Dr. James Naismith was a Canadian physical education instructor who invented the game of basketball in 1891 while working at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Dr. Naismith had been challenged to create a new game that could be played indoors in the cold Massachusetts winters to provide an “athletic distraction” to a disruptive group of students. With a two-week deadline, Dr. Naismith decided to invent a game of skill, finesse and accuracy, rather than one that relied on pure strength.

He was inspired by a game he had played as a child called “duck on a rock,” in which players lob a small rock at a “duck” placed on top of a large rock in an attempt to knock the “duck” off.

Using a soccer ball, two peach baskets placed 10 feet up in the air, nine players on each team and a set of 13 basic rules, Dr. Naismith invented the game of “basket ball.” The first game was played on December 21, 1891.

Initially, players could only advance the ball by passing it. Bouncing the ball along the floor — what we call “dribbling” today — did not become part of the game until later.

Players earned points by successfully tossing the soccer ball into the peach baskets. After each basket that was made, players had to climb a ladder to retrieve the ball from the basket. Iron hoops with open-ended nets didn’t come along until 1913!

Interesting basketball facts:

  • Dr. Naismith was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959. The Basketball Hall of Fame is now called the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
  • The first college basketball game was played on January 18, 1896, when the University of Iowa hosted a game with the University of Chicago. The final score was: Chicago 15, Iowa 12.
  • U.S. patent #1,718,305 was granted to G.L. Pierce on June 25, 1929, for the first version of what we now recognize as the “basketball.”
  • “March Madness” began in 1939, when the first NCAA tournament took place at the University of Illinois.
  • Basketball became an official Olympic sport at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.


69 Join the Discussion

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    • Hello, Keyvette! We’re so glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® today and learned some new things about basketball! We have LOTS of Wonders about SPORTS! You can explore them by clicking on this link that will take you right to the Sports Category here on Wonderopolis: http://wonderopolis.org/category/sports/. Happy WONDERing! :-)

    • We’re super sorry you feel that way about basketball, “Me,” but we appreciate your comment. There are lots of fun things about basketball! You can learn a new sport, play on a team, get exercise, and enjoy fun times with your friends! :-)

  1. I like basketball it is fun and I’m really good at it. Do you know how old is basketball and how old is the man who invented? It was the man famous for his invention; did he play with a real basketball?

    • WOW, you’ve been doing a GREAT job of WONDERing about basketball, Odie! We will give you a hint from the Wonder…
      “Dr. James Naismith was a Canadian physical education instructor who invented the game of basketball in 1891 while working at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.”

      We bet you can find the rest of your answers in our basketball Wonder… keep up the great work! :)

    • Hi there, Raymond, thanks for sharing your comment today! We bet you are an enthusiastic basketball player and spectator– basketball games are fun to watch! We want to respect everyone’s opinions and thoughts, not only at Wonderopolis, but each and every day. Sometimes we might enjoy something (like a sport) that someone else does not like as much. However, that’s okay! We can all learn something new together– and maybe we will be interested enough to try out a new sport, activity or hobby! Thanks for sharing your exciting comment about your love for basketball– we are giving you a virtual high five! :)

  2. SO COOL I have always been a huge fan of basketball plus I have played for two years so to find out who invented my favorite sport in the world is really neat thanks for letting me WONDER with you guys today.

    • WOHOO, we’re glad that this Wonder was a three-pointer in your book, Nakia! We bet it takes a lot of practice and hard work to play basketball, but we’re glad to hear you really enjoy playing! We Wonder what your favorite thing you learned today was? :)

  3. I play basketball for the best school in the world, Fort Loudon Middle School. Yes, maybe we lose some, but I love this school and basketball is the best sport in the world.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your love of basketball with everyone in Wonderopolis, Kendra! We bet it’s FUN to watch (and play in) the games at Fort Loudon Middle School! :-)

  4. Hi Wonderopolis. Is lob the same thing as a shot? Also were you able to dribble the ball when he made the game?
    I can’t believe that he made the game of basketball in 2 weeks! I can’t think that they used to have 13 rules! Now they have like 100. Making the rules must have been a real conundrum.
    Thanks for the wonder
    From Jackson

    • Hey Jackson, we’re glad you’re WONDERing about the AWESOME sport of basketball! We bet you can do some research of your own about the history of the game, including what the very first basketball looked like! We hope you have a SUPER day, Wonder Friend! :)

  5. I can’t believe Dr. Naismith invented basketball!
    I wonder what bad things the class did?
    Nice job.
    P.S. I like to play basketball.

