The invention of basketball
by Jude Scrutton (revised, originally published in 2011)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To use the example of the invention of basketball to show that simple ideas can have massive effects.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a medium-sized ball, and a box or basket that is big enough to hold the ball.
- You will need to be familiar with the following information.
In 1891, James Naismith was a PE teacher at the YMCA International Training School. The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) was founded in 1844 with the aim of putting Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy body, mind and spirit in young men. It quickly became a worldwide movement. The YWCA is the equivalent organization for women.
- Optional: you may wish to have available the following YouTube videos and the means to show them at the end of the assembly:
- ‘High School Musical Basketball Show’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2nOJNS2N0k (2.50 minutes long)
- ‘Michael Jordan’ by Five for Fighting, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7iixsxeI4s (3.10 minutes long)
- Show the students the ball, and the box or basket.
Ask the students, ‘What could we do with these?’
Share ideas about how they could be used. Encourage the students to be creative and not to hold back.
Explain that sometimes, amazing ideas that have massive effects can be created by mistake or by a simple thought.
- Ask the students where they think the game of basketball was invented. Ask them whether they know who invented it, and why.
Explain that basketball was invented in 1891 by a Canadian called James Naismith. At the time, Naismith was a PE teacher at a college in the town of Springfield, Massachusetts, in the USA. (There are many towns in the USA called ‘Springfield’, including Bart Simpson’s home. The Springfield referred to in this assembly is real!)
- In Naismith’s PE classes, the students were rowdy because they were fed up with being confined to indoor games during the harsh New England winters.
When Naismith’s boss, Dr Luther Gulick, heard about this, he told Naismith to devote two weeks to creating an indoor game that would provide an ‘athletic distraction’ for the unruly class. Dr Gulick laid down the following stipulations.
- The game must not take up much room.
- It must be suitable for keeping track athletes in shape.
- It must be ‘fair for all players and not too rough’.
- As Naismith tried to come up with a whole new game, he was guided by three main thoughts.
First, he considered what kind of ball would be suitable. He analysed the most popular games of those times - rugby, lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey and baseball - and decided that the big, soft soccer ball was the safest option.
Second, Naismith realized that most physical contact in ball games occurred while running with the ball, dribbling it or hitting it. He decided that passing the ball was the only safe option.
Finally, he decided that the best way to stop the game getting too rough would be to reduce body contact. One way to do this was by making it impossible to guard the goal by placing it high above the players’ heads. He ruled that to score a goal, the players should throw a soft, lobbing shot.
- Naismith asked the building supervisor for two boxes, but none were suitable, and he was given two peach baskets instead. Naismith christened his new game ‘Basket Ball’ and wrote down 13 basic rules.
- The first game of basketball was played by Naismith’s class in December 1891. Unlike modern basketball, where there are five players on each side, the players played nine versus nine and handled a soccer ball, not a basketball.
- By 1892, basketball had grown so popular on the college campus that it featured in the college newspaper in an article called ‘A New Game’. There were calls for this new game to be known as ‘Naismith Ball’, but Naismith refused.
Basketball quickly became popular throughout the USA and by 1893, it had been introduced internationally by the YMCA movement. By this time, net bags attached to metal hoops had replaced the peach baskets.
Point out the popularity of the game today. Of all American games, basketball is probably the most successful export.
Time for reflection
Remind the students that everyone can be creative. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.’
A creative idea might not inspire the world, or even the nation, but it could inspire someone. And who knows, like the game of basketball that was thought up by a PE teacher, it could have a tremendous effect.
Optional: ask students to consider which of Jesus’ teachings most inspires their life choices. One example could be ‘love your neighbour’.
The Lord’s Prayer, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y2hzaz97
‘High School Musical Basketball Show’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2nOJNS2N0k (2.50 minutes long)
‘Michael Jordan’ by Five for Fighting, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7iixsxeI4s (3.10 minutes long)