TWO weeks had almost
passed since I had taken over the troublesome class. The time was almost
gone; in a day or two I would have to report to the faculty the success
or failure of my attempts. So far they had all been failures, and it
seemed to me that I had exhausted my resources. The prospect before me
was, to say the least, discouraging. How I hated the thought of going
back to the group and admitting that, after all my theories, I, too, had
failed to hold the interest of the class. It was worse than losing a
game. All the stubbornness of my Scotch ancestry was aroused, all my
pride of achievement urged me on; I would not go back and admit that I
The day before my two
weeks ended I met the class. I will always remember that meeting. I had
nothing new to try and no idea of what I was going to do. The class
period passed with little order, and at the end of the hour the boys
left the gym. I can still see that group of fellows filing out the door.
As that last pair of grey pants vanished into the locker room, I saw the
end of all my ambitions and hopes.
With weary footsteps I
mounted the flight of narrow stairs that led to my office directly over
the locker room. I slumped down in my chair, my head in my hands and my
elbows on the desk. I was a thoroughly disheartened and discouraged
young instructor. Below me, I could hear the boys in the locker room
having a good time; they were giving expression to the very spirit that
I had tried so hard to evoke.
I had been a student
the year before, and I could picture the group in that locker room. A,
towel would snap and some fellow would jerk erect and try to locate the
guilty individual. Some of it was rough play, but it was all in fun, and
each of them entered into it with that spirit. There would be talking
and jesting, and I could even imagine the things that the group would be
saying about my efforts. I was sure that the fellows did not dislike me,
but I was just as sure that they felt that I had given them nothing
better than the other instructors.
As I listened to the
noise in the room below, my discouragement left me. I looked back over
my attempts to see, if possible, the cause of my failures. I passed in
review the gymnastic games that I had tried, and I saw that they were
impossible. They were really children’s games; the object that was to be
obtained changed with each play, and no man could be interested in this
type of game. It was necessary to have some permanent objective that
would keep the minds of the participants active and interested.
"’As I thought of the
other games that I had tried, I realized that the normal individual is
strongly influenced by tradition. If he is interested in a game, any
attempt to modify that game sets up an antagonism in his mind. I
realized that any attempt to change the known games would necessarily
result in failure. It was evident that a new principle was necessary;
but how to evolve this principle was beyond my ken.'
As I sat there at my
desk, I began to study games from the philosophical side. I had been
taking one game at a time and had failed to find what I was looking for.
This time I would take games as a whole and study them.
My first generalization
was that all team games used a ball of some kind; therefore, any new
game must have a ball. X Two kinds of balls were used at that time, one
large and the other small. I noted that all games that used a small ball
had some intermediate equipment with which to handle it. Cricket and
baseball had bats, lacrosse and hockey had sticks, tennis and squash had
rackets. In each of these games, the use of the intermediate equipment
made the game more difficult to learn. The Americans were at sea with a
lacrosse stick, and the Canadians could not use a baseball bat.
The game that we sought
would be played by many; therefore, it must be easy to learn. Another
objection to a small ball was that it could be easily hidden. It would
be difficult for a group to play a game in which the ball was in sight
only part of the time.
I then considered a
large ball that could be easily handled and which almost anyone could
catch and throw with very little practice. I decided that the ball
should be large and light, one that could be easily handled and yet
could not be concealed. There were two balls of this kind then in use,
one the spheroid of Rugby and the other the round ball of soccer. It was
not until later that I decided which one of these two I would select.
The type of a ball
being settled, I turned next to the point of interest of various games.
\I concluded that the most interesting game at that time was American
Rugby. I asked myself why this game could not be used as an indoor
sport. The answer to this was easy. It was because tackling was
necessary in Rugby. But why was tackling necessary? Again the answer was
easy. It was because the men were allowed to run with the ball, and it
was necessary to stop them. With these facts in mind, I sat erect at my
desk and said aloud:
“If he can’t run with
the ball, we don’t have to tackle; and if we don’t have to tackle, the
roughness will be eliminated.”
