Maestro Fresh Wes: Canadian
“Let Your Backbone Slide”; ‘Symphony In Effect’ (1989)
The most popular urban sport in the world was invented by a Canadian who, as a child raised in rural Canada, thought a game where kids threw rocks at other rocks was as good as it could ever get.
Dr. James Naismith was born in 1861 near Ottawa, in Almonte, Ontario. He later credited a game he played as a child called “duck on a rock” as his inspiration for “Basket Ball”. Duck on a rock was played by tossing small rocks at a larger one which was laid out on a tree stump or another stone in an attempt to dislodge it or make it fall. One player tries to guard the large rock, and if the large stone is dislodged everyone scrambles to get their stones back.
…basically you line up a bunch of kids who then pitch stones at each other. In 19th century, rural Canada this was an exciting way to spend an afternoon. Not quite as exciting, however, as beating each other with sticks, which inevitably became hockey.
In 1887, at the age of 26, Naismith graduated from Montreal’s McGill University in the top 10 in his class, with a B.A. Honours. He had also been a star gymnast, lacrosse player and football player while at McGill. In 1891 Naismith, now a medical doctor with a specialty in sports physiology, moved to the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts where he was tasked with finding a sport that could be played indoors — during winter — for the students at the School for Christian Workers.
A year later the first “Basket Ball” game was played with a soccer ball and, suspended ten feet above the ground, two peach baskets — of the players, ten were actually Canadian. The game was immediately popular in the school and Naismith sat down and wrote the original thirteen rules.
Thanks to the network surrounding YMCA’s across the United States and Canada the game quickly spread. There was a women’s school which started using Basket Ball as part of their curriculum almost immediately. The women quickly discovered the drawbacks of sports while wearing corsets, and switched to “bloomers” and pants, becoming some of the first “Western” women to do so for sporting events.
A few years later, however, the YMCA was discouraging Basket Ball as being too “rough and rowdy” and against the YMCA’s primary Christian mission. But that was like your hippy mom telling you not to smoke weed. In 1946, the top professional Canadian and American teams were organized into a league called the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The first game was played on November 1, 1946 in Toronto, Canada between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knickerbockers. Three seasons later the BAA became the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Thanks to the complete lack of equipment needed to play Basketball — just a ball, two baskets and a patch of hard ground — James Naismith watched his sport become one of the most popular in the world, and in 1936 Basketball was introduced at the Berlin Olympics.
He also introduced the use of a helmet in North American football.
Naismith married Maude Sherman in 1894 and they had five children. Naismith — who was also a Presbyterian minister — became a naturalized American citizen on May 4, 1925. After his wife’s death in 1937, he married Florence Kincade on June 11 1939.
In 1968 Naismith was the founding inductee of The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was also an inaugural inductee to the McGill University Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, and there’s also a Naismith Museum & Basketball Hall of Fame in Almonte, Ontario. The actual playing surface at the University of Kansas in Lawrence was named the “James Naismith Court”, honouring the man who established Kansas’ basketball program and served as its first coach from 1898 to 1907.
Naismith died in 1939 from a cerebral hemorrhage, in Lawrence, Kansas, where he is buried.
Just as an aside, and sticking with balls… of the current spate of sports played around the world the ball games identified as having been invented by North Americans are netball, dodgeball, volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. Technically it may be true, but in addition to basketball and lacrosse, Canadians also invented broomball — which is similar to hockey (also us). But there is another of note… back in 1977 basketball and hockey had a baby, they put it in a wheelchair and called it Murderball. Also known as “Wheelchair Rugby” and “Quad Rugby,” the rules are, really, a combination of hockey and basketball. Murderball is, without a doubt, the most vicious legal activity on Earth. “Murderball” is also what Canadians used to call “Dodge Ball”.