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- The early years
- Growth of the game
basketball, game played between two teams of five players each on a rectangular court, usually indoors. Each team tries to score by tossing the ball through the opponent’s goal, an elevated horizontal hoop and net called a basket.
(Read James Naismith’s 1929 Britannica essay on his invention of basketball.)
The only major sport strictly of U.S. origin, basketball was invented by James Naismith (1861–1939) on or about December 1, 1891, at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training School (now Springfield College), Springfield, Massachusetts, where Naismith was an instructor in physical education.
For that first game of basketball in 1891, Naismith used as goals two half-bushel peach baskets, which gave the sport its name. The students were enthusiastic. After much running and shooting, William R. Chase made a midcourt shot—the only score in that historic contest. Word spread about the newly invented game, and numerous associations wrote Naismith for a copy of the rules, which were published in the January 15, 1892, issue of the Triangle, the YMCA Training School’s campus paper.
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In the early years the number of players on a team varied according to the number in the class and the size of the playing area. In 1894 teams began to play with five on a side when the playing area was less than 1,800 square feet (167.2 square metres); the number rose to seven when the gymnasium measured from 1,800 to 3,600 square feet (334.5 square metres) and up to nine when the playing area exceeded that. In 1895 the number was occasionally set at five by mutual consent; the rules stipulated five players two years later, and this number has remained ever since.
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Since Naismith and five of his original players were Canadians, it is not surprising that Canada was the first country outside the United States to play the game. Basketball was introduced in France in 1893, in England in 1894, in Australia, China, and India soon thereafter, and in Japan in 1900.
While basketball helped swell the membership of YMCAs because of the availability of their gyms, within five years the game was outlawed by various associations because gyms that had been occupied by classes of 50 or 60 members were now monopolized by only 10 to 18 players. The banishment of the game induced many members to terminate their YMCA membership and to hire halls to play the game, thus paving the way to the professionalization of the sport.
Originally, players wore one of three styles of uniforms: knee-length football trousers; jersey tights, as commonly worn by wrestlers; or short padded pants, forerunners of today’s uniforms, plus knee guards. The courts often were of irregular shape with occasional obstructions such as pillars, stairways, or offices that interfered with play. In 1903 it was ruled that all boundary lines must be straight. In 1893 the Narragansett Machinery Co. of Providence, Rhode Island, marketed a hoop of iron with a hammock style of basket. Originally a ladder, then a pole, and finally a chain fastened to the bottom of the net was used to retrieve a ball after a goal had been scored. Nets open at the bottom were adopted in 1912–13. In 1895–96 the points for making a basket (goal, or field goal) were reduced from three to two, and the points for making a free throw (shot uncontested from a line in front of the basket after a foul had been committed) were reduced from three to one.
Basketball grew steadily but slowly in popularity and importance in the United States and internationally in the first three decades after World War II. Interest in the game deepened as a result of television exposure, but with the advent of cable television, especially during the 1980s, the game’s popularity exploded at all levels. Given a timely ...
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