David, center, and Chandler Booth look at Suzanne Deal Booth as they pose for a photo next to James Naismith's original rules of Basket Ball on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Friday, March 4, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga/Charlie Riedel)
The man who invented basketball
December 18, 2015
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A University of Kansas researcher has found what is thought to be the only audio recording of basketball inventor James Naismith. He describes the first game he organized as a bit of a disaster. That was 124 years ago.
Michael J. Zogry is an associate professor of religious studies. He got the nearly 3-minute audio in November. He got it from the Library of Congress. It was part of a radio show from New York station WOR-AM. It was called "We the People." During the Jan. 31, 1939, program, Naismith explained how he set up the game with two peach baskets. He was working at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. This was in December 1891.
Naismith said he had been given two weeks to come up with a new indoor activity for his gym class. The work was hurried along by what he described as a "real New England blizzard." The storm had the youngsters climbing the walls. They had little to do.
"We tried everything to keep them quiet," Naismith said on the recording. But the students were bored with a "modified" form of football tried in the gym. Naismith figured it was time to try his new idea. He used an "old soccer ball" and two teams of nine players each.
"I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team's peach basket," he said. "I blew a whistle and the first game of basketball began."
It did not go smoothly. Naismith said the players almost instantly started tackling each other. Two young men got black eyes. Another was knocked out. Naismith had to pull players apart.
"I did not have enough (rules). And that is where I made my big mistake," Naismith said.
Naismith's account of that first game helps shed light on the process that led him to draft the 13 original rules of the game, Zogry told The Associated Press. It appears that he wrote the new rules shortly after the first game. But the exact timeline isn't clear, he said. Zogry intends to study his findings with other research on that topic.
"What we know is there was the first game. Then there was a second game with the full complement of rules," Zogry said. "He said the players were nagging him about (the new rules) so it sounds like it happened in pretty quick fashion."
Naismith's grandson is Jim Naismith. He first heard his grandfather's voice once Zogry got the audio. He said the recording "changes just about everything that's been written about that first game."
"When he turned those 18 guys loose, obviously they were having a good time. But obviously this was kind of try number one. He commented and said he did not write enough rules. It came out of that experience," Jim Naismith said in a university news release. "That makes a lot of sense."
Rob Rains is the author of "James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball." It was co-written with Naismith's granddaughter, Hellen Carpenter. Rains said he did not know of any other audio recording of Naismith. He said the recording suggests that the game "was modified much more quickly than we first thought."
Zogry said he was surprised to find the audio. He was even more surprised to realize it was the only existing recording of Naismith's voice.
He called the discovery "very exciting."
Naismith worked at the University of Kansas for 40 years. He was their first basketball coach. The school has obtained the 13 original rules. They are building a structure to house them.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did the first basketball game get off to a rough start?
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