November 22, 2006

Basketball History

Here is some basketball history to entertain you while you wait for the Tennessee and Georgia games.

The Beginning of Basketball

You know about Dr. James Naismith and the peach baskets, don't you? If not, here's that story.

But it turns out that there's more to it than that. Naismith's daughter recently discovered five boxes of personal documents, photographs and mementos in her basement. Here's that story.

Naismith's 13 Rules of Basketball

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.
  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man running at good speed.
  4. The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 4 and such as described in Rule 5.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on them.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.
  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the goals, with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.
  12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner.

The Beginning of Women's Basketball

Women's basketball was invented by Sendra Berenson at Smith College in 1892. Pamela Grundy, the co-author of Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women's Basketball reports:
... women's basketball started about a year after James Naismith invented a game for his boys at the Springfield, Mass., YMCA.

Sendra Berenson at Smith College, who was often bed-ridden “because of a lack of vitality,” had found that physical education improved her health. She wrote to Naismith for the rules to basketball, added some twists to keep contact to a minimum, and the women's game was born.

Women couldn't vote. There were medical “studies” that showed women's brains were smaller than those of men, women who played sports would be in danger of losing the ability to bear children, women had a finite level of energy and they should spend it being women, not basketball players.

But more women took up the game and more people went to watch. The game was cheap and less violent and deadly than football.

Modesty still ruled and women basketball players were wrapped in bloomers, ballooning blouses and even hats so that only the face and hands were exposed. Still men were banned from watching women play basketball.

But the heavy wool bloomers were better for women than the constricting corset and narrow-bottomed skirts that many women wore because “it helped their frail bodies stand erect,”.

Women's Basketball, 1892-1997

Sally Jenkins, in an article for, says, “Women's basketball has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1892. It may be surprising to discover that women began playing basketball less than a year after the game was invented. The fact is that women's basketball is steeped in tradition, some of it frustrating, most of it fascinating.”

The article is an amusing account of the history of women's basketball:

  • From 1892: Gymnastics instructor Senda Berenson Abbott adapts James Naismith's basketball rules for women and introduces the game at Smith College. First inter-institutional contest between the University of California and Miss Head's School.
  • To June 21, 1997: The inaugural WNBA season begins.
Here is Jenkin's article.

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