Basketball is an American sport with a rich history and background. Unlike most other major sports of today, it was established late and has a rather unusual backstory. On a cold winter day in December, 1981, Dr James Naismith of Springfield was looking for a way to make young athletes better adapted to the harsh cold environment of the winter, through a sport which carried less physical risk of injury than football. Using a soccer ball and some peach baskets, he created a game with 13 of his own rules to be played.
Naismith split his class of 18 pupils into 2 teams, each consisting of 9 players. He sought to teach them the rules of his as yet unnamed game. The goal of the game was simple – get the ball into the peach baskets, which he had placed on the gym wall. Since the basket had a base, someone had to retrieve the ball every time a point was scored using a ladder. He quickly improved the game by carving out the base of the peach basketball. The game quickly grew in popularity and on the eleventh of March, 1892, a public basketball game was held.
Around a year later, the YMCA began spreading Naismith’s game throughout the US and the rest of the world. As early as 1893, the first major public European match was held in Montmartre, Paris. Around the same period, officials were teaching the game in China and Japan, India and Persia.
The second period of major growth in the popularity of basketball occurred as a result of the First World War in 1914, which saw US Military personnel stationed in Europe. Basketball was a favorite among the American Expeditionary Force, and the popularity of Basketball as a result grew in Europe.
It was not until 1898 that the first pro Basketball league was formed. Named the ‘National Basketball League’, there were six teams in the whole country. The Trenton Nationals became the first team to win, but the following years saw different teams winning each time. In 1904, the league was disbanded, and for the next few years only small, local tournaments were more organized. Bigger leagues started to turn up once again during the 1920s and 1930s, which saw the likes of the American Basketball League and the Metropolitan Basketball Leagues, among others.
While the professional leagues were struggling during this period, College Basketball was booming. This was by far the place which saw the highest levels of basketball popularity beyond the YMCA. The first recorded game between saw Hamline University face Minnesota A&M on February 1895. The game had spread to colleges across the country by 1900 and in 1905 official regulations were being set by the AAU. This laid the foundations for NCAA basketball, which came to be in 1939.
In 1946, the NBA as we know it was founded under the name of the Basketball Association of America. It was renamed the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949 following a merger with the NBL. Today, it is the most popular Basketball league in the world and the third most popular sport in the US.
The game has changed immensely from its humble roots of classroom fun. It is now considered one of the most athletic sports of today, requiring fast muscle fibers. Advanced moves and skills such as the ‘slam dunk’ (where a player puts the ball in the net from above the rim) are commonplace in professional leagues. The NBA has the highest average player height of any major league in the world. Developments in sports science are pushing the boundaries of its athletes, with soaring scores on the bleep test and constantly increasing vertical jumps through specialized programs like vert shock.
Internationally, the game is considered America’s most popular exported sport. It is especially popular in parts of Europe like Spain, Italy, France and Germany. It is not uncommon to see players from the top European Leagues join the NBA. More recently the game has become increasingly popular in China, which has seen big name NBA stars like Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin. It is currently one of the Official Olympic Sports.