The History of Basketball for Kids

Father and his son smiling holding a basketball

Basketball is one of the most known and popular sports globally. In the United States, young children idolize NBA players, and grow up dreaming of representing their high school basketball team, playing NCAA college basketball, playing the game of basketball professionally as a professional basketball player, or even representing their country as a FIBA player who competes for world championships.

With all of that being said, the history of basketball and its origins tell their own tale of how the simple idea of one man could grow into a worldwide phenomenon with the support and love of many others.

The Invention of Basketball

Although thousands of basketball games are played around the world each year, the sport itself has rather humble beginnings. Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-American physical education teacher, was having trouble managing his classes at the local YMCA near Springfield College in Massachusetts because his students were confined indoors during the cold winter months in New England.

To confront the lack of activities, James was challenged to create a sport that would stimulate athletic interactions. So, James came up with three key basketball ideas:

  1. the ball was made soft and big, to prevent injuries
  2. to decrease the amount of violent contacts like those in football, passing was the only way to transfer the ball
  3. the goal was placed out of reach to encourage exercise

With these in mind, he created the thirteen original rules of basketball. He nailed two peach baskets to opposite sides of a gymnasium, around 10 feet off the floor, and the objective was to score points in the basket using a soccer ball.

Reception of the New Sport

James Naismith‌ published the thirteen rules of basketball on December 21, 1891. Needless to say, they were very different than what we know as the game of basketball today- for example, early basketball did not include dribbling and most fouls were tackling or carrying the ball.

When first introduced, it was received with little enthusiasm, but interest grew quickly. By 1892, basketball was played by many schools as the 'New Game'. Many proposed to call the game "Naismith Ball," but James insisted that since they had a ball and a basket, they should call it “basket ball.”

Basketball was introduced to the YMCA in 1893. In 1906, basketball courts as we know today began to take shape, with a backboard added to the basket, along with hoops and nets. The first European match was played in Paris in 1893, while other people brought the sport to China, Japan and India. During WWI, as U.S soldiers fought overseas, the game spread, paving a way for easy acceptance of the sport.

The National Basketball Association

In 1946, owners of ice hockey arenas in the U.S and Canada founded the Basketball Association of America, or NBA. Players and teams quickly began sketching their name into the record books:

The first game was played at the Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knickerbockers

Ossie Schectman made the first basket in NBA history

In 1947, Wataru Misaka became the first Asian to play in the NBA

In 1950, Harold Hunter became the first African American to enter the NBA

The NBA's popularity grew over time. In 1979, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson joined the league, drawing international attention. In 1984, Michael Jordan, one of the most celebrated player since the league's creation, signed with the Chicago Bulls. The Dream Team was formed in 1992, and in 1995, Vancouver and Toronto joined the NBA.

Women's Basketball

Basketball for women began at Smith College in 1892, when Senda Berenson taught the sport to her students, hoping to promote physical activities. She also divided the court into three areas and created the positions of guard, center and forward. Women's basketball became an official sport in the Olympic Games in 1976, which led to a massive increase in popularity. In 1982, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began sponsoring the sport, an important milestone for women's basketball.

On April 4, 1896, the first intercollegiate game of women's basketball was played when Stanford and California faced off with teams of nine players. The game ended as a 2 - 1 victory for Stanford. In 1895, Clara Gregory Baer published the first book of women's basketball rules. Many countries around the world have since established professional women's basketball leagues, including the WNBA in the United States, and other professional leagues in Japan, England and Australia.