Monday, June 2, 2008

And It Was Good

A competitive team sport in which points are scored by moving a ball by hand through one of two rings suspended ten feet off the ground, located at opposite ends of a 94’ x 50’ court. Can be played by as few as two or as many as ten players. Ostensibly a non-contact sport, with most contact not involving the ball considered foul. Game is divided into four quarters (10 minutes in international play, 12 in NBA play), with five minutes of overtime in the event of a tied score. Team with the most points wins.

In 1891, a professor named Dr. James Naismith, at the YMCA Training School in Springfield , Massachusetts , had a problem. At the time, the school trained physical education teachers from all over North America . The coursework included sports and physical activity the whole year through. Fine for fair months; the students played ball sports, like the new games football and baseball. The problem facing Dr. Naismith was what to do in wintertime. The students kept in shape with running and gymnastics, but they got bored. They wanted a team sport. They wanted competition.

Trouble was, outdoor ball sports weren't safe or practical for indoor play. Dr. Naismith worked the problem over – he needed a no- to low-contact competitive team sport that could be played indoors. His elegent solution was to develop a game with a goal over players’ heads and in which the ball is put in play with hands only. For goals, Dr. Naismith used peach bushel baskets. For a ball he used a soccer ball. He nailed the baskets to the balcony railings at either end of a gymnasium -- railings that just happened to be ten feet off the floor.

The Original 13 Rules:
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 (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 who catches the ball when running if he tries to stop.
4. The ball must be held in the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player 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 substitute shall be allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3, 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 ground 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 person first touching it. He has a right to hold it unmolested for five seconds. In case of a 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 that side.
10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when thee 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 halves.
13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made

Some of the rules have been revised -- penalties for fouls have changed considerably and play was broken up into four quarters -- and new rules were added as the game defined itself. Originally passing was the only way to advance the ball; dribbling was introduced as ball design improved. The addition of the 24-second shot clock sped up play. Scoring was refined into the 3-2-1 form used today.

Fast-forward a century or so, and basketball's one of the most popular team sports in the world. Equipment-light, doesn't need much space, can be played by both men and women without changing the rules or playing field, physically demanding but the risk of permanent injury is relatively low, mentally engaging, and endlessly adaptable.

With Dr. Naismith's students soon teaching all over the country, the new sport spread fast. Someone suggested calling the new sport Naismithball, but Dr. Naismith decided to keep it simple -- basketball.

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