    • Isn’t it cool to imagine inventing a sport of your own, Joe? We think about how restless we can be when we don’t get any exercise or time to play at recess, so we bet those students had a lot of energy! We sure are glad that basketball was invented! :)

    • Thanks so much for telling us how much you enjoyed this Wonder, Ryk! We Wonder if you play basketball? We have to go practice our layups now… we are glad you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

  6. I love basketball nobody really knows who made it just like who invented school. I think both inventions are very good and both can be fun if you actually try your hardest. I love this website and the cool questions I haven’t really thought about :)

    • Cameron, it’s so great that you’ve been thinking about your favorite sport– basketball! We Wonder if you have any other favorite topics to Wonder about? We’ve got lots of Wonders to share! :)

  7. At the first basketball game, were there “Ball Boys”, designated ladder climbers to retrieve the ball, or did the players still do it?

    • Good morning, Mrs. Melder’s Class! What a great question! Back in the day, the players were responsible for getting their own ball after they made the basket. Ball boys and ball girls were not officially used until the 1920s at tennis matches! The early basketball players must have been excellent climbers! :)

    • Great question, Wonder Friend Eli! While we are not certain how long the first game of basketball was, we bet it took longer to retrieve the ball than it does today. The very first hoops were made of big peach baskets… but after a basket was scored, a player would have to climb up to the top of the basket and grab the ball. We bet it took a long time to put the ball back in play! :)

  8. I like basketball because I am really tall and I am good at layups and shooting is my favorite part of basketball. But my favorite part of basketball is point guard because when your team brings it up, you can get the ball every time, but the hard thing about being a point guard is you have to trick your guy that you are guarding, and if you get past him you can do a layup and score a point.That is how to play basketball. Remember basketball is COOL.

  9. I’m afraid this is incorrect, in matter of fact Luther Gulick, Naismiths assistant, was the one who invented basketball.

    • Thanks for your notice, Dylan. Dr. Luther Gulick did play a critical role in the invention of basketball. As the leader of the Springfield YMCA, it was Gulick who gave James Naismith the assignment of developing a game that would keep athletes active during the harsh Massachusetts winters. The game Naismith came up with was basketball. So, while basketball may not have been invented without Gulick, it was Naismith who actually invented the game. Thanks for WONDERing with us!

  10. What an interesting story.Who came up with the word basketball .I LOVE BASKETBALL IT IS MY FAVORITE SPORT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Isn’t basketball a lot of fun, Haley S? We think Dr. Naismith probably came up with the name basketball since he used two peach baskets as the goals. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  11. your the best because you get us more game time like10 min becausei love basketball its in my heart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Wow! We bet you’re pretty excited when March Madness comes around, huh, Nate? Basketball is really fun to play and watch! :)

    • Great WONDER, Coleton! James Naismith was born in Canada, but moved to the US. While he lived in the US, he worked at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. During this time, in 1891, he invented basketball. Super cool! :) Thanks for commenting!

  12. I was intrested in basketball because I am starting and I wanted to know more.I wanted know if Dr.Naismith had a parterner or somebody that helped him?

  13. I very much enjoy basketball and I thought this WONDER was an amazing choice to do a WONDER on! I love basketball and this taught me a lot of things about basketball, well who made up the sport of basketball. I enjoyed this WONDER very much and I think anyone should try it! One last thing is do you have any WONDER on skiing? Thanks!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented basketball?
  • When was the first basketball game played?
  • How many rules did the first game of basketball have?

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When Dr. Naismith invented the game of basketball, he came up with an initial set of 13 rules for the game. Why do you think rules are necessary in sports and other areas of life? What would happen if we didn’t have rules?

What sports do you like to play? Have you ever thought about what types of sports people in other parts of the world play? Learn about 10 weird sports from around the world.

If you’re up for a challenge, try to dream up a brand-new game of your own. What’s the name of your new game? Is it a team game like soccer or an individual game like tennis? What type of ball is used? Is the game played indoors, outdoors or both? What does the field look like? How do you score points? How many players can play?

Exercise your imagination. The sky’s the limit. You never know when you might come up with the next great idea in sports!

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See how sports can inspire the arts with ReadWriteThink’s Write “Moving” Sports Poetry lesson. After looking at videos and photos of athletes in motion, create a list of words that describe the many types of movement you see. If you want, you can also take a field trip to the gym or the park to take pictures of people playing and exercising. Using what you see as inspiration, compose your own original poem!


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