I can still recall how
I snapped my fingers and shouted,
“I’ve got it!” .
This time I felt that I
really had a new principle for a game, one that would not violate any
tradition. On looking back, it was hard to see why I was so elated. I
had as yet nothing but a single idea, but I was sure that the rest would
work out correctly.
Starting with the idea
that the player in possession of the ball could not rim with it, the
next step was to see just what he could do with it. There was little
choice in this respect. It would be necessary for him to throw it or bat
it with his hand. In my mind, I began to play a game and to visualize
the movements of the players. Suppose that a player was running, and a
teammate threw the ball to him.
Realizing that it would
be impossible for him to stop immediately, I made this exception: when a
man was running and received the ball, he must make an honest effort to
stop or else pass the ball immediately. This was the second step of the
In my mind I was still
sticking to the traditions of the older games, especially football. In
that game, the ball could be thrown in any direction except forward. In
this new game, however, the player with the ball could not advance, and
I saw no reason why he should not be allowed to throw or bat it in any
direction. So far, I had a game that was played with a large light ball;
the players could not run with the ball, but must pass it or bat it with
the hands; and the pass could be made in any direction.
As I mentally played
the game, I remembered that I had seen two players in a soccer game,
both after the ball. One player attempted to head the ball just as the
other player kicked at it. The result was a badly gashed head for the
first man. I then turned this incident to the new game. I could imagine
one player attempting to strike the ball with his fist and,
intentionally or otherwise, coming in contact with another player’s
face. VI then decided that the fist must not be used in striking the
The game now had
progressed only to the point where it was “keep away,” and my experience
with gymnastic games convinced me that it would not hold the interest of
The next step was to
devise some objective for the players. In all existing games there was
some kind of a goal, and I felt that this was essential. I thought of
the different games, in the hope that I might be able to use one of
their goals. Football had a goal line, over which the ball must be
carried, and goal posts, over which the ball might be kicked. Soccer,
lacrosse, and hockey had goals into which the ball might be driven.
Tennis and badminton had marks on the court inside which the ball must
be kept. Thinking of all these, I mentally placed a goal like the one
used in lacrosse at each end of the floor.
A lacrosse goal is
simply a space six feet high and eight feet wide. The players attempt to
throw the ball into this space; the harder the ball is thrown, the more
chance to make a goal. I was sure that this play would lead to
roughness, and I did not want that. I thought of limiting the sweep of
the arms or of having the ball delivered from in front of the person,
but I knew that many would resent my limiting the power of the player.
By what line of
association it occurred to me I do not know, but I was back in Bennie’s
Comers, Ontario, playing Duck on the Rock. I could remember distinctly
the large rock back of the blacksmith shop, about as high as our knees
and as large around as a wash tub. Each of us would get a “duck,” a
stone about as large as our two doubled fists. About twenty feet from
the large rock we would draw a base line, and then in various manners we
would choose one of the group to be guard, or hit.”
To start the game, the
guard placed his duck on the rock, and we behind the base line attempted
to knock it off by throwing our ducks. More often than not, when we
threw our ducks we missed, and if we went to retrieve them, the guard
tagged us; then one of us had to change places with him. If, however,
someone knocked the guard’s “duck” off the rock, he had to replace it
before he could tag anyone.
It came distinctly to
my mind that some of the boys threw their ducks as hard as they could;
when they missed, the ducks were far from the base. When they went to
retrieve them, they had farther to run and had more chance of being
tagged. On the other hand, if the duck was tossed in an arc, it did not
go so far. If the guard’s duck was hit, it fell on the far side of the
rock, whereas the one that was thrown bounced nearer the base and was
easily caught up before the guard replaced his. When the duck was thrown
in an arc, accuracy was more effective than force.
With this game in mind,
"I thought that if the goal were horizontal instead of vertical, the
players would be compelled to throw the ball in an arc; and force, which
made for roughness, would be of no value.
