History of the Game

Basketball was invented in the United States at what is now Springfield College, Massachusetts.  At the time Springfield College was the International YMCA Training School and the game was first introduced to a class of trainee YMCA Leaders.

At the time there was a need for a gymnasium activity to offset the flagging interest in apparatus work and freestanding exercise used during the winter months.  Canadian Dr. James Naismith, one of the staff at the college, in an effort to make his classes more appealing, introduced various recreational games, such as Association Football, American Football and Lacrosse but each game presented a problem in the confined space of the 65″ x 45″(20m x 14m) Springfield YMCA gymnasium.

Naismith gave this problem a considerable amount of thought and decided that the solution lay in taking different factors from known games and combining them to produce a new game.  The main features of the game invented by Naismith were: –

  • a team game
  • a ball handling game without the use of any implement
  • the ball was easy to handle, round, light and difficult to conceal
  • a game played indoors
  • no tackling
  • to offset the no tackling, players were not permitted to run with the ball
  • skill required to score, therefore, the target was placed above head height
  • equal opportunity for each team
  • game that demanded skill rather than strength to succeed
  • game easy to learn
  • a game anybody could play

The first game of Basketball was played in mid-December 1891 at the YMCA gymnasium in Springfield.  The goals for this game were peach baskets fixed to the balcony at each end of the gymnasium.  Naismith, with a Physical Education Class of 18 members, tried out the game so first game was between two teams of nine a side.

A game played today under these rules would be similar to the modern game.  The absence of dribbling in the early game would be a notable difference.  In these early years of the development of Basketball the dribble was not a feature of the game and only in 1898 was a clause included in the Men’s rules concerning the dribble.  The original peach baskets gave way in 1892 to a cylindrical basket of heavy woven wire; this gave the way the following year to a goal made of an iron rim and a cord basket.  These early goals were attached to the wall or balcony of the gymnasium.  When the game began to attract crowds the only available space for them was in the balcony and with the baskets being fixed to the balcony, it was easy for a spectator to thrust their hand over the balcony and deflect the ball in or out of the goal as desired.  To do away with the practice a rule was introduced that required a screen to be placed behind the goal to protect the basket from spectators.  This screen became the backboard we have today.

Over the years the original rules drawn up by Naismith have been developed and changed, mainly to describe a particular rule in greater detail and to ensure that each team has an equal opportunity on both attack and defence.  For example, in the original rules a team could consist of any number, in 1893 the number of players a team had was fixed at 5 -for small gymnasiums and nine men for the larger ones.  It was not until 1897 that it was definitely settled that a basketball team should consist of five players.

Even today the rules are not completely standardised throughout the world.  In the United States and Canada the rules used in the men’s game are slightly different from those used throughout the rest of the world.  In the NBA Professional League in the United States they have their own rules.  The rule used by women in the United States has varied over the years but they have now adopted the International Rules.  Throughout the rest of the world there is a common set of rules for men and women, which are used at all the major Championships, World Olympic and European Championships.  These rules are the rules of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Any changes to the International (FIBA) rules are agreed at a World Congress of FIBA, held every four years at the World Championships.

The history of Basketball is unique.  Every other sport has advanced through a period of reasonably slow growth with early interest confined to limited areas, but such was not the case with Basketball.  The distribution of Naismith’s rules to all parts of the USA and the need for such a gymnasium game caused an almost simultaