James Naismith

James Naismith
James Naismith with a basketball.jpg
James Naismith holding a basketball
Biographical details
Born(1861-11-06)November 6, 1861
Almonte, Ontario, Province of Canada
DiedNovember 28, 1939(1939-11-28) (aged 78)
Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.
Alma materMcGill University
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Head coaching record
Accomplishments and honors
Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1959
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

James Naismith (November 6, 1861 – November 28, 1939) was a Canadian physical educator, physician, Christian chaplain, sports coach, and innovator.[1] He invented the game of basketball at age 30 in 1891. He wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the University of Kansas basketball program.[2] Naismith lived to see basketball adopted as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904 and as an official event at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, as well as the birth of the National Invitation Tournament (1938) and the NCAA Tournament (1939).

Born and raised on a farm near Almonte, Ontario, Naismith studied physical education at Montreal’s McGill University before moving to the United States, where he designed the game of basketball in late 1891 while teaching at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.[3] Seven years after inventing basketball, Naismith received his medical degree in Denver in 1898. He then arrived at the University of Kansas, later becoming the Kansas Jayhawks' athletic director and coach.[4] While a coach at Kansas, Naismith coached Phog Allen, who later became the coach at Kansas for 39 seasons, beginning a lengthy and prestigious coaching tree. Allen then went on to coach legends including Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith, among others, who themselves coached many notable players and future coaches.[5] Despite coaching his final season in 1907, Naismith is still the only coach in Kansas men's basketball history with a losing record.

Early years

Sculpture, Almonte, Ontario

Naismith was born on November 6, 1861, in Almonte, Canada West (now part of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada) to Scottish immigrants.[6] He never had a middle name and never signed his name with the "A" initial. The "A" was added by someone in the administration at the University of Kansas.[nb 1]

Struggling in school but gifted in farm labour, Naismith spent his days outside playing catch, hide-and-seek, or duck on a rock, a medieval game in which a person guards a large drake stone from opposing players, who try to knock it down by throwing smaller stones at it. To play duck on a rock most effectively, Naismith soon found that a soft lobbing shot was far more effective than a straight hard throw, a thought that later proved essential for the invention of basketball.[7] Orphaned early in his life, Naismith lived with his aunt and uncle for many years and attended grade school at Bennies Corners near Almonte. Then, he enrolled in Almonte High School, in Almonte, Ontario, from which he graduated in 1883.[7]

In the same year, Naismith entered McGill University in Montreal. Although described as a slight figure, standing 5 ft 10 ½ in and listed at 178 lb,[8] he was a talented and versatile athlete, representing McGill in Canadian football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, and gymnastics. He played centre on the football team, and made himself some padding to protect his ears. It was for personal use, not team use.[9] He won multiple Wicksteed medals for outstanding gymnastics performances.[10] Naismith earned a BA in physical education (1888) and a diploma at the Presbyterian College in Montreal (1890).[7] From 1891 on, Naismith taught physical education and became the first McGill director of athletics, but then left Montreal to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.[10][11]

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