A horizontal goal,
then, was what I was looking for, and I pictured it in my mind. I would
place a box at either end of the floor, and each time the ball entered
the box it would count as a goal. There was one thing, however, that I
had overlooked. If nine men formed a defense around the goal, it would
be impossible for the ball to enter it; but if I placed the goal above
the players’ heads, this type of defense would be useless. The only
chance that the guards would have would be to go out and get the ball
before the opponents had an opportunity to throw for goal.
I had a team game with
equipment and an objective. My problem now was how to start it. Again I
reviewed the games with which I was familiar. I found that the intent of
starting any game was to give each side an equal chance to obtain the
ball. I thought of water polo, where the teams were lined up at the ends
of the pool and at a signal the ball was thrown into the center. There
was always a mad scramble to gain possession of the ball, and it took
only an instant for me to reject this plan. I could see nine men at each
end of the gym, all making a rush for the ball as it was thrown into the
center of the floor; and I winced as I thought of the results of that
I then turned to the
game of English Rugby. When the ball went out of bounds on the side
line, it was taken by the umpire and thrown in between two lines of
forward players. This was somewhat like polo, but the players had no
chance to run at each other. As I thought of this method of starting the
game, I remembered one incident that happened to me. In a game with
Queen’s College, the ball was thrown between the two lines of players. I
took one step and went high in the air. I got the ball all right, but as
I came down I landed on a shoulder that was shoved into my midriff. I
decided that this method would not do. I did feel, though, that if the
roughness could be eliminated, that tossing up the ball between two
teams was the fairest way of starting a game. I reasoned that if I
picked only one player from each team and threw the ball up between
them, there would be little chance for roughness. I realize now how
seriously I underestimated the ingenuity of the American boy.
When I had decided how
I would start the game, I felt that I would have little trouble. I knew
that there would be questions to be met; but I had the fundamental
principles of a game, and I was more thfl.n willing to try to meet these
problems. I continued with my day’s work, and it was late in the evening
before I again had a chance to think of my new scheme. I believe that I
am the first person who ever played basketball; and although I used the
bed for a court, I certainly played a hard game that night.
The following morning I
went into my office, thinking of the new game. I had not yet decided
what ball I should use. Side by side on the floor lay two balls, one a
football and the other a soccer ball.
I noticed the lines of
the football and realized that it was shaped so that it might be carried
in the arms. There was to be iio, carrying of the ball in this new game,
so I walked over, picked up the soccer ball, and started in search of a
As I walked down the
hall, I met Mr. Stebbins, the superintendent of buildings. I asked him
if he had two boxes about eighteen inches square. Stebbins thought a
minute, and then said:
“No, ! haven’t any
boxes, but I’ll tell you what I do have. I have two old peach baskets
down in the store room, if they will do you any good.”
I told him to bring
them up, and a few minutes later he appeared with the two baskets tucked
under his arm. They were round and somewhat larger at the top than at
the bottom. I found a hammer and some nails and tacked the baskets to
the lower rail of the balcony, one at either end of the gym.
I was almost ready to
try the new game, but I felt that I needed a set of rules, in order that
the men would have some guide. I went to my office, pulled out a scratch
pad, and set to work. The rules were so clear in my mind that in less
than an hour I took my copy to Miss Lyons, our stenographer, who typed
the following set of thirteen rules.
The ball to be an
ordinary Association football.
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.
4. The ball must be
held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for
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
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 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 meantime 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 edge 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 and played 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 them.
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 fifteen minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
13. The side making the
most goals in that time shall be declared the winners. In case of a
draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until
another goal is made.
When Miss Lyons
finished typing the rules, it was almost class time, and I was anxious
to get down to the gym, I took the rules and made my way down the
stairs. Just inside the door there was a bulletin board for notices.
With thumb tacks I fastened the rules to this board and then walked
across the gym. I was sure in my own mind that the game was good, but it
needed a real test. I felt that its success or failure depended largely
on the way that the class received it.
