South Africa's basketball community

Day 2: Get to know the game you love

By on September 2, 2010 in Resources

This article is part of the series “30 days to being a better basketball player“.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is “Never forget where you came from”. While this refers to our own personal history, I would guess that many basketball players don’t know much about the history of the game.

History can teach us a lot of things. Perhaps the biggest advantage of history is what we can learn from it – if we choose to. The philosopher George Santayana once said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, so we would be wise to invest even a little bit of time learning the history of basketball.

If you have only a vague idea of where the game came from and you want to know more, here’s a short introduction to the history of basketball:

A ball and a basket

Dr James Naismith

Dr James Naismith

Basketball was famously “invented” by Dr James Naismith, in Canada in 1891 (that’s almost 120 years ago). In trying to keep his gym class busy on a rainy day, Dr Naismith nailed a peach basket 10 feet above the ground and, with some basic rules in place and a soccer ball being thrown at the basket, the game we know was born.

At first some poor dude had to climb up and get the ball out the basket each time, until they got clever and realised a hole at the bottom would work much better. There were also no backboards at first, but these were introduced when people watching from the mezzanines started interfering with shots coming at the baskets near them.

The first official game was played on 20 January 1892 with nine players. The final score: 1-0 (can you imagine a team now not even scoring 1 point in a game!?).

Women’s basketball was started in 1892 when Ms Senda Berenson, a PE teacher, learned about the game from Dr Naismith, modified some of the rules and introduced the game to the ladies, and this was soon followed by its introduction at the college level.

Growing the game by sending out disciples

According to Wikipedia, there was a surge in popularity as “Basketball’s early adherents were dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, and it quickly spread through the USA and Canada.” Even though the YMCA soon started discouraging basketball as it seemed to attract rough play and rowdy crowds, a lot of other amateur and professional clubs picked up on it and its popularity grew. The first professional league, the National Basketball League (NBL), was formed in 1898 “to protect players from exploitation and to promote a less rough game.” Within five years, that league was gone, and sadly a lot of professional leagues since have suffered the same fate, including our own PBL, although they probably had a slightly different reason for existence.

First basketball

First basketball

Pass first, ask later

The game continued to develop over a number of years, with changes to rules, techniques and equipment. Dribbling was not common for a long time, with passing being the primary way to move the ball along the court, and it was only in the 1950’s when the ball’s shape became more round that dribbling became commonplace.

International and professional growth

In America in 1946, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was formed, and this became the National Basketball Association in 1949 when it merged with the NBL. The American Basketball Association (ABA) was formed in 1967 to compete with the NBA, but these then merged nine years later to form the NBA as we know it today.

The International Basketball Federation was formed in 1932 with eight founding nations (South Africa wasn’t one unfortunately). With its French name being commonly used, this league became known as FIBA.FIBA effectively administers all basketball events globally, with each participating country’s local body being affiliated to and active internationally through FIBA (ie it’s a very important organisation!)

Men’s basketball first appeared following that in the 1936 Olympics, and the Basketball World Championships were started a while later, in 1950. Women’s basketball only followed to the Olympics in 1976.

For a long-time FIBA only allowed “amateur” (basically someone who pursues something without pay) players to participate in its events, but they dropped the distinction between amateur and professional in time for the 1992 Olympics, paving the way for the American Dream Team to take part and ignite basketball globally. While that team dominated there, the improvement it sparked in other countries basketball programmes became evident as the United States dominance has since faded quite a lot, and countries such as Spain, Greece and Lithuania have proved they are willing and able to stand up to the American juggernaut.

Learn from history

So what can we learn from this brief bit about the Game’s history? Here are just a few things, I’m sure you’ve picked up some others too:

  • You don’t need to have a basketball to practice (soccer balls will work, so will some other balls)
  • Scoring is difficult when you first get started (that first game’s score was 1-0). But with practice you’re sure to improve.
  • Passing is naturally the better way to move the ball. Dribbling is a skill and an art but should not be forced when the ball can be passed instead.
  • Competition is a good thing:  the ABA competed with the NBA for nine years, but eventually created a much higher level of competition when the two merged; and the Dream Team obliterated all its opponents in 1992, but this stronger competition in turn took the global game to new heights in the years that followed.
  • There is a natural pattern of development – starting at school/varsity level where the fundamentals can be taught; these skilled players being sent into college systems to further teach, train (and learn); then the development of a professional league once those are in place to successfully utilise the real value of those skills.

Right, that’s quite a lot to take in for day 2, hopefully you’ve learned at least one thing in reading it.

Further reading about the game’s history if you’re really keen:

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  1. Was thinking exactly the same, cool site, thanks.