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Basketball, perhaps the most American sport besides baseball, was invented by a Canadian. James Naismith was born in Ontario, Canada and attended McGill University in Montreal (Talion 2010). While born and raised in Canada, James did invent the game of basketball while living in the United States of America. More specifically, he was working at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts when he was given the assignment of creating a new game by his boss Dr. Luther Gulick. It seems the students in his class had grown tired of other indoor games and were looking for something new. Dr. Gulick gave Naismith, then 30 years old, 2 weeks to come up with an idea. It wasn’t until the night before that James Naismith came up with the origins of basketball (Wolff 2002).
13 rules were created and peach baskets ascertained from the basement to act as goals. Naismith was tired of rough and tumble sports so he called for the peach baskets to be attached to the balcony 10 feet off the ground. This would prevent athletes from rushing the the goal line, as commonly occurred in rugby. On Jauary 20, 1892, with nine players on a team and no running while holding the ball, the match commenced (Talion 2002). The first game was a huge success and Naismith said, “The only difficulty I had was to drive them out when the hour closed.” (Wolff 2002) One of the students, recognizing the game was going somewhere, actually stole the rules off the bulletin board. Eventually he handed them back to James stating, “I knew that this game is going to go, and I thought that they would be a good souvenir, but I think you ought to have them.” That same student, Frank Mahan, also suggested the name of basket ball for the new game (Wolff 2002).
Those first rules hung in the gym stayed in the Naismith family, being handed down from James to his son Jimmy. Jimmy recognized the documents would be worth a great deal and kept them safe. Eventually, when the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was created, the rules were obviously desired. The rules were lent to the newly built museum of sorts but they didn’t display the original, only copies were shown in the display case. Eventually the original pages were returned to the Naismith family (Wolff 2002).
Since the early days, basketball has experienced many changes and alterations bringing us to the current form of the game. Perhaps the greatest change that occurred was the removal of the bottom of the peach baskets allowing the ball to drop freely through the cylinder. Some of the other key changes over the years have been, the removal of the center jump, the drawing of a mid-court line, the shot clock, the three-point line, and widening the foul lane (Weber 2006).
Most spectators are familiar with the jump ball that happens at center court at the beginning of a basketball game. The majority of the time, this is the only instance where such a thing occurs. However, a jump ball used to be administered after a team scored a basket. It’s easy to see how this would interrupt the flow of the game and perhaps favor one team more than another. The drawing of the mid-court line also helped adjust the pace of the game to be more tasteful. Before it was established, many teams would simply stop trying to score when they took the lead. This lead to a rather boring game. With the half-court line came a 10 second time limit to bring the ball down the floor, making the game much more exciting (Weber 2006).
Howard Hobson, a coach at Oregon and Yale, was the first individual to discuss the idea of a shot clock. However, an NBA team owner named Danny Biasone was the first one to implement it. Danny took 2,880, the number of seconds in game, and divided it by 120, the average number of shots per game. The result was a 24 second shot clock. Teams now had only 24 seconds to get a shot off before the ball would be turned over to the other squad. Many people argue that this change saved the NBA (Weber 2006).
To those familiar with the game, the “key” is a common term. Where did this come from though? Well, when basketball was first played, the free throw line was 12 feet wide while the foul lane was only 6 feet wide resulting in a keyhole shape. In fact, that was its original name, the keyhole. This setup provided too easy of a scoring opportunity for bigs like Wilt Chamberlain. In 1951 the lane was widened to 12 feet and then to 16 feet in 1964. Internationally, the key is a much different shape altogether. The free throw stripe is still 12 feet wide but the lanes extend from there down to 19 feet 6 inches at the baseline. While this hasn’t happened in the NBA yet, it is a possibility for the future (Weber 2006).
Establishing the three-point line is arguably one the biggest changes to the game since the bottoms were pulled out of the peach baskets. The purpose of creating a three-pointer was to open up the lane. It was too congested; it was turning into a rough game which Naismith was trying to avoid. Again, it was Howard Hobson who first had the game changing idea. In 1979 the NBA adopted the three-point line and the NCAA experimented shortly after. Ronnie Carr of Western Carolina was the first collegiate player to knock down a three. Today the NBA three measures 23 feet 9 inches away from the hoop, international play puts it at 20 feet 6 inches, and high school is 19 feet 9 inches. Today there is talk of moving it back even farther as players like Stephen Curry consistently find the net several feet behind the line (Weber 2006).
Although the game has continued to change and morph from the 13 rules Dr. James Naismith originally penned, the heart of the game lives on. Dribbling is now allowed, we have five players instead of nine, and you can commit more than two fouls before being benched momentarily. But the name of the game is still putting the ball in the basket (McLendon 1996).
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