James Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA’s School for Christian Workers in Springfield, Massachusetts, received a tough assignment in December 1891. The head of the school’s physical education department asked him to come up with a new game that young men could play indoors during the cold winter months. Naismith had two weeks to think of something.
He tinkered with different ideas for several days, and then he remembered a game from his childhood called “duck on a rock,” in which players tried to knock a small rock off a big rock by throwing stones at it. The memory of stones arching through the air at a target gave him just the inspiration he needed. He had the school custodian nail two peach baskets to the railing of a ten-foot-high balcony that ran around the school gymnasium. Since his class had eighteen students, he divided them into two teams of nine and explained that players scored by throwing a soccer ball into a basket.
“The first words were not very encouraging when one of the class made the remark, ‘Humph, a new game,’” Naismith later said. “I asked the boys to try it once as a favor to me. They started, and after the ball was first thrown up there was no need of further coaxing.”
The game was an instant hit. But it needed a name. One student suggested Naismithball, which the sport’s inventor rejected. Then someone came up with “basketball” – since, after all, players threw the ball into peach baskets. In the early days the baskets had no holes in the bottoms, so someone had to climb up and get the ball out whenever anyone scored.
Basketball is now America’s most popular indoor sport. James Naismith, who was born in Ontario, Canada, became a proud U.S. citizen in 1925.