If we put basketball highlights from the 1890s and the 2020s side-by-side, you’d think you are watching a different sport. The rules are a little different, and the equipment and the skills of the players are not as refined. Basketball moves back then are more like toddlers learning how to walk. Now, everything is an intricate dance. So, how was basketball first played then?
Why Was Basketball Invented?
Let’s learn a little about basketball history first.
Basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith. He is a Canadian who was a graduate student and a PE instructor at Springfield College in Massachusetts. He was 31 years old back in 1891 when he was asked to think of a sport to keep the athletes in shape during winter. It has to be played indoors, and needless to say, it should be exciting enough to keep the students engaged.
Naismith was up to the task. He approached the school janitor if he could find him two square boxes he could use as goals. The janitor came back, and the best that he could do was peach baskets. (At least we now have basketball instead of boxball. That would’ve sounded weird.)
From there, everything just happened coincidentally, and sometimes, things that happen by chance are the best. For instance, he intended to tie those peach baskets to the lower rails of the gym balcony, which happens to be 10 feet. The students on opposite teams try to get the ball into the team’s basket to score points.
There you go. Before basketball became the billion-dollar giant of a sport today, it was a sport invented out of necessity. The athletes must keep in shape in the winter months, where playing soccer, polo, and other outdoor sports is not possible. Glady, Dr. Naismith took the challenge and creatively thought of everything we know today as basketball.
When Was Basketball First Played?
The first game of basketball ever played was on December 21, 1891. It was played on the rules created by Naismith and was played by 18 students.
The original 13 rules of basketball, in a nutshell, were:
- The ball can be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
- The ball may also be “batted” in any direction with one or both hands.
- A player cannot run with the ball.
- The ball can be held in or between the hands, and the arms or body cannot be used to control it.
- No pushing, tripping, skipping, and shouldering of an opponent. Whoever is caught shall be charged a foul. A second foul requires the violator to be disqualified until the next made field goal. If the foul is judged to be intentional, he will be thrown out of the game.
- Striking the ball with the fist and pushing, tripping, shouldering, etc., are what constitutes a foul.
- Three consecutive fouls are equal to a goal for the opponent.
- A goal is counted if the ball is shot or batted into the goal, and it rests there. If ever someone from the opposing team moves the basket, it still counts as a goal.
- When the ball is batted out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the person first touching it.
- The umpire will call the fouls and notify the referee if three consecutive fouls have been committed.
- The referee is responsible for the calls involving the ball and time-keeping.
- The game is two 15-minute halves with five-minute rests in between.
- Whoever scored the most points or goals in the allotted game time shall be declared the winner.
How Was Basketball Played Back Then?
Although the basic ideas were already in place, there were considerable differences between how the game was played then and now. When they played the first game of basketball, they used peach baskets for hoops, and they had to utilize a ladder every time makes a field goal.
Other differences from the earliest days were the number of players. Naismith started out with 18 students, so they had to play nine for nine. They also used a soccer ball to shoot goals with. And as far as the excitement is concerned, the first game of basketball ended with a score of 1-0 in 30 minutes of playing time. With all due respect to soccer, imagine how boring that game was!
According to Dr. Naismith in a 1939 radio program interview, the first basketball game played was not uneventful at all. As soon as they begin the game, Naismith recalled that it quickly became a free-for-all. The students started kicking, punching, and tackling each other resulting in black eyes and one dislocated shoulder. He thought to drop the sport altogether, but the boys asked him to let them play again. Because of the melee, Naismith thought of more rules to keep the physicality to acceptable levels.
How Did the Game of Basketball Develop?
Still, after the basic ideas were applied and the 13 rules were implemented, there is still much work to be done. Here is how basketball has evolved through the years:
- From the balcony rail, they made a hoop just for basketball. It includes a pole, a rim, and a net. After the hoop, they made the backboard not long afterward to make retrieving the ball much more effortless.
- Basketball was initially intended to be played with an unlimited number of players. Obviously, that has not worked out. After experimenting with teams of up to 50 players, it was settled that the game shall only be played with five players on each team.
- Originally, when a player is substituted out of the game, they cannot re-enter anymore. That changed in 1920 when a player is allowed to re-enter once. In 1934, they changed the rule to allow a player to re-enter twice. In 1945, they allowed unlimited substitutions, and this rule stuck until the modern era.
