Basketball is the only major American sport with a clearly identifiable inventor. James Naismith wrote the sport’s original 13 rules as part of a December 1891 class assignment at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Born and educated in Canada, Naismith came south to pursue his interests of physical education and Christian ministry. Naismith expanded on an assignment to create a game that could be played in YMCA gyms during the winter.
The first games featured nine players a side, attempting to toss a soccer ball into peach baskets nailed to the balconies at the ends of a gymnasium (when a basket was made, the game paused while a man with a ladder retrieved the ball). After its first public match in 1892, Naismith’s game spread quickly through the global network of YMCAs. The first intercollegiate match, between the Minnesota School of Agriculture and Hamline College, was played in 1895. The earliest women’s match, in which Stanford beat U.C. Berkeley, took place a year later. Basketball’s first professional league was founded in 1898, seven years before nets finally replaced the sport’s original peach baskets.
James Naismith devoted little effort to shaping the evolution of the game he invented, although he spent a decade as the University of Kansas’s founding basketball coach, losing more games than he won. Today the sport’s leading historic organization, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., stands not far from where the first peach baskets were nailed up.