Biography of James Naismith

Inventor of Basketball

Basketball player being guarded by defender
Thomas Barwick/ Stone/ Getty Images

In December of 1891, a physical education teacher at the YMCA named James Naismith took a soccer ball and a peach basket into the gym and invented basketball.

Two years later, Naismith replaced the peach basket with iron hoops and a hammock-style basket. Ten years later came the open-ended nets that are still used today. Before that, you had to retrieve your ball from the basket every time you scored.

Early Life

Naismith was born in Ramsay township near Ontario, Canada and attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. After serving as McGill's athletic director, Naismith moved on to work at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. The game of basketball was inspired by a children's game Naismith knew called duck-on-a-rock, where players throw a small rock at a "duck" placed on top of a large rock in an attempt to knock the "duck" off.

While at Springfield, Naismith invented basketball as a sport to play indoors during the cold Massachusetts winters. The first game of basketball was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets used as goals. After changing the peach baskets for open hoop nets, Naismith soon wrote 13 official rules for the game. He also founded the University of Kansas basketball program.

First College Basketball Game

The first ever college basketball game was played on January 18, 1896. On that day, the University of Iowa invited student athletes from the new University of Chicago for an experimental game. The final score was Chicago 15, Iowa 12, which was very different from the hundred-point scores of today.

Naismith 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 the National Invitation Tournament in 1938 and the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship in 1939.

In 1963, college games were first broadcast on national TV, but it wasn't until the 1980s that sports fans ranked basketball up there with football and baseball.

Naismith's Legacy

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, is named in his honor. He was an inaugural inductee in 1959. The National Collegiate Athletic Association also rewards its top players and coaches annually with the Naismith Awards, which includes the Naismith College Player of the Year, the Naismith College Coach of the Year and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year.

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 and FIBA Hall of Fame. 

Naismith's hometown 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.