Sunday, November 6, 2011

James Naismith

I am sure that no man can derive more pleasure from money or power than I do from seeing a pair of basketball goals in some out of the way place -- deep in the Wisconsin woods, an old barrel hoop nailed to a tree -- or a weather-beaten shed on the Mexican border with a rusty iron hoop nailed to one end.

James Naismith (he had no given middle name, but later adopted "A" as his middle initial) was born in Ontario, Canada on this date in 1861 -- which happened to be the same day that Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America.
Naismith invented basketball in December 1891 while he was a physical education teacher at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, MA.  The head of his department had ordered him to invent an indoor game that would provide an athletic distraction for his rowdy male students but not be too rough. 
Naismith later studied medicine in Denver and obtained his M.D., but then moved to the University of Kansas in 1898, where he became the Jayhawks' first and least successful basketball coach: during his nine seasons as head coach, the team had a 55-60 record.  
Basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936, when Naismith was 74.  He went to Berlin to award the first medals for the sport.  (The United States won the gold, and Canada earned the silver.) 
Basketball is somewhat unique among team sports in that you can enjoy playing it even if you are all alone.  All you need is a ball and a rusty iron hoop nailed to a tree or a garage.

James Naismith and his wife

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