It began with two peach baskets attached to a 10-foot-high railing and a soccer ball. The earliest seeds of one of today's most popular sports, basketball, dates back to one Canadian schoolboy's days outside a one-room school house in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Known widely as basketball's inventor, but also a physician, physical education instructor and clergyman, Dr. James Naismith occupied his spare time at school playing a game called "duck-on-a-rock" . The game and its rules were simple. Players tossed a rock at a makeshift "duck" to try and knock it off a larger rock.
After attending McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where he served as Athletic Director, Naismith moved on to YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Mass., in 1891. The long, chilly winter months at the School for Christian Workers confined students to the indoors, so Naismith received orders from Dr. Luther H. Gulick, head of the physical education department, to invent a game that would keep them occupied. Aiming to create something beyond just building strength, Naismith came up with a game of skill that involved tossing a soccer ball into peach crates attached to the walls. It included elements of already popular games, such as American football, soccer and hockey. Teams consisted of nine players. By the turn of the century, five players per team became standard.
Naismith was hired at the University of Kansas to serve as chaplain, and teacher of physical education, and in 1892 he gave the game of basketball a set of 13 rules. Players dribbled a soccer ball on an unmarked pavement, and teams earned points by tossing the ball into peach baskets, eventually replaced by iron hoops and loosely-braided pockets. So that players no longer had to manually retrieve balls from the pockets, open-ended nets were introduced in the early turn of the century. Between 1893 and 1895 basketball became popular in many colleges. A U.S. Patent on the first official basketball was granted to G.L. Pierce on June 25, 1929. The first college games were staged at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1934, sparking increased interest in the sport.
Introduced by the YMCA into many countries, the game of basketball spread geographically and in popularity around the world, and in 1936 it was included as an official sport at the Olympic games in Berlin. Basketball's inventor died three years later, in Lawrence, KS, after having been flown to the games to watch it in person. Basketball kept U.S. Servicemen busy all during World War II, and by 1950 it had become a major college sport.
But as with most American ball sports, it isn't until it becomes professional that its popularity is fully realized. And pro-basketball was no exception. In 1915, the Boston Celts became one of the first and greatest pro-teams and domininated the industry until 1936. The Harlem Globetrotters, founded in 1927 and best known for their slick and entertaining court moves, shined a new spotlight on the sport. Two subsequent leagues led the industry into the second half of the century and into an exciting era for pro basketball - the National Basketball League (1937) and the Basketball Association if America (1946). The two combined to create the National Basketball Association (NBA).
In 1959 the Basketball Hall of Fame became home to rememberinag the sport's legends, notably its inventor after whom it would be called the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. The coming decades would produce more basketball greats, such as centers Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers (1960s), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks (1970s). The 1980s saw Larry Bird rise to fame out of the Boston Celtics, as well as Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. Michael Jordon of the Chicago Bulls became a household name in the late 1980s-early 1990s. More recently, Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic, and Larry Johnson (Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks) have continued to pique American enthusiasm for the sport.