James Nasmith: Father of Basketball

James Naismith was born November 6, 1861 in Ontario, Canada. He is the inventor of the game of basketball as well as the first football helmet. Naismith was orphaned as a young child and was raised by his aunt aunt and uncle until he graduated from Almonte High School in 1883. From there, he attended McGill University as a three sport athlete playing soccer, gymnastics, and Canadian football. He graduated in 1888 with a B.A. in Physical Education. He became McGill University's first athletic director and later left to teach physical education in Springfield, Massachusetts at the YMCA International Training School. In 1892, Naismith came up with the first official rules to the game of basketball. From Springfield he traveled to Denver to acquire his medical degree and then went on to become the first basketball coach at the University of Kansas.

  • Hall of Fame Profile: Basketball Hall of Fame's page on the life of James Naismith.
  • Bio: A list if import facts and events in Naismith's life.
  • James Naismith: an overview of Naismith's significance with basketball from the Kansas Historical Society.


Even before his invention of the game basketball, Naismith was an accomplished student and athlete. While at McGill he won numerous Wicksteed medals for his performances in gymnastics. During his years as a Kansas University coach, Naismith actually accumulated a losing record of 55-60. He was ironically the only Kansas coach to have a losing record. However, aside from the statistics, Naismith has one of the greatest coaching legacies in history based on the quality of athletes under his direction. For instance, Naismith coached Phog Allen who went on to become a Hall of Fame coach as well as the coach of other Hall of Fame-ers.

Naismith made many significant contributions to the game including a original set of 13 rules. Basketball has come a long way since its Springfield YMCA days where it was played with a soccer ball and peach buckets as hoops. As well, there was no dribbling just overhead passes from player to player as they ran up court. Naismith invented the game to be low-contact, high intensity to keep players in shape, and able to be played within a small space.

Original Rules

  1. The ball must be thrown with one hand or batted with one or both hands. This can be in any direction, but the fist must never be used.

  2. Running while holding the ball is illegal. The player must throw it from the spot in which he caught it.

  3. The ball must be held with the hands, it is illegal to hold the ball with any other part of the body including the arms.

  4. No violent actions including shoving, shouldering, hitting, or tripping are allowed. The first action of this kind will count as a foul with the second will suspend the player from the game until the next basket is made. If a player was injured in the action, the guilty player will be suspended from the game with no substitution.

  5. Striking the ball with a fist is a foul and a violation of rules 3 and 4

  6. When either team commits 3 fouls consecutively, it counts as a goal for the other team.

  7. A goal is counted when the ball is thrown or batted through the basket and falls through unobstructed. If the opposing team moves the basket and the ball does not go through, it still counts as a basket.

  8. If the ball goes out of bounds it is thrown back into the field and played by the first player who has contact with the ball. If there is any dispute, the umpire will be the thrower. The thrower has only 5 seconds to throw the ball back in bounds or it counts as a foul.

  9. The umpire acts as the judge of all the players and keeps track of fouls. It is his job to let the referee know when 3 consecutive fouls have been made. The umpire can also disqualify players based on rule 5.

  10. The referee is the judge of the ball. It is his job to decide when the ball is in bounds and to which side it belongs, and to keep track of the time.

  11. The game consists of two 15 minute halves with a 5 minute break between the halves.

  12. The team with the most points after the alloted times is up is declared the winner.

  13. Coaches must play every player on the team at least once during each game.

How it Grew

Naismith though his new game of basketball would only occupy his YMCA students. Little did he know it would grow into one of the worlds most popular sporting events. The sport started at the Springfield YMCA then moved into Springfield College where it was featured in college's popular newspaper. By 1893, the game had spread nationwide through the YMCAs across the country. After Naismith began his career at Kansas, basketball made it to the collegiate level. From there, basketball became an official Olympic Sport in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games for which the Americans took gold. Naismith was given the honor of handing out the Olympic medals at these games. From there, Naismith's legacy only grew. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959 and numerous museums and basketball courts were named in his honor. In November 1939, Naismith died of a brain hemorrhage, however his legacy lives on today through the invention of a sport that is played by more than 300 million people worldwide.

Other Game Resources

  • FIBA: a historical account of the International Basketball Federation.
  • Basketball in Kansas: a historical look at basketball and Naismith's career at the University of Kansas.