Microphone Plays‎ > ‎

Naismith Invents Basketball

We the People (Excerpt)

Naismith Invents Basketball

Jan 31 1939


HOST, Gabriel Heatter



HOST: Tomorrow night, fifteen thousand cheering fans will pack Madison Square Garden in New York City to witness a giant basketball double-header. In that cheering crowd, sitting in Row C, Seat Eleven, will be a modest seventy-seven-year-old man. Those fans won't know that he made possible the game they're watching. [X] But you're going to meet him now. Sanka Coffee has brought him here tonight, all the way from Lawrence, Kansas: Dr. James A. Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Dr. Naismith, how did you happen to invent basketball?

NAISMITH: Well, Mr. Heatter, it was in the winter of Eighteen Ninety-One when I was physical instructor at Springfield College in Massachusetts. We had a real New England blizzard. For days the students couldn't go outdoors, so they began roughhousing in the halls. We tried everything to keep them quiet. We tried playing a modified form of football in the gymnasium, but they got bored with that. Something had to be done. One day, I had an idea. I called the boys to the gym, divided them up into teams of nine, and gave them an old soccer ball. I showed them two peach baskets I'd nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team's peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began.

HOST: And what rules did you have for your new game, Dr. Naismith?

NAISMITH: (LIGHTLY) Well, I didn't have enough, and that's where I made my big mistake. The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder.


NAISMITH: Well, after that first match, I was afraid they'd kill each other, but they kept nagging me to let them play again, so I made up some more rules. The most important one was that there should be no running with the ball. That stopped tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those rules, and we didn't have one casualty. We had a fine, clean sport. Ten years later, basketball was being played all over the country, and in Nineteen Thirty-Six, I saw it played for the first time at the Olympic Games. And the whole thing started with a couple of peach baskets I put up in a little gym forty-eight years ago. I guess it just goes to show what you can do if you have to.

HOST: Indeed it does.