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Basketball fans have come to expect the impossible from the fast, powerful giants who dominate the game today. The phenomenal feats of Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson would have amazed James Naismith, the modest Canadian who invented the game 100 years ago when he hung a peach basket on a gym wall. The centenary of Naismith's invention was commemorated by a postage stamp, issued on October 25, 1991. This Heritage Minute dramatizes the first clumsy efforts of Naismith's un-enthusiastic gym class to play the new game. In devising the game of basketball, Naismith took on a unique task. Very few sports have actually been invented. Hockey evolved from the Native lacrosse, baseball from British rounders, football from rugby. Why create a brand new game?


    James Naismith's reasons for inventing basketball came from his own religious
principles and a challenging job assignment. Born in Almonte, Canada West
(Ontario), Naismith graduated from McGill University and Presbyterian Theological
College. In 1891, he found himself teaching Psychology, Bible Study and Physical
Education at the International Young Men's Christian Training School in
Springfield, Massacheusetts. Fervently believing the old adage that "a healthy
body and a healthy mind go together," Naismith saw no conflict between his
theology and his love of sports. His beliefs, however, were put to the test by the
most incorrigible, bored and rebellious gym class in the school. When winter
came, and the usual outdoor sports were over, the teacher needed something to
keep his lazy pupils physically occupied. 

    After some unsuccessful attempts to modify soccer, football and lacrosse for the
confines of the gymnasium, Naismith decided to view the qualities he wanted
in an indoor sport. He needed a ball large enough to be caught and thrown
easily with practice. Since he did not want tackling on the hard floor, he declared that players
could not run with the ball. An elevated goal added a challenge that emphasized
skill rather than sheer strength. One by one, Naismith systematically thought out
the elements of his new game. 

    On December 21, 1891, Naismith posted 13 rules to the game on the school's
bulletin board and nailed two peach baskets to the gym balconies. The first
game ended with a score of 1-0, a far cry from the NBA scores of today. But as
classes played it, the game became more and more popular, though not with the
janitor who had to climb a ladder to retrieve each successful shot. Soon, other
schools and colleges were playing the game. But what were they to call it? With
his characteristic modesty, the inventor declined the name of "Naismith Ball,"
preferring the simple title of "Basketball." 

    Naismith succeeded in his aim of creating a sport for everyone, a game that
stresses skill over strength, speed over power. Today basketball is played by
men, women and children all over the world. The same sport that is played in
$200 spring-loaded shoes is also played in wheelchairs. Dr. Naismith's invention
has become one of the most popular games in the world.