basketball from Will to dispute Naismith's sole creation of the game, citing alleged photos and letters.[14][15]

University of Kansas

The University of Kansas men's basketball program officially began in 1898, following Naismith's arrival, just six years after Naismith drafted the sport's first official rules. Naismith was not initially hired to coach basketball, but rather as a chapel director and physical education instructor.[16] In these early days, the majority of the basketball games were played against nearby YMCA teams, with YMCAs across the nation having played an integral part in the birth of basketball. Other common opponents were Haskell Indian Nations University and William Jewell College. Under Naismith, the team played only one current Big 12 school: Kansas State (once). Naismith was, ironically, the only coach in the program's history to have a losing record (55–60).[17] However, Naismith coached Forrest "Phog" Allen, his eventual successor at Kansas,[18] who went on to join his mentor in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.[19] When Allen became a coach himself and told him that he was going to coach basketball at Baker University in 1904, Naismith discouraged him: "You can't coach basketball; you just play it."[8] Instead, Allen embarked on a coaching career that would lead him to be known as "the Father of Basketball Coaching." During his time at Kansas, Allen coached Dean Smith (1952 National Championship team) and Adolph Rupp (1922 Helms Foundation National Championship team). Allen, Smith and Rupp have joined Naismith as members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

By the turn of the century, there were enough college teams in the East of the U.S. that the first intercollegiate competitions could be played out.[18] Although his sport continuously grew, Naismith long regarded his game as a curiosity and preferred gymnastics and wrestling as better forms of physical education.[18] However, basketball became a demonstration sport at the 1904 Games in St. Louis. As the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame reports, Naismith was also neither interested in self-promotion nor in the glory of competitive sports.[20] Instead, he was more interested in his physical education career, receiving an honorary PE Masters degree in 1910,[5] patrolled the Mexican border for four months in 1916, traveled to France, published two books (A Modern College in 1911 and Essence of a Healthy Life in 1918). He took American citizenship in 1925.[5]

In 1935, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (created by Naismith's pupil Phog Allen) collected money so that the 74-year-old Naismith could witness the introduction of basketball into the official Olympic sports program of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games.[20] There, Naismith handed out the medals to three North American teams: United States, for the gold medal, Canada, for the silver medal, and Mexico, for their bronze medal win.[21] During the Olympics, he was named the honorary president of the International Basketball Federation.[5] When Naismith returned he commented that seeing the game played by many nations was the greatest compensation he could have received for his invention.[18] In 1937, Naismith played a role in the formation of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball, which later became the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).[22]

Naismith became Professor Emeritus in Kansas when he retired in 1937 at the age of 76. Including his years as coach, Naismith served as athletic director and faculty at the school for a total of almost 40 years. Naismith died in 1939 after he suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage. He was buried in Lawrence, Kansas. His masterwork "Basketball — its Origins and Development" was published posthumously in 1941.[5] In Lawrence, Kansas, James Naismith has a road named in his honor, Naismith Drive, which runs in front of Allen Fieldhouse (the official address of Allen Fieldhouse is 1651 Naismith Drive), the university's basketball facility. The university also named the court in Allen Fieldhouse James Naismith Court in his honor, despite Naismith having the worst record in school history. Naismith Hall, a college residential dormitory, is located on the northeastern edge of 19th Street and Naismith Drive.[23]

Head coaching record

In 1898, Naismith became the first college basketball coach of the University of Kansas basketball team. He compiled a record of 55–60, and is, ironically, the only losing coach in Kansas history.[17] Naismith is at the top of massive and prestigious coaching tree, as he coached Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen, who himself coached Hall of Fame coaches Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, and Ralph Miller who all coached future coaches as well.[18]

Season Team Wins Losses Win %
1898–99 Kansas 7 4 .636
1899–1900 Kansas 3 4 .429
1900–01 Kansas 4 8 .333
1901–02 Kansas 5 7 .417
1902–03 Kansas 7 8 .467
1903–04 Kansas 5 8 .385
1904–05 Kansas 5 6 .455
1905–06 Kansas 12 7 .632
1906–07 Kansas 7 8 .467
Total Kansas 55 60 .478


Naismith was the inventor of basketball and wrote the original 13 rules of this sport.[20] The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, is named in his honor, and he was an inaugural inductee in 1959.[20] The National Collegiate Athletic Association rewards its best players and coaches annually with the Naismith Awards, among them the Naismith College Player of the Year, the Naismith College Coach of the Year and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year. After the Olympic introduction to male athletes in 1936, women's basketball became an Olympic event in Montreal during the 1976 Summer Olympics.[24] Naismith was also inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, the McGill University Sports Hall of Fame, the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame, FIBA Hall of Fame, and The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which was named in his honor.[5][25] Also the FIBA Basketball World Cup trophy was named "James Naismith Trophy" honored him as a tribute.

Naismith's home town of Almonte Ontario hosts an annual 3 on 3 tournament for all ages and skill levels in his honor. Every year this event attracts hundreds of participants and involves over 20 half court games along the main street of the town. All proceeds of the event go to youth basketball programs in the area.

