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The Evolution of Basketball

Basketball today is a rim-rattling, slam-dunking, high flying show. Would you believe that the first basketball teams shot at peach baskets? Or that players were not allowed to dribble the ball? The sport of basketball has changed dramatically over the years.

The origin of basketball dates back to one hundred and nine years ago (Tejada 14). The first game was played on December 21, 1891 (Tejada 14). Even back then basketball was a thrilling sport. Although it has changed very much since this date, the basic idea of the game is still the same. The first game was played in Springfield, Massachusetts during the winter season (Swallows). The game was invented in order to keep football players in shape during the offseason when it was too cold to go outside (Swallows). It snows quite a bit in the northeastern part of the United States and there were not too many indoor games at this time for children to play. Basketball allowed these students to have something to play and keep themselves in shape.

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The game of basketball was designed and founded by Dr. James Naismith (Davis). James Naismith was born on November 6, 1861 in Almonte, Ontario. Much later in life, he became a teacher at the International YMCA Training School (“Basketball”). Dr. Naismith was assigned to discover a game that would keep the boys on the football team in shape during the off-season (Leiser). Naismith borrowed ideas from outdoor sports rugby and soccer in order to come up with basketball (Davis). These two sports involved much running and teamwork.

Naismith decided that by combining the two he could come up with a great new game. James died On November 28, 1936 (“Basketball”). This was only three years after seeing the sport that he invented become part of the Olympic Games (Leiser). The pride he must have had in his accomplishments had to of been phenomenal. Just knowing that the training game he invented was placed into the Olympic Games would probably be the greatest achievement of his life.

The original game of basketball had many aspects that no longer exist in the modern-day version. The first game had only thirteen rules (Leiser). These rules were posted on his gym classes bulletin board for all of his students to read and memorize (Leiser). Although all of the original rules are not known today some of them were very odd. Players were not allowed to dribble the ball (Davis). Players had to stand stationary and pass the ball to each other. This must have given the game a slower pace than that of the modern-day game.

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When dribbling was finally established it gave the players more freedom to move about and made the pace much faster. Dribbling also required the players to become more skilled so that they could handle the basketball as they played the game. At first, Naismith was afraid if he let the kids dribble the ball that they would end up tackling each other which might result in many unwanted injuries (Tejada 17). The kids were so used to playing football that Naismith feared they would treat his game as if it were indoor football. He did not want to see any of his students injured so he did not allow his players to dribble. The first ball used in basketball games was actually a soccer ball (Tejada 17). This ball was used because it was small enough to handle with your hands and soft enough that it would not hurt the players if they were to get hit.

It is hard to picture playing basketball where the hoops were made from peach baskets. The basket has gone through its own evolution. Naismith had two peach baskets nailed to the balcony on both sides of the gym (Leiser). Naismith left the bottoms in the peach baskets and had the janitor stand on the balconies to retrieve any made shots. As time progressed Naismith had the bottoms of the peach baskets removed so they did not have to rely on janitors to retrieve made shots ( Davis). Removing the bottoms of the baskets allowed the game to become much faster. There were no longer pauses after each basket. Backboards were invented in 1895 (Tejada 19). Naismith noticed that many of his student’s shots would fly over the balcony. He thought by placing something behind the basket that his players could bank their shots.

The use of the backboard would also require the students to develop more skill when shooting the basketball. The first backboards were made of wire (Leiser). These backboards did not last very long. Players would make grooves in the wire which would tunnel the ball straight into the hoop (Leiser). The game started to become so competitive that players were willing to do anything in order to gain an advantage. In 1904, wooden backboards were placed behind the baskets (Leiser). Players could not groove the wooden backboards. All of these original characteristics would soon be changed over and over again.

Imagine watching a basketball game through a chain-linked fence. When audiences started to attend basketball games the court was encased by a fence (“Basketball”). The game of basketball at this point was a very physical game and the fence kept player scuffles out of the audience. The fence also added protection to the players from the fans. Many extreme fans would throw food or anything they could get their hands on during games. The original court did not have a three-point line (Tejada 15). Although many players took long-range shots, the made baskets were all only valued at two points. The audience loved to see the long-range shots. These were what the audience came to see.

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Even the players of this sport have gone through many changes. The original players wore a long sleeve, black wool shirts and flannel pants (Swallows). It must have been extremely hot during these games. In today’s game, very little clothing is worn when playing and it is still hard to maintain a cooler temperature. Almost all of the original players were tall, lanky, white males. The better players were always taller players since they had a size advantage. Lifting weights was not even in existence back then so players just played with their natural body builds.

The initial games were often very brutal and bloody (Tejada 16). Players were constantly running into each other and many fouls were always being committed. At one point the first referees had to carry guns during the games to protect themselves from players and break up fights (Tejada 16). The thought of a referee having to carry a gun is almost unimaginable. Early critics of the game gave it the slang nickname “boxball” because of all of the fights that took place during the course of a game. The fans generally got their money’s worth when they were in attendance at a basketball game.

Modern-day basketball is a high speed, game of finesse and show-time. The modern-day basket is nothing like the originals. In 1893 the first metal rims were added to the basket (Davis). The metal rims replace the peach baskets at this point. To this day the rims are made of metal. After the discovery of the dunk, the rims are spring-loaded so they break away when pulled upon. Many rims were breaking in the middle of games before the breakaway rims were invented. The backboard is now made of fibreglass. The wood backboards were done away with since they would often break and have to be constantly replaced.

The modern-day court is almost confusing when looked upon for the first time. The court contains many new lines that were not present in the original game. The three-point line is one example of this. Since the induction of the three-point line, high scores are always typical of a basketball game. The three-point line has also brought much more fan support. Fans marvel at the skill of professional athletes that can shoot a ball from twenty-two feet away from the basket. There are two circles in the centre of the court where every contest begins. The jump ball takes place in these circles and initiates play.

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The players of this age are all highly paid, extremely skilled professionals. One in every fifty thousand people can make the professional basketball league. Players today are of all races, shapes and sizes. Most players are at least six feet tall. Ever since the advent of weight lifting, players have become a lot thicker. Just to compete in today’s game of basketball players must take part in some sort of weight training. Modern-day players have spent countless hours fine-tuning every aspect of the game. Basketball has become such a popular sport that players are paid extremely large sums of money.

Many players make ten million dollars a year. Ten million dollars for playing a game a year! Many fans do not like the idea of players getting paid this much but it has not made attendance suffer. Present players wear very little clothing. The basic uniform is a pair of gym shorts and a jersey. There is so much movement involved that wearing anything else would overheat just about any person. Players are now looked upon as role models and are often placed in advertisements for all types of things. The best professional players can make more money advertising certain products than actually playing basketball.

All of these points prove that basketball has evolved so dramatically over the years that it has almost gone through a complete metamorphosis. Almost every aspect of the original game has been altered or changed. It is said that if Dr James Naismith were to look upon this sport today he would not even realize that he is viewing the sport he invented.

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The Evolution of Basketball. (2021, Mar 12). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from