Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts at Springfield College. He was a Presbyterian minister (but never preached)… and a doctor (but never practiced medicine)… and an educator and physical education teacher… and a basketball coach. He was born in Almonte, Ontario of Scottish ancestry … so this great American (and now worldwide) sport was invented by a Canadian, with a Scottish accent! He was a thirty year-old assistant physical education director when he invented the game. He only played in two games! The first baskets were not peach baskets as the story often goes, but were vegetable baskets nailed to the railing of an elevated circular running track, which just happened to be about 9 or 10 feet high.
He eventually became head of the physical education department at Kansas, and designed the first golf course in Kansas. His favorite sport was fencing and he was very good at it. He invented basketball for fun, as a simple physical education activity… not something to be serious about! He said often, "Basketball is just a game to play. It doesn’t need a coach… you don’t coach basketball, you just play it." Nevertheless, he became basketball coach at Kansas in 1900, and lost his first game 48-8 to Nebraska. He coached for eight years and his won-loss record was barely .500. But he started a great Kansas tradition. For years, the Kansas Jayhawks had one of the most winning programs in all of college basketball. Phog Allen (Kansas, record: 590-219), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky), and Dean Smith (North Carolina) were all Jayhawks.
Naismith never patented his game, and did not profit from it. Lawyers advised him to get a patent, but he was always adamantly opposed to it. At one point his personal finances were so bad that his house in Kansas was repossessed by the bank.
Dr. Naismith worked with the famous football coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg. He helped Stagg design the first football helmet. Stagg later gave credit to basketball for the development of the forward pass in football.
The first public game was in Armory Hill YMCA on March 11, 1892, with a crowd of 200 on hand, as the students beat the teachers 5-1. Amos Alonzo Stagg scored the only point for the teachers. The first women’s game was March 22, 1893 at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The first college game was Feb. 9, 1895… Minnesota State School of Agriculture beat Hamline 9-3. The first women’s college game was in April 1895 between Stanford and California. The first men’s professional league began in 1898 and was known as the National Basketball Association (but not the same NBA as today). The first national AAU basketball tournament was in 1897. Wisconsin claims to be the first state with a high school state tournament, which was won by Fond du Lac in 1905. High school basketball attracted national attention 12 years later in 1917.
Basketball was first played in the Olympic Games in 1936, in Berlin, when the USA beat Canada 19-8 for the gold medal. The game was played outdoors, in the mud and rain, on a tennis court.
The game has come a long way. To quote Bob Broeg, "The roundball, not the snowball, is the symbol of winter now, and winter has never been the same since 1891!"
For even more information about the early years of basketball and it's first great coach, read this book review about "Professor Blood and the Wonder Teams" by Dr. Chic Hess... and get the book.
"Basketball: a new game", James Naismith, Springfield College, Coaching Basketball by Jerry Krause, Masters Press, 1994.
"The Basketball Man", Bob Broeg, Coaching Basketball by Jerry Krause, Masters Press, 1994.
"Basketball History", Jerry Healey, Coaching Basketball by Jerry Krause, Masters Press, 1994.