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Basketball began as an "athletic distraction" for young men at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., when they couldn't go outdoors because of frigid winter weather. Their physical education instructor, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian by birth, was given two weeks to create the "distraction." His solution was two peach baskets and a soccer ball. The baskets were hung 10 feet in the air at a distance from each other and the nine players on each team passed the ball among each other to maneuver into a spot where a player could toss the ball into the basket to make a score. (Dribbling was a later innovation.)
Most likely Naismith's inspiration was a game he had played as a child called "duck on a rock." It involved lobbing a rock at another rock on top of an even larger rock to see if the player could knock it off. The doctor's objective in his peach basket game was to have activity that required finesse, skill and accuracy.
In Naismith's time, the player who scored had to climb a ladder to retrieve the ball from the basket. Not until 1913 were the peach baskets replaced with iron hoops with open-ended nets. That helped achieve one of his objectives to have a game that required finesse, skill and accuracy. One of the first players suggested the activity be called "Naismith's Game," but the ultimate name was obvious: They had a basket and they had a ball. Basketball, naturally.
Naismith was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959 and the memorial hall was given the name of he Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
The first college basketball game was played on Jan. 18, 1896. The University of Iowa hosted a University of Chicago team. The final score, Chicago 15, Iowa 12 - a far cry from today's scores, which often pass the hundred mark. It was much later, on June 25, 1929, that G.L. Pierce was granted U.S. Patent No. 1,718,305 for the basketball as we know it today.
During World War I, American military troops took basketball along and it became an international sport. The first league was founded in 1898 with six teams allied to the National Basketball League. The Trenton Nationals were the first national champions, followed by the New York Wanderers, the Bristol Pile Drivers and the Camden Electrics. Some teams began playing money matches against other teams. The original Celtics are considered the "fathers of basketball." Players had to sign a contract to play and they acted much like a circus, traveling from town to town as local challengers could be found. The group disbanded after four years because of management problems. Today's Boston Celtics have no direct connection to those professional pioneers.
March Madness, the epitome of college basketball, was first sponsored by the National College Athletic Association in 1939. Three years earlier, in 1936, basketball was on the Olympic Games agenda in Berlin, Germany.
The American National Basketball Association was created in 1946 to guide affairs as basketball hit its stride, went professional and became a national mania.