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James Naismith


Doctor James Naismith, (November 6, 1861 November 28, 1939) was the inventor of the sport of basketball and the first to introduce the use of a helmet in American football.

He was born in Almonte, Canada West, the older son of Scottish immigrants who had arrived in the area in 1852. Naismith was a graduate of McGill University in 1887, where he studied philosophy and The Presbyterian College, Montreal in 1890. He also earned a physical education degree from Springfield College, the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. In 1898, he received a medical degree from Gross Medical College in Denver (which merged in 1911 with the University of Colorado in Boulder ), and the Doctor of Divinity degree, honoris causa, from Presbyterian College in 1938.

In 1891, while working as a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, he was asked to look for a way to relieve his students' boredom during indoor winter gym classes.

Inspired in part by a game he played as a child in Ontario called Duck-on-a-Rock, Naismith's basketball started December 15, 1891 with thirteen rules, a peach basket nailed to either end of the school's gymnasium, and two teams of nine players. On January 15, 1892 Naismith published the rules for basketball.

Basketball became a popular men's sport in the United States very quickly, and spread to other countries as well. Additionally, there were several efforts to establish (under modified rules) a women's version; this met with great resistance in some circles and was consequently far slower to become truly widespread.

The men's sport was officially added to the Olympic Games program at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. There, Naismith handed out the medals to three North American teams; United States, who defeated Canada 19-8 for the Gold Medal, in a game that was played outdoors in rain, and Mexico, the Bronze medal. Women's basketball finally became an Olympic event in Montreal during the 1976 Summer Olympics. Previously, there had been a men's basketball competition, in connection with the 1904 Games at St. Louis, USA.

Naismith moved to the University of Kansas, in 1898, following his studies in Denver, and became a professor, and the school's first basketball coach. U of Kansas went on to develop one of the nation's most storied college basketball programs. Ironically, Naismith is the only Kansas coach to have a losing record during his tenure at the school (55-60). However, Naismith coached Forrest "Phog" Allen, who then became the one of winningest coaches in college basketball history, and Naismith's eventual successor.

In the late 1930s he played a role in the formation of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball, which later became the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. In August 1936, while attending the Berlin Olympics, he was named honorary President of the International Basketball Federation.

Naismith married Maude Sherman in 1894. They had five children. Naismith became a naturalized American citizen on May 4, 1925. After Maude's death in 1937, he remarried Florence Kincade on June 11 1939, less than six months before his own death, in Lawrence, Kansas, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried there alongside his first wife.

On February 17, 1968 the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame opened in Springfield, Massachusetts. Named in his honor, he was the founding inductee. He has also been honored in other nations, including Canada.



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Last Updated May 2005
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