James Naismith was a Canadian teacher of physical education, sports coach, chaplain and innovator. He is most famous for inventing the game of basketball. Although he intended it to be just a game which will provide some fun to his students during the days of winter, basketball quickly became popular and developed into an Olympic sport in 1936.
James Naismith was born in 1861 in Ramsay Township, near Almonte, Ontario. His father John Naismith worked as a sawhand, and his mother was Margaret Naismith. Although some sources state that his full name is “James A. Naismith”, he didn’t have a middle name and when he would sign, he didn’t use the “A” initial.
Naismith showed great affection for games during his early years. He loved playing hide-and-seek, catch, and he even designated some games to play himself. However, he wasn’t too interested in school. He had gone to Almonte High School for two years before dropping out and then returning for years later to finish it in 1883. Besides playing games, he would spend his time working on a farm. Even at the time, his athleticism was far more impressive than his academic record.
When Naismith was ten years old, he suffered a family tragedy. Both of his parents died of typhoid fever in just a couple of weeks. Naismith moved to his maternal grandmother with his siblings, and when she also died, he was taken care by Peter Young, his uncle on whose farm Naismith was working.
He entered McGill University in 1883 and took part in various different sports teams of his college – lacrosse, football, rugby, and gymnastics. Naismith was among the best in his class and he got his degree in 1887. He wanted to keep going with his studies and decided to enter Presbyterian college, the theological school of the McGill University. However, despite being a good student, he was often criticized for taking part in sports. His professors were especially concerned about lacrosse since they believed this sport was “legalized murder”. But Naismith didn’t give up and firmly believed that he can mix athletic life with spirituality.
Naismith was living in Montreal in the 1890s due to his studies. This is where he got familiar with Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association), who had one of its branches in this city. He approached the administrators of Y.M.C.A. and expressed a wish to be an instructor that will mix athletics with spirituality. This is how he found out for an international training school located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith didn’t waste any time and he moved to Springfield to teach physical education.
While being a teacher at the International Training School under the patronage of Y.M.C.A. Naismith was asked to create a new game which can be played indoors. He used “Duck on a Rock”, a game he played as a kid, as inspiration and went on to invent one of the most popular sports even today – basketball. His version of the game was actually called “basket ball” and had thirteen rules in total. Although they suffered modifications, most of the original rules are used today. The biggest difference is that Naismith’s original version didn’t include the dribble. Initially, the players could only move the ball up the court by passing to teammates, and a jump ball would occur in the middle after every basket. Another interesting rule concerns the out of bounds since Naismith predicted that the first player to get to the ball would receive possession in this case.
Naismith invented basketball in 1891, and the first game was played in December in Naismith’s gym. It didn’t take long for the sport to become extremely popular across the school, and it was soon featured in an article in Springfield College newspaper. The popularity of basketball quickly spread across the United States and Canada, and even the other countries. Besides becoming one of the most popular men’s sports, Naismith wanted to include women, since he was thrilled with how they quickly understood the game and the teamwork idea behind it.
Denver was the next stop for Naismith. He moved there in 1893 and got a medical degree to join the University of Kansas in 1898. The University officially began men’s basketball program this year but he was not hired as a coach immediately. Instead, he was a physical education instructor and a chapel director. YMCA teams across the nation played the essential part in the first years of basketball because most of the games were between them.
By 1900, enough colleges founded their basketball teams and first basketball competitions between colleges occurred along the Eastern coast of the United States. Naismith must have been satisfied with how the game was spreading but he continued to promote wrestling and gymnastics as better ways of physical education. However, basketball was progressing so quickly that it was presented at the Olympic Games in 1904 in Saint Louis. There were even suggestions to name the game Naismith ball but Naismith didn’t want any glory or self-promotion.
He concentrated on his career, getting an honorary PE Masters degree in 1910. When the World War I broke out, he served as a captain in the First Infantry regiment of Kansas. After the war, in 1917, he moved to France, where he served as the YMCA’s secretary for 19 months before returning to America. During this period he published two books – “A Modern College” and “Essence of a Healthy Life”. In 1925, Naismith took the American citizenship.
He lived to witness basketball become an official international sport. In 1936 in the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, men’s basketball was among the sports played for the very first time. Naismith was present and handed out medals to United States (gold), Canada (silver) and Mexico (bronze), for the first, second, and third place, respectively. The International Basketball Federation named him honorary president and Naismith himself said that seeing his games is accepted by many nations is the greatest satisfaction he could ever get. As for the women’s basketball, Naismith won’t live to see its addition to the list of Olympic sports, which occurred in 1976.
In 1937, he retired and was named the Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, serving the faculty for just under 40 years. He participated in the founding of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball, which will later become NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). Naismith died in 1939 following a fatal brain hemorrhage.
(James Naismith was the inventor of the sport we today kno...)
Naismith attended Presbyterian college and became a Presbyterian minister.
He didn't had strong affiliation with any party although he can be considered to be an American patriot, as he served in World War I.
Although he invented basketball, Naismith never had a wish to get any financial gain from it, so he never patented his invention. This could have brought him a lot of money but Naismith himself confirmed during the Olympic Games in 1936 that the biggest reward he could get is that his game was accepted by many nations.
According to Rob Rains, Naismith's biographer, he was strongly against segregation. Unfortunaltely, he could only make modest steps in dealing with that problem. However, Naismith helped in the admission of black students to the swimming pool of the University of Kansas. Until then, they were handed automatic passing grades in order to keep the pool all white but Naismith managed to get them access. He was also a mentor to John McLendon, first coach in profesionall basketball who was black.
"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"
Naismith had great character and a will to learn throughout his life, which the fact that he has degrees in 4 different fields proves best. He loved leading a healthy life and his dedication to athleticism was great. However, he always favored recreational sports against the competitive athletics. Naismith wasn't attracted by the life of rich people and he never wanted any financial gain from the invention of basketball.
Naismith athleticism could always be seen. He was often a head taller than the people around him and his physicall appearance was impressive.
Sport & Clubs
basketball, rugby, lacrosse, football
Forest "Phog" Allen
arts, outdoor games, medicine
In 1894, Naismith married Maude Evelyn Sherman, with who he had five children: Helen Carolyn, Maude Ann, Margaret Mason, James Sherman and John Edwin.
When Maude Evelyn died in 1937, he decided to marry Florence B. Kincaid two years later and just a couple of months prior to his death.