15 January 1892: the rules of basketball are published

Canadian PE instructor Dr James Naismith, working at a YMCA training school, published the 13 rules of basketball on this day in 1892.

The origins of many sports get lost in the murk of time. Traditional games are adapted, embellished, and codified – sometimes by more than one governing body – over many years, until they evolve into the games we know today. Basketball, however, isn't one of those sports. It was invented by one man, on this day 124 years ago.

Dr James Naismith was a Canadian PE instructor who was working at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was asked by the school's principal to come up with a game that was easy to learn, could be played indoors in a relatively confined space, and that would keep the students active during the harsh winters.

As a boy at school, Naismith had played a game he called duck-on-a-rock, which involved knocking a small stone off the top of a larger stone by throwing a third stone at it. It was this game that he morphed into basketball. And on 15 January 1892, he published the sport's 13 rules. The rules have undergone some changes since they were published, however. Originally, there was no dribbling – that was introduced in 1901. The free throw was introduced in 1895. And the number of players per side wasn't stipulated – the first game had teams of nine a side.

But after being adopted by many colleges in America, the game took off remarkably quickly. By the 1920s there were hundreds of professional teams in the US. It became an Olympic sport in 1936, and now, it is decidedly big business – especially in the USA. The world's biggest league, America's National Basketball Association (NBA), was formed as the Basketball Association of America in 1946, and became the NBA in 1949. A national league wasn't formed in the UK until 1972, after a few abortive attempts in the 1960s. The current British Basketball League started in 1987, and boasts 11 professional teams.


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