- The first manufactured basketballs were made in 1894. Spalding took over in the late 1890s. In 1942, molded basketballs were used to replace the stitched ball to maintain constant shape and size.
- Free throws were introduced in 1894. Field goals were worth one point but were changed to two points in 1896. The three-point line was first introduced in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in the 60s and has become a mainstay in the NBA since the 79-80 season.
- The shot clock is one of the most important additions to the game to eliminate the tacts used by teams to secure a victory. Before the shot clock era, teams holding a sizeable lead simply hold on to the ball and force the opponents to foul them. With the NBA implementing a 24-second shot clock in 1954, it made the game more exciting.
- Before, running with the ball is considered a foul. They changed that rule in 1922. The foul limit before disqualification was changed to five in 1945. The NBA made the change to six fouls in the 47-48 season, but five fouls remain the standard in college and International competitions.
- The original rule regarding dribbling is that the player cannot dribble the ball. After that, a rule change enacted in 1901 permitted the player to dribble once, and he has the option to pass or shoot after that. The continuous dribble was implemented in 1909.
- One of the most outrageous old rules involved the out-of-bounds plays. The ball was actually rewarded to the one who touched it last. This results in more pushing, shoving, and occasional injuries. Fortunately, that rule was changed in 1913.
- The midcourt line was established in 1932 to eliminate teams from stalling their offense. In 1933, teams were required to advance the ball within 10 seconds, or the ball is awarded to the opposing team. The NBA and FIBA changed that rule to eight seconds.
- The rule about camping the lane for three seconds was established in 1936. Through the years, the lane or “key” became six feet to 12 feet in 1951. The NBA and FIBA have a lane with a width of 16 feet.
- Before 1937, every made basket resulted in a jump ball. This slows the game down and gives the advantage to the team with the best jumper. That rule was ditched decades later, much to the dismay of Dr. Naismith.
7 Fun Facts About Basketball
Here are some basketball fun facts you may have not known:
- The jump shot was invented by Glenn Roberts in 1931. Roberts, who played in Ola High School, Virginia, thought he should find a new way to score. That obviously worked for Roberts scored over 2,000 points in 104 games from 1931 to 1935.
- The first basketball jersey was made in the 1930s out of wool. The word “jersey” came from the style of knit used in making the clothing.
- Robert “Foothills” Kurland was credited to be the first person to dunk in a college game in 1944. Kurland played college ball for Texas A&M. The most interesting thing is, Kurland claimed he dunked the basketball by accident. However, if we consider Joe Fortenberry’s dunk in 1936 at the Madison Square Garden, that may have been the very first in basketball history.
- The term “slam dunk” was first coined by the legendary Chick Hearn. The legendary basketball announcer was also the first to use the term “airball.”
- Nobody knew where the term “alley-oop” came from, but it is believed to be of French origin. “Allez oop” is said to be the term a French acrobat says out loud before making an acrobatic jump.
- Speaking of slam dunks, the NCAA banned dunking the ball citing safety and injury concerns and claiming that it’s not a skillful shot.
- Denise Long was the first woman drafted by an NBA team in 1969 by the Warriors. However, the selection was voided so it’s technically Luisa Harris who has that distinction. Harris was drafted in 1977 by the New Orleans Jazz.
Wrapping Things Up: How Was Basketball First Played?
The first basketball game played was one of mayhem, if we take Dr. James Naismith’s words for it. When the sport was still in its inception, Dr. Naismith remembered about the black eyes and a dislocated shoulder a student got from playing. He was ready to discard his invention after that, but fortunately, his students implored him to let them play again.
That led to more refinements in the rules of the game. Over the years, the evolution of basketball is geared towards achieving an exciting and fast-paced type of play. The 24-second shot clock, the continuous dribble, the establishment of the midcourt line, and the three-point line were just some of these.
Now, we can only laugh and be amused at how was basketball first played. Still, if not for the pioneers, we wouldn’t have the most beautiful and exciting sport in the world today. It doesn’t matter how Dr. Naismith’s students played the first game of basketball; what’s important is we are enjoying the finished product now thanks to their sacrifices and innovations.