Why are Basketball Players Called Cagers?

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You were reading the sports page, and the article mentioned the words basketball “cagers.” Why do they call basketball players cagers? During the early stages of basketball, games in a wire cage prevent a ball from going out of bounds. An enclosure was a way to avoid confrontation between players and the fans. People got accustomed to this setup and called basketball players cagers.

This article delves into cagers, discussing their origin and playing conditions inside a basketball cage. 

What Do Cagers Mean in BasketballWhat Do Cagers Mean in Basketball?

Different definitions pop up if you use Google to search for the cager meaning. A person who packs and unloads cages and gives hoisting gestures, also called cage man, cage tender, on setter, skip tender.

And a basketball player.

What Led to the Name?

In 1896, players participated in the first official professional basketball game in Trenton, New Jersey, and the athletes were enclosed in a cage. The cage was 12 feet high with a wire mesh screen covering all corners of the court, sidelines, and end lines. The cage was designed so the ball would never be out of bounds.

Inventor James Naismith’s thirteen basketball rules focused on a game played in a cage. The enclosure allowed spectators to be closer to players than today. 

Fans got accustomed to this setup, and players enjoyed playing inside a cage, which led to the moniker “cagers” for basketball players.

Early Throw-in Rule

Any player who could get their hands on the ball first after it went out will throw it in during its infancy. Both teams will literally fight for the ball involving a lot of physicalities and roughhousing. The cage kept spectators safe from harm’s way.

In 1902, Naismith revised the throw-in rule to do away with the wrestling issue and to avoid altercations between players in a caged basketball game.

Why Were Basketball Players Referred to as CagersWhy Were Basketball Players Referred to as Cagers?

Why Were Basketball Players Referred to as CagersIn many ways, basketball terminologies are entertaining with jargons like shoot that ball, beyond the arc, charity stripe, and box out. Basketball players also have entertaining terms: baller, basketeer, athlete, jock, and cager.

Cager gives an accurate depiction of a basketball player. Newspapers call the sport “cage game” and the basketball players “cagers.”

Basketball’s Origin

The terms dates to 1895, when a batch of athletes played the first official basketball game. In 1891, Canadian physical educator James Naismith invented basketball while teaching at the Springfield YMCA. Naismith battled with a badly behaved class that played indoor games. He was given 14 days by physical education head Dr. Gulick to design an indoor game that would not take up much space, keep athletes in shape, fair, not too rough, and should provide an athletic distraction to rowdy students.

The first pair of rims were peach baskets and a soccer ball for shot-making. Naismith crafted the 13 basic rules for playing and called the game he invented “Basket Ball.”

By 1892, the game became popular and was adopted by the YMCA movement. The popularity of basketball didn’t escape the eyes of the professional ranks. The National Basketball League (NBL), a professional league, brought the game to the hardcourt a few years after it was invented. Basketball athletes debuted with the first professional game in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1896 inside a basketball cage. Everything started here.

The enclosure was 12 feet high and made of chain links surrounding the side and end lines.

There were some changes in the game when athletes played this in a cage, but Naismith’s 13 basketball rules still hold.

Pro Basketball Games’ Early Years

The players used a rough, leathery, and pumpkin-sized ball instead of the soccer ball. Portable rims replaced the peach baskets with a cloth net with no holes at the bottom. The clock stops whenever a shot is made, and the referees use a long pole to push out the ball from the bottom of the net.

Pro Basketball Games’ Early YearsThe first pro game involved plenty of passing, rare jump shots, no dunking, and lots of football scrimmages, leaving players kissing the floor. Referees called flagrant shoves and punches as regular fouls. 

Typical scores were 20 and below; a score of 50 will hug the headline. There were no overtimes, a score that ends in a deadlock after regulation time ends in a tie.

The introduction of the cage to pro basketball turned the game into a rough sport.

It was a sin to allow a player to score on a layup; a defender should stop him from scoring at any cause, including a karate chop.

Fouls were like hockey-style body checks. Fans would get involved in sticking pointed materials and lit cigars through the cage touching the opposing player’s skin. At times, fans would beat opposing players, and a fight ensues.

In the NBL’s 1899-1900 season, there was a best-of-three series for the championship between Trenton and Millville. The matches were filled with unpleasantness and controversies. It was not a basketball game but plainly like a brawl with rough house tactics, holding, and kicking.

The second game was controversial. Millville included a player from another team on their roster, and the team refused to remove the player. So, the officials awarded the game to Trenton. It was Trenton in the third game for the championship crown.

When Did Basketball Stop Using CagesWhen Did Basketball Stop Using Cages?

When you mention cage, what comes to mind is a cage match where combatants lock horns trying to defeat each other, and only the winner comes out of the cage. WWF has wrestlers, UFC has mixed martial artists, and a cock fight has cocks. And basketball has cagers.

Naismith invented the “Basket Ball” game in 1891, and five years later, in 1896, cagers played the first professional basketball game in a cage in Trenton, New Jersey. Playing inside a cage made good sense in the game’s early stages.

The rules of basketball back then were not meant for the faint-hearted. A dribbler could rush head-on into the defensive team landing over players. An out-of-bounds ball is awarded to the first player who gains possession leading to pushing, shoving, punching, and mayhem. 

When a visiting player clobbers a home-team player, it’s not unusual for the supporters to join the mêlée. As players rush for the ball, they collide with fans, and fans get involved with a few hits, a shove, or some profanities. There were two entrance/exit doors at the ends of the cage, and angry fans would wrangle their way in with the same openings.

Professional leagues used cages until 1925, were used by a few in 1939, and were completely abandoned in 1933.

Wrapping Things Up: Why are Basketball Players Called Cagers?

By now, you know what cager meaning was in the 1900s. You would think that an enclosed match led to violence; on the contrary, it prevented one from happening. Playing in basketball cages has no room for shrinking violets.

A player’s back could be marked with the wire mesh good enough for a tic tac toe game. Players are fortunate if they go home without any injury. They are like gladiators fighting for the ball and getting beaten.

Today’s basketeers should be thankful for the innovations made in the game of basketball. The cage was a fading memory of the game’s pioneers.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

Check out other interesting basketball slang terms below:

> What’s a Dime in Basketball?

> What is Cherry Picking in Basketball?

> What is an Iso in Basketball?

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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