James Naismith is known as the inventor of the game of Basketball. Most Americans know little else about this innovator's life. Naismith's credentials cannot be condensed into a single Jeopardy answer. As if creating one of the world's most popular sports is not significant enough, much more can be said of his legacy.
He was born in Ontario, in Ramsay Township, in the year 1861. He was orphaned at a very young age, and was raised by an aunt and uncle in the nearby town of Almonte. It was there that Naismith attended grade school, and eventually high school.
As a young boy, he spent much of his time playing outdoors. One of his favorite games was one of medieval origin called Duck on a Rock. Players of the game try to knock down a stone that is being guarded by another player, by throwing smaller stones at it. It is believed that Naismith discovered that a soft lofted shot, rather than a harder one, was more effective. This principle was essential to him in developing the game of basketball.
He later attended McGill University in Montreal. He was a natural athlete, and was recognized for his performance in gymnastics, Canadian Football, and soccer. He is credited with introducing the very first helmet into the game of football. He went on to complete his undergraduate degree and began teaching physical education at McGill. He later became McGill's Director of Athletics.
Naismith left Canada to accept a position with the YMCA International Training School, in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is while he resided in Springfield that he created the game he called "Basket Ball." The game is believed to be the result of his efforts to keep his students fit during the cold New England winters.
The original baskets were, as many know, made from peach baskets. In the game's early days the baskets that were used still retained their bottoms. Later to improve efficiency, holes were drilled in the baskets. A long wooden dowel was used to poke the ball free.
Since the baskets were nailed to mezzanine balconies in the gymnasium, spectators could easily interfere with player's shots. This led to the development of the backboard. Naismith developed the game's very first 13 original rules.
Just six years after Naismith put those very rules to paper, he became the first basketball coach of the men's program at the University of Kansas. It is this portion of his legacy that is perhaps the most intriguing. While coaching at Kansas, Naismith coached Forrest "Phog" Allen. Allen eventually served as Naismith's successor at Kansas, and is revered as "the Father of Basketball Coaching.
Allen coached Adolf Rupp, and Dean Smith during his tenure at Kansas. The significance of this is astounding. Rupp went on to coach at Kentucky, Smith, at The University of North Carolina. When Dean Smith ended his career at NC, he was the "winningest" coach in NCAA history. The number two coach on that list was Adolph Rupp, and number three was Phog Allen.
James Naismith not only invented basketball, but also created a tradition of athletic instruction with a bloodline like no other. He was a pioneer in physical education and a shining example of the creative human spirit. He died in 1939, but lived to see his game immortalized and validated in the eyes of the world, becoming an official Olympic event in 1936.