Basketball’s History

Early on, a team’s size was determined by the size of the playing space and the number of students in the class. When the gymnasium’s size was less than 1,800 square feet (167.2 square meters) in 1894, teams would play with five players on each side; when it was more, the number would increase to seven; and when it was larger, it would reach nine. By mutual agreement, the number was periodically fixed at five in 1895. Two years later, the rules were amended to require five participants, and that number has stayed the same ever since.

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It should come as no surprise that Canada was the first nation outside of the US to play the game, as were Naismith and five of his original players. France adopted basketball in 1893, followed by England in 1894, Australia, China, and India shortly after, and Japan in 1900.

Because YMCAs had gyms available, basketball helped increase membership in those organizations. However, after five years, the game was banned by some associations because classes of 50 or 60 members were suddenly monopolized by 10 to 18 players in such gyms. The game’s prohibition led many players to quit their YMCA memberships and rent out halls to play the game, which helped the sport become professionally organized.

At first, athletes would dress in one of three ways: knee-length football pants; jersey tights, similar to what wrestlers would wear; or short padded pants, which were the ancestors of modern uniforms, together with knee protectors. The courts were frequently shaped erratically and occasionally had play-interfering structures like pillars, stairways, or offices. It was decided in 1903 that all boundary lines had to be straight. A basket in the manner of a hammock was sold by the Providence, Rhode Island-based Narragansett Machinery Co. in 1893. Retrieving a ball after a goal was scored was done first using a ladder, then with a pole, and lastly with a chain attached to the underneath of the net. In 1912–1913, nets with an open bottom were introduced. The points for making a basket, also known as a field goal or goal, were decreased from three to two in 1895–96. Similarly, the points for making a free throw, which is an uncontested shot from a line in front of the basket following a foul, were also reduced from three to one.

Because it was easy for spectators behind a basket to lean over the railings and deflect the ball to favor one side and hinder the other, baskets were often attached to balconies. In 1895, teams were urged to provide a 4-by-6-foot (1.2-by-1.8-meter) screen in order to prevent interference. Wooden backboards quickly proven to be more appropriate. Professionals approved glass backboards in 1908–09, and colleges approved them in 1909–10. To lessen the frequency of stepping out of bounds, the backboards were relocated 2 feet (0.6 meters) in 1920–21 and 4 feet in 1939–40 in from the end lines. In 1940–41, fan-shaped backboards were permissible.

For the first two years, a soccer ball was utilized for football. The first basketball was commercialized in 1894. It was laced, approximately 4 inches (10 cm) in circumference—that is, over 32 inches (81 cm) bigger than a soccer ball—and weighed less than 20 ounces (567 grams). The laceless molded ball’s official size was determined to be 30 inches (76 cm) by 1948–1949.

Geneva College (Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania) or the University of Iowa was the first college to play the game. When C.O. Bemis learned about the new sport at Springfield, he took his students to Geneva in 1892 to give it a try. After attending Springfield in 1890, H.F. Kallenberg from Iowa wrote Naismith for a copy of the rules and showed the game to his pupils. Amos Alonzo Stagg, whom Kallenberg met at Springfield, was appointed athletic director of the newly established University of Chicago in 1892. On January 18, 1896, in Iowa City, the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa played the first collegiate basketball match with five players on each side. Neither side used a substitution in the 15–12 victory over the University of Chicago. Refereeing games was a frequent occurrence in those days, and some of the spectators objected to several of Kallenberg’s calls.

In 1905, the universities established their own rules committee, and by 1913, there were five different sets of rules in use: collegiate, professional, YMCA-Amateur Athletic Union, state militia, and state. For each half of a game, teams would frequently agree to play under a new set. In 1915, the Amateur Athletic Union, the YMCA, and the universities founded the Joint Rules Committee in an attempt to provide some uniformity. Renamed the National Basketball Committee (NBC) of the United States and Canada in 1936, this organization functioned as the only amateur rule-making body for the game until 1979. But in the same year, the universities broke away to create their own rules committee, while the National Federation of State High School Associations took it upon themselves to create distinct rules of play for the high schools. There are twelve members on the men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rules Committee, who represent the three NCAA divisions. Three members each from Divisions II and III and six members from Division I schools make up this group. It oversees the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), junior colleges, colleges, and basketball for the armed forces. The physique for women’s play is comparable.

Expansion of the game

The popularity and significance of basketball increased gradually but steadily in the United States and abroad in the first three decades following World War II. Exposure to television increased interest in the game, but the introduction of cable television—particularly in the 1980s—led to an explosion in the game’s popularity on all fronts. With the help of a fortunate combination of exceptional athletes—like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving (“Dr. J”), Earvin (“Magic”) Johnson, and others—and significantly more publicity, basketball swiftly overtook more established sports like football and baseball to take the lead in American sports. During this time, the game evolved in four new areas: women’s basketball, international basketball, professional basketball, and high school and college basketball in the United States.


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