Basketball is today played by more than 300 million people worldwide, making it one of the most popular team sports.[8] In North America, basketball has produced some of the most-admired athletes of the 20th century. Polls conducted by ESPN and the Associated Press named basketball player Michael Jordan respectively first and second greatest North American athlete of the 20th century, and both polls featured fellow basketball players Wilt Chamberlain (of KU, like Naismith) and Bill Russell in the Top 20.[26][27]

Personal life

Naismith was the eldest child of Margaret and John Naismith, two Scottish immigrants. His mother, Margaret Young, was born in 1833 and immigrated as the fourth of 11 children to Lanark County, Canada in 1852.[5] His father, John Naismith, was born in 1833,[28] left Europe when he was 18, and also settled down in Lanark County. On June 20, 1894, Naismith married Maude Evelyn Sherman (September 6, 1870 – March 4, 1937) in Springfield, MA, USA. The couple had five children: Margaret Mason (Stanley) (July 2, 1895 – October 1976), Helen Carolyn (Dodd) (December 21, 1897 – August 21, 1980), John Edwin (November 3, 1900 – December 18, 1986), Maude Ann (Dawe) (October 22, 1904 – April 1972) and James Sherman (May 7, 1913 – May 6, 1980).[6] He was a member of the Pi Gamma Mu and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities.[6] Naismith was a Presbyterian minister, and was also remembered as a Freemason.[29] Maude Naismith died in 1937, and on June 11, 1939, he married his second wife Florence B. Kincaid. Naismith suffered a major brain hemorrhage on November 19 the same year and died nine days later in his home located in Lawrence, Kansas.[30] Naismith was 78 years old.[31] Naismith is buried with his first wife in Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence, KS.[32] Florence Kincaid died in 1977 at the age of 98 and is buried with her first husband Dr. Frank B. Kincaid in Elmwood Cemetery in Beloit, KS.

During his lifetime, Naismith's education and academic positions held were as follows:[6]

Location Position Period Remarks
Bennie's Corner Grade School (Ontario) Primary school 1867–1875
Almonte High School Secondary school 1875–1877, 1881–83 Dropped out and re-entered
McGill University University student 1883–87 Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education
McGill University Instructor in Physical Education 1887–1890 Gold Wickstead Medal (1887), Best All-Around Athlete; Silver Cup (1886), first prize for one-mile walk; Silver Wickstead Medal (1885), Best All-Around Athlete; Awarded one of McGill's first varsity letters
The Presbyterian College, Montreal Education in Theology 1887–1890 Silver medal (1890), second highest award for regular and special honor work in Theology
Springfield College Instructor in Physical Education 1890–1895 Invented "Basket Ball" in December 1891
YMCA of Denver Instructor in Physical Education 1895–1898
University of Kansas Instructor in Physical Education and Chapel Director 1898–1909
University of Kansas Basketball Coach 1898–1907 First-ever campus basketball coach
University of Kansas Professor and University Physician 1909–1917 Hiatus from 1914 on due to World War I
First Kansas Infantry Chaplain/Captain 1914–1917 Military service due to World War I
First Kansas Infantry (Mexican Border) Chaplain 1916
Military and YMCA secretary in France Lecturer of Moral Conditions and Sex Education 1917–1919
University of Kansas Athletic Director 1919–1937 Emeritus in 1937

On June 21, 2013, Dr. Naismith was inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Topeka.[33]

In popular culture

  • Kate Beaton, cartoonist of webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, devoted one of her comic strips to James Naismith and the invention of basketball.[34]

See also


  1. Dr. Porter. (2005). Basketball: a biographical dictionary p.346.
  2. Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter (2009). James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball. Temple University Press. p.105.
  3. David L. Porter. (2005). Basketball: A biographical dictionary. p.347.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Laughead, George. "Dr. James Naismith, Inventor of Basketball". Kansas Heritage Group. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Laughead, George. "Dr. James Naismith". Kansas Heritage Group. Retrieved 2013-09-14. In the late 1930s he played a role in what became the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Dodd, Hellen Naismith (January 6, 1959). "James Naismith's Resume". Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on November 19, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. John Melady (2013). Breakthrough!: Canada's Greatest Inventions and Innovations. Dundurn. p. 56.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Zukerman, Earl (December 17, 2003). "McGill grad James Naismith, inventor of basketball". Varsity Sports News. McGill Athletics. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "A SHOT AT HISTORY: BASKETBALL". Retrieved 24 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Naismith, James. "Dr. James Naismith's 13 Original Rules of Basketball". National Collegiate Athletic Association. Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Naismith, James. "James Naismith Handwritten Manuscript Detailing First Basketball Game". Heritage Auction Galleries. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Official basketball rules". International Basketball Federation. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. “Basketball’s Birth, in James Naismith’s Own Spoken Words,” by RICHARD SANDOMIR, The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2105
  14. Baruth, Philip. "Basketball Inventor". Basketball Inventor. Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved 27 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Fosty, George & Darril. "Basketball's Origins, Lingering Questions Remain". Box Score News. Retrieved 27 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Chimelis, Ron. "Naismith Untold". Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Naismith's Record". Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 "James Naismith, A Kansas Portrait". Kansas Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Forrest C. "Phog" Allen". Naismith Museum And Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on December 30, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Hall of Fame Feature: James Naismith". Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on November 23, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "James Naismith, the inventor of basketball". Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Kerkhoff, Blair. "The NAIA basketball tournament? Throw 32 teams in the same building and see which is the last one standing at the end of a weeklong frenzy". Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  23. "Google Maps Route". Google Maps. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Jenkins, Sally. History of women's basketball "History of women's basketball" Check |url= value (help). Women's National Basketball Association. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "James Naismith". Retrieved 23 September 2014. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Top N. American athletes of the century". Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Associated Press (1999-12-21). "Top 100 athletes of the 20th century". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Genealogy Data
  29. "James Naismith". Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon the great couple had five kids. Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Naismith Museum & Hall of Fame: Biography of James Naismith". Retrieved 2008-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Schlabac, Mark (2005-01-15). "James Naismith Biography". Retrieved 2008-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "James Naismith". Retrieved 2009-08-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. "Naismith, Dr. James". Retrieved 14 September 2013. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Beaton, Kate. "James Naismith", Hark! A Vagrant. Accessed 3 December 2014.

Further reading

External links