The History of Basketball in the 1930s

Basketballs in a basket

When the 1930s began, basketball was only 39 years old. College basketball dominated the scene, while professional teams were struggling with Depression-era financial concerns. The 1930s were the lean years of basketball. Basketball went through many changes during the 1930s with new organizations, rules and innovations in game play.

College Basketball

College basketball experienced a revival in the 1930s. The first national collegiate tournament was held in Kansas City, Missouri. All the teams in the first tournament were from the Midwest, even though early college basketball teams were mostly from the East Coast. The first National Collegiate Athletic Association-sponsored tournament took place in 1939 and competed with the National Invitation Tournament for the next decade. The NCAA finally won out and became the universally recognized national championship tournament. College basketball rule changes in the 1930s included adding a mid-court line in 1932 (which eliminated stalling) and ceasing the center jump ball after each score in 1937.

Professional Basketball

Professional basketball suffered during the 1930s, especially once the American Basketball League disbanded in 1931. Many teams did not have the finances for full-time players, but semi-pro leagues sprung up and prospered. Company-run teams such as Firestone and Healey Motors allowed players to make a living while still playing basketball. Some popular teams from the 1930s included the Boston Celtics, Harlem Globetrotters, New York Renaissance and the Philadelphia SPHAs. The National Basketball League was formed from 13 professional teams in 1938.

Women's Basketball

Women’s basketball was popular in the 1930s. Great women players from this time included Babe Didrikson and Alline Banks Sprouse. Women’s basketball rules were modified because it was generally thought that basketball was too rigorous a sport for women. The court was divided into three sections instead of two, players were required to stay in assigned areas, and players were not allowed to snatch or bat a ball from an opposing player’s hand. They also were prohibited from holding the ball for more than three seconds or dribbling the ball more than three times. Teams such as the All American Red Heads, the Terrible Swedes and the Ozark Hillbillies would play around the world and get paid as professional women’s basketball teams. The All American Red Heads typically played 160 games on the road.

Noteworthy Facts

Glenn Roberts at Ola High School in Virginia started the beginnings of the jump shot. Roberts played basketball outside because his school did not have an indoor court. He experimented with a new style of shooting in 1931, now known as the jump shot. Between 1931 and 1935, he scored 2,013 points in 104 games. In the 1930s, the basketball jersey was first made. The style of knit used in making the jersey is where the word “jersey” comes from. At that time, jerseys were made from wool because it stretched and breathed.