The first member of the
class to arrive was Frank Mahan. He was a southerner from North
Carolina, had played tackle on the football team, and was the ringleader
of the group. He saw me standing with a ball in my hand and perhaps
surmised that another experiment was to be tried. He looked up at the
basket on one end of the gallery, and then his eyes turned to me. He
gazed at me for an instant, and then looked toward the other end of the
gym. Perhaps I was nervous, because his exclamation sounded like a death
knell as he said,
“Huh! another new
When the class arrived,
I called the roll and told them that I had another game, which I felt
sure would be good. I promised them that if this was a failure, I would
not try any more experiments. I then read the rules from the bulletin
board and proceeded to organize the game.
There were eighteen men
in the class; I selected two captains and had them choose sides. When
the teams were chosen, I placed the men on the floor. There were three
forwards, three centers, and three backs on each team. I chose two of
the center men to jump, then threw the ball between them. It was the
start of the first basketball game and the finish of the trouble with
As was to be expected,
they made a great many fouls at first; and as a foul was penalized by
putting the offender on the side lines until the next goal was made,
sometimes half of a team would be in the penalty area. It was simply a
case of no one knowing just what to do. There was no team work, but each
man did his best. The forwards tried to make goals and the backs tried
to keep the opponents from making them. The team was large, and the
floor was small. Any man on the field was close enough to the basket to
throw for goal, and most of them were anxious to score. We tried,
however, to develop team work by having the guards pass the ball to the
The game was a success
from the time that the first ball was tossed up. The players were
interested and seemed to enjoy the game. Word soon got around that they
were having fun in Naismith’s gym class, and only a few days after the
first game we began to have a gallery.
The class met at
eleven-thirty in the morning, and the game was in full swing by twelve
o’clock. Some teachers from the Buckingham Grade School were passing the
gym one day, and hearing the noise, decided to investigate. They could
enter the gallery through a door that led to the street. Each day after
that, they stopped to. watch the game, sometimes becoming so interested
that they would not have time to get their lunch. These teachers came to
me one day and asked me why girls could not play that game. I told them
that I saw no reason why they should not, and this group organized the
first girls’ basketball team.
It is little wonder
that the crowd enjoyed the game. If we could see it today as it was
played then, we would laugh too. The players were all mature men; most
of them had mustaches, and one or two had full beards. Their pants were
long, and their shirts had short sleeves. Sometimes when a player
received the ball, he would poise with it over his head to make sure
that he would make the goal. About the time that he was ready to throw,
someone would reach up from behind and take the ball out of his hands.
This occurred frequently and was a never-ending source of amusement. No
matter how often a player lost the ball in this manner, he would always
look around with a surprised expression that would plainly say, “Who did
that?” His embarrassment only added to the laughter of the crowd.
It was shortly after
the first game that Frank Mahan came to me before class hour and said:
“You remember the rules
that were put on the bulletin board?”
“Yes, I do,” I
“They disappeared,” he
“I know it,” I replied.
“Well, I took them,”
Frank said. “I knew that this game would be a success, and I took them
as a souvenir, but I think now that you should have them.”
Mahan told me that the
rules were in his trunk and that he would bring them down later. That
afternoon he entered my office and handed me the two typewritten sheets.
I still have them, and they are one of my prized possessions.
At the Christmas
vacation a number of the students went home and some of them started the
game in their local Y.M.C.A.’s. There were no printed rules at that
time, and each student played the game as he remembered it. It was not
until January, 1892, that the school paper, called the Triangle, first
printed the rules under the heading, “A New Game.”
One day after the
students returned from their vacation, the same Frank Mahan came to me
and asked me what I was going to call the game. I told him that I had
not thought of the matter but was interested only in getting it started.
Frank insisted that it must have a name and suggested the name of
Naismith ball. I laughed and told him that I thought that name would
kill any game. Frank then said:
“Why not call it
“We have a basket and a
ball, and it seems to me that would be a good name for it,” I replied.
It was in this way that basketball was named.
When the first game had
ended, I felt that I could now go to Doctor Gulick and tell him that I
had accomplished the two seemingly impossible tasks that he had assigned
to me: namely, to interest the class in physical exercise and to invent
a new game.