James Naismith – Physical Education Instructor Who Invented Basketball

Dr. James Naismith – The Father Of Basketball


The inventor of Basketball, Dr. James Naismith was a Canadian-American physical educator who designed the game of basketball in 1891.

The world credits Naismith with designing the first football helmet. He also pinned the first basketball rulebook, and established the basketball program at the University of Kansas.

James Naismith was indeed a great contributor to the world of sports, making basketball the only modern sport that was ‘invented’ by an individual.

Dr. James Naismith – Inventor of Basketball

Quick Facts

    • Name: James Naismith
    • Known For: Inventing Basketball
    • Famous As: Father of Basketball
    • Born On: 6 November 1861
    • Place Of Birth: Almonte, Ontario, Canada
    • Died On: 28 November 1939
    • Education: The Presbyterian College, McGill University, YMCA
    • Parents: John Naismith (father), Margaret Young (mother)
    • Spouses: Maude Evelyn Sherman and Florence B. Kincaid
    • Children: Margaret Mason, Helen Carolyn, John Edwin, Maude Ann, and James Sherman

Early Life and Childhood

James Naismith was born on 6th November 1861 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. He was the second child of Scottish immigrants John and Margaret (Young) Naismith.

At the age of 9, James Naismith was orphaned and was left in the care of his uncle, Peter Young, together with his religious grandmother.

As a young boy, James Naismith worked at a farm, and he enjoyed playing catch and hide and seek. He also enjoyed hunting and other outdoor games.

Lesser-Known Facts about James Naismith

    • He was born in Canada but later became an American citizen.
    • The first basketball game were played nine against nine, and using a soccer ball.
    • He became the first college basketball coach.
    • His instructor asked him to create an indoor game and James created Basketball.


James Naismith dropped out of school to work as a logger in lumber camp for five years, after which he returned to finish his secondary education.

After completing his secondary education, Naismith joined McGill University in Montreal in 1883. He graduated in 1887 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education.

Intending to be a minster of the word, James Naismith continued his theology studies at the Presbyterian College in Montreal for three years and earned a diploma in 1890.

Basketball Inventor Dr. James Naismith

Where did it all Begin?

James Naismith had always been an athlete. He was a great football and lacrosse player at McGill and directed the undergraduate gymnastics classes during his last year at Presbyterian College.

His great interest in athletics contributed to his decision to go into physical education rather than evangelism. He decided this since he believed that he could do more good work with the youth on the athletics filed than he could do as a clergyman.

Marriage and Personal Life

On June 20th 1894, James Naismith married Maude Evelyn Sherman (1870-1937) in Springfield Massachusetts. The couple was blessed with 5 children namely; Margaret Mason (1895-1976), Helen Carolyn (1897-1980), John Edwin (1900-1986), Maude Ann (1904-1972), and James Sherman (1913-1980).

James Naismith was a member of the Pi Gamma Mu and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities. James was a Presbyterian minister, and a member of Freemason as well. His wife Maude Naismith died in 1937, and in June 11, 1939, he married his second wife, Florence B. Kincaid (1879-1977).

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Physical Education

In 1890, James Naismith enrolled in a two-year course in physical training at the new Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he served as the director of physical education from 1890-1895.

As a Christian moralist, his interest was in sports and moral development. He believed athletics could lead people towards both spiritual and physical development, and away from immoral conduct. Many of his student even said that ‘with him, questions of physical development inevitably led to questions of moral development, and vice versa.’

Dr. James Naismith’s view led to the publication of several articles in physical education journals and a chapter on athletics in the book The Modern High School (1916).

Naismith also wrote two books; The Basis of Clean Living (1919) and Basketball: its origin and Development, which was published posthumously in 1941.

Creating Basketball

It was at Springfield that Naismith came up with the basketball idea. One of his assignments as a student, given by Luther Halsey Gulick, who was the superintendent of the physical education department gave rise to a new idea.

James Naismith was asked to create a game that would occupy the students during the winter. At Springfield YMCA, Naismith struggled with a rowdy class that was confined to indoor games throughout the harsh New England winter. He was given 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an athletic distraction.

Gulick demanded a game that would not take up much room, and one which would help the athletes to keep in shape. He was also keen to emphasize that the game be made fair for all players and not too rough.

While coming up with this new game, James Naismith was guided by three main thoughts. First, he analysed the most popular games in his time which included; rugby, lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey, and baseball. James Naismith noticed that the hazards of a ball and continued that the big, soft soccer ball was the safest.

Secondly, he saw the most physical contact occurred while running with the ball, dribbling or hitting it, so he decided that passing was the only legal option.

Lastly, James further reduced body contact by making the goal unguardable, which is by placing it high above the player’s heads. To score a goal, James Naismith forced the players to throw a soft, lobbing shot that had proven effective in his old favourite game duck on a rock. At this point James Naismith named the new game Basketball and put his thoughts together in 13 basic rules.

The first basketball game was played in December 1891. James Naismith described the circumstances of the inaugural match. Contrary to modern basketball, the players played nine versus nine, handled a soccer ball instead of a basketball, and instead of shooting two hoops, the goals were a pair of peach baskets.

Contrary to modern basketball, the original rules did not include what is known today as the dribble, since the ball could only be moved up the court by a pass. Early players tossed the ball over their heads as they ran up court. Also, following each goal, a jump ball was taken in the middle of the court, however, both of these practises are obsolete in the rules of modern basketball.

James Naismith – First Basketball and Peach Baskets

The First Game

Dr. James Naismith in an interview explained the first game of 1891.

“I showed them two peach baskets which 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 the whistle, and the first game of basketball began. 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. The injury toll; several black eyes, one separate shoulder, and one player knocked unconscious. It certainly was murder.”

James Naismith changed some of the rules as a way to develop a clean sport. The most important rule was that there should be no running with the ball, and this stopped tackling and slugging. After the game was tried this time with new rules, there were no casualties recorded.

By 1892, basketball had grown so popular on campus that it was featured in the Springfield College Newspaper in an article called “A New Game’’. There were suggestions to call this new game ‘Naismith Ball’, but he refused.

By 1893, the game had become so popular that it was introduced by the YMCA movement.

Popularity of the game spread rapidly and by 1939, almost every high school and college in America had a basketball team. In the same year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began its annual postseason tournament now known as the Final Four, which has become one of the most watched television sports in the United States.

Dr. Naismith was particularly concerned in sports’ contribution towards a healthy body and soul, and he conducted physical exams and maintained medical records for all male undergraduates in Kansas. He was also responsible for creating a comprehensive student health service.

McGill University

In 1883, James Naismith joined McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where he was a strong student. To keep fit, he participated in football, rugby, lacrosse, and gymnastics. He managed to complete a Bachelor of arts degree in Philosophy, and Hebrew.

He managed to graduate top ten in his class in 1887. He further went on to study theology in Presbyterian College. James was a good theological student who won scholarships and awards for his achievements.

Naismith aggravated his professors by continuing to participate in sports. The theologians however, disapproved particularly lacrosse which some referred to as legalized murder, yet Naismith held his belief that one could pursue both athletics and a spiritual life.

Kansas University

From Springfield, Naismith moved to Denver, where he acquired a medical degree. In 1898, he joined the University of Kansas faculty at Lawrence. Men’s basketball program began on arrival of James Naismith at the university in 1898.

The University of Kansas initially hired Dr. James Naismith as a chapel director and a physical education instructor. Under his leadership at the university, the team played only one current Big 12 school. Despite being the inventor of the game, he was the only coach in the program of Kansas to have a losing record (55-60).

By the turn of the century, the game continued to grow in popularity. However, Dr. Naismith regarded the game as curiosity and preferred gymnastics and wrestling as a better form of physical activity.

Funny enough, he was neither interested in self-promotion nor in the glory of competitive sports.

In 1910, he received an honorary PE master’s degree.

In 1925, James Naismith took his American citizenship.

James Naismith - Physical Educator who First Designed the Game of Basketball in 1891


In 1935, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), which was created by Forrest “Phog” Allen (a former student of Naismith), collected money so that the 74 year old founder could witness the introduction of basketball into the official Olympic sports program of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin.

At the event, James Naismith handed out the medals to the three North American teams; The United States for the gold medal, Canada for Silver, and Mexico for the bronze medal.

He was also named the honorary president of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Naismith acknowledged that seeing the game played by so many nations in the world was the greatest compensation he could have received for his inventions.

Upon his retirement, Naismith became professor emeritus at Kansas at the age of 76. In his years as a coach, Dr. James Naismith served as athletics director and faculty at the school for a total of almost 40 years.

In Lawrence, Naismith Drive has been named after the great legend despite his poor record in school. Naismith Hall, a dormitory located on the north eastern edge of 19th street is also named after him.

    • The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame in Springfield is named in his honor.
    • The National collegiate Athletic Association rewards its best players and coaches annually with the Naismith Awards which include;
      • Naismith College Player of the Year
      • Naismith College Coach of the Year
      • Naismith Prep Player of the Year

After the introduction of men’s and women’s basketball, the sport became an Olympic event in Montreal during the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Also James Naismith was inducted into –

    • The Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame,
    • The Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame,
    • The Canadian Sports Hall of Fame,
    • The Ontario Sports Hall of Fame,
    • The Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame,
    • The McGill University Sports Hall of Fame,
    • The Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame,
    • FIBA Hall of Fame.
    • The FIBA Basketball World Cup Trophy is named “James Naismith Trophy” in his honor.

Because of James Naismith’s dedicated efforts, basketball is today played by more than 300 million people worldwide, making it one of the most popular team sports. The game has produced some of the most admired athletes of the 20th century.

The original rules of the game written by James Naismith was auctioned in December 2010 at Sotheby’s New York. The document was purchased for $4,338,500, which is the most ever paid price for a sports memorabilia item.

Illness and Death

Dr. James Naismith - Father of Basketball died at the age of 78 in 1939

On November 19, 1939, James Naismith suffered a major brain haemorrhage and died 9 days later in his home in Lawrence. He died at the age of 78, and was buried with his first wife in Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence.

His second wife Florence Kincaid died in 1977 at the age of 98 and was buried with her first husband Dr. Frank Kincaid in Elmwood Cemetery in Beloit, Kansas.

“The invention of basketball was not an accident. It was developed to meet a need. Those boys simply would not play ‘Drop the Handkerchief’.”
— James Naismith

Famous Quotes by James Naismith

“There were 18 in the class; I selected two captains and had them choose sides. When the teams were chosen, I placed the men on the floor. There were three forwards, three centers, and three backs on each team. I chose two of the center men to jump, then threw the ball between them. It was the start of the first basketball game and the finish of trouble with that class.”

“Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”

“Basketball is a pure invention.”

“Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals.”

“I am sure that no man can derive more pleasure from money or power than I do from seeing a pair of basketball goals in some out of the way place.”

“Games have been called the laboratory for the development of moral attributes; but they will not, of themselves, accomplish this purpose. They must be properly conducted by competent individuals.”



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