A Brief History of Basketball – How & When The Game Was Invented & More

People playing basketball in the early 20th century

Basketball was invented by James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. The year was 1891, and as the story goes, Naismith was asked to come up with an indoor game that offered fewer injuries than classic American gridiron football. He came up with a 9-on-9 game that involved shooting a ball into a peach basket.

Under those first rules, a single point was scored for a made basket. The first game would have a final score of 1-0.

The game of basketball grew very rapidly, with college teams forming leagues within the first decade of the game’s invention. Naismith himself would become a college coach for the game, joining the University of Kansas in 1898. He would amass a win/loss record of 55-60.

This means James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, is also the only coach in Kansas history to have a losing record.

How Basketball Was Able to Storm the World

Basketball was introduced to the rest of the world due to efforts from the US Army and the YMCA. In 1893, the first international basketball match was organized. Members took the game to India, Japan, Persia, and China as well.

In 1895, the first recorded basketball game between two college teams was organized. The University of Minnesota A&M faced Hamline University under 9-on-9 rules, winning the game 9-3. In 1896, the first collegiate 5-on-5 game was played between Iowa and the University of Chicago, with Chicago winning 15-12.

By 1898, professional leagues were forming, as were collegiate leagues. Six teams took part in the first professional basketball league, but the league was disbanded in 1904. Between then and World War I, small championships were created and some teams played for money against challengers. This includes the original Celtics basketball team.

By 1900, most major colleges were fielding a basketball team. In 1905, formal collegiate rules were introduced for basketball and in 1909, the NCAA would take over the game for good. The first NCAA DI tournament would be held in 1939.

The Formation of FIBA

In the first decades of basketball, it was growing as a sport, but had no real international organization. It took several petitions by basketball supporters to have basketball included as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904.

That all changed on June 18, 1932 when FIBA was first formed. The work of FIBA on the international game would help to make basketball become an Olympic sport in 1936, which was won by the US National Team.

Naismith would live long enough to get to see the sport that he had invented become a recognized Olympic sport.

The Original Rules of Basketball

Just a month after inventing basketball, Naismith would publish the rules to his game. The original game is very different from the one that is played today. Even metal hoops, nets, and backboards wouldn’t be included in the rules of the game until 1906. For many years, a soccer ball was even used to play the game.

There were 13 original rules to Naismith’s basketball. Players were allowed to throw the ball in any direction with one or two hands. The ball could be batted in any direction as well. Players could not run with the ball, forced to throw it from the spot they caught it. Naismith made an allowance for someone to come to a stop if they were running at full speed and caught the ball.

Here are the other rules that Naismith included with his game.

  • The basketball had to be held between the hands, without the arms or body holding it.
  • Players could not strike, push, hold, trip, or shoulder their opponent. If they did, this would be considered a foul. Two fouls would disqualify a player until the next basket was made without substitution. An attempt to injure an opponent would disqualify that player for the whole game.
  • Striking at the ball with a fist would be considered a foul.
  • A team committing three consecutive fouls would have a goal counted against them.
  • A goal was scored only if the ball stayed in the basket. If it bounced out, the goal was not counted.
  • Umpires could throw the ball into play if no one knew who had lost it out of bounds. They were also responsible for keeping track of fouls and scoring.
  • Each half was 15 minutes. The side with the most points would win the game.

Since 1900, 5-on-5 basketball has become the standard. Players used to be removed permanently from the game if they were substituted, by re-entry was allowed in 1921. Coaching was prohibited within the game until 1949.

The game of basketball has come a long way since its invention, but it still holds onto some of its roots. This is just one reason of many why this game continues to be so popular around the world.

What’s Next

See everything a beginner should know about the game on our complete guide to getting started!