Springfield College's James Naismith Still Effecting Basketball

John BotelhoCorrespondent IIApril 21, 2009

Throughout the school year, the Student sports editors have worked their way through the annals of legend and lore of Springfield College’s fine athletic history. 

We’ve examined fifteen teams to date and found names attached to creation and innovation of sports, people enshrined in the school’s or sport’s halls of fame, as well as athletes and coaches alike who have rewritten record books during their careers.

This week, our focus turns to perhaps the most notable alum in SC’s illustrious sporting history, James Naismith. 

Naismith’s name adorns the schools basketball court inside Blake Arena.  The court is also emblazoned with “birthplace of basketball” as a result of him creating the game while teaching at Springfield (then the YMCA Training School) in 1891. 

Harsh New England weather and a rowdy class of male athletes who didn’t take well to being cooped up indoors push Luther Gulick, the head of the Springfield YMCA Physical Education, to order Naismith to create a game that could be played inside and would cause an “athletic distraction.”

Gulick also gave Naismith a timeline of just 14 days to create such a game.  In less than two weeks time, Naismith had laid the ground works for what we now know as basketball.  His goal of creating a game similar to other popular sports of the day while minimizing contact lead to his creation of “Basket ball.”

He had combined aspects of rugby, lacross, soccer, football, and baseball and had outlawed running with the ball, or dribbling or hitting it because he found that is when the most contact took place in sports. 

He also decided to put the goal in the air to further alleviate contact from happening.  The first ever game of basketball was a nine on nine match up, featuring a soccer ball as opposed to what we know today as a basketball. 

Additionally, the hoops were made of peach baskets.  The players were not very excited but followed Naismith’s lead and played anyway.

The lack of excitement for the sport was short-lived.  A year later the game had grown so much on campus that the school paper covered it’s popularity, and people wanted to name it “Naismith Ball,” a name which he adamantly refused. 

In 1893, only two years after its invention, basketball was officially introduced in the YMCA movement.  The sport continued to grow and develop, and by 1904 was even displayed at the Olympic Games.

In 1936, the sport became an official Olympic event for the first time.  Since then the game has continued to grow and some of today’s biggest stars and icons have laced up their sneakers to play the game one of our own created on the campus of Springfield College.

Naismith’s impact on the game of basketball didn’t end with creating the sports.  He also established the basketball program at Kansas University, now a division one power house.  The JayHawks program has earned 37 NCAA tournament berths, advancing to 12 final fours while capturing two national titles. 

In addition to starting one of the most elite athletic programs in NCAA history, Naismith also coached future hall of famer Adolph Rupp while there.  Rupp is currently third all-time in coaching wins, and lead the University of Kentucky to four NCAA championships.

Like many of the other legends we’ve examined this year, Naismith has been honored for all of his accomplishments by a bevy of hall of fames.  He was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame, the McGill University Hall of Fame, as well as multiple others. 

Though many of the ghosts of Alden Street are considered to be hall of famers in their given sports, none can lay the same claim that Naismith can.

The hallowed halls of basketball, like SC’s hoops court, are adorned with his name.  The Naismith Hall of Fame opened in 1959 and has housed some of the greatest to ever be a part of the game including Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, and Isiah Thomas, and at the end of next summer, Michael Jordan. 

In addition the hall being named for him, Naismith’s name is attached to quite a few other things in the basketball world.  The NCAA rewards its best players and coaches annually with the Naismith Awards, or the Naismith College Player of the Year and the Naismith College Coach of the Year.

The game of basketball has continued to evolve and is one of the most popular sports on the planet and is played all over the globe.  Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are some of America’s most recognizable celebrities.  March Madness is of the biggest sporting events in the country ever year. 

Without James Naismith, none of these things would be true.  Naismith’s invention not only changed this school, but changed this country and even the world. 

Naismith’s impact gets bigger each day, and his legend is one that should be celebrated with Pride, and be well-known throughout the entire Springfield College community.