October Legends Closing October 27,2018
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James Naismith, the founder of basketball, was born Almonte, Canada in the province of Ontario in 1861. A son of Scottish immigrants, Naismith was orphaned in his early life, living with his aunt and uncle growing up. Naismith enjoyed outdoor games, including a medieval game called “duck on a rock” where participants had to guard large drake stones from opposing players, who had to try and knock it down with smaller stones by them at it. Naismith found that by “lobbing” the stones like a soft shot was more effective than a hard throw, a precursor to his inventing basketball.

After attending McGill University in Montreal, where he played rugby, Canadian football, lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education in 1888 and a diploma at the Presbyterian College (also in Montreal) in 1890. Naismith would be the first athletic director at McGill, but ultimately left the Montreal area to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.

Like his native Canada, winters in New England were not, and are still not conducive to outdoor sporting events and the class Naismith was teaching at the Springfield Y was particularly rowdy – given the confinements of indoor activities. Under orders from the head of Physical Education Dr. Luther Gulick, Naismith was tasked to come up with an indoor winter activity to serve as a “distraction”, but to ultimately keep the track athletes in shape, making it not only “fair” and not too “rough”. With his experiences in other sports like rugby and soccer, he realized that ball possession in rugby or dribbling in soccer was more conducive to contact and rough play. Also, unlike soccer, he decided to set up a “goal” where it was un-guardable, placing it high above the defender’s heads. The goals became baskets, as in peach baskets that were nailed to the wall. To score “goals”, one would have to lob or toss a soccer ball into the basket, reminiscent of the game “duck on a rock” game he enjoyed growing up. This new game was called “Basket Ball” and Naismith came up with 13 rules.

Offered here is a copy of the very rules typed out by James Naismith in 1934 for his manuscript "Basketball: The Fascinating Story of the Game The Whole World Plays Told By The Man Who Invented It. The original rules on this 1934 version were typed out on three total pages, with additional hand-written notes. These were the original rules from 1891 that started the very game we know today. The game that has produced Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Appearing on the first page is “Basket Ball” hand-written in black ink. Typed below on the first page includes:

The new game was rapidly taking definite form in my mind and as I visualized the play I began to write a set of rules that would not only describe the method of play but put definite penalties on the violators of any of the principles that I had stated. With this in mind I wrote out a set of rules, thirteen in number and covering the principles and points that I wished to bring out. There are five diagonal pencil lines going through this passage.

The original rules are in my possession at the present time and a copy of them follows. Six “X” marks are through the sentence.

  1. The Ball to be an ordinary association football. The “1” is scribbled out with a hand-written note on the side that reads “Insert 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, if he tries to stop. “if he tries to stop” is crossed out and hand-written withat a good speed.”
  4. The ball must be held (hand written “in or between” the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking, in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed. The first infringment of this rule by any (“person” hand-written in for “player”) 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.

Page 2 reads:    

  1. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3 and 4, and such as described in rule 5.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. When the ball goes out of bounds it shall be thrown into the field (hand-written “and played by”) the person first touching it. (A line is crossed out) 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall (end of page 2)

(Continued Rule 11 on page 3) decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, and 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.

  1. The time shall be two fifteen minutes halves, with five minutes rest between.
  2. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners. In case of a draw the game may, by agree-ment of the captain (hand written “s), be continued until another goal is made.

Using these rules, the first game ever was played in December of 1891 at nearby Springfield College. Five years after he typed out these rules again for his manuscript, James Naismith was in New York City in 1939, where he appeared on a radio program discussing the first basketball game played at Springfield College. In that radio interview, he stated:

“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. It certainly was murder." 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 rules, and we didn't have one casualty.

Thus, what started as a mandate from the Springfield YMCA to create an indoor winter game to provide “athletic distraction”, ultimately turned into one of the most popular games in the world today. Naismith would go on to start the basketball program at the University of Kansas and coached his future successor Forrest “Phog” Allen, who mentored future Hall of Famers Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith. The basketball Hall of Fame is known as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and appropriately is located in Springfield, Massachusetts. The game of basketball today is played by more than 300 million people world-wide and these pages are a tremendous piece of history as Naismith re-visited the origins of the very game he created. This comes with a letter of authenticity from University Archives (11092) and a LOA from Steve Grad of Beckett Authentication Services.

James Naismiths 1891 Founding Rules of Basketball From His 1934 Manuscript With Hand Notations (Beckett & University Archives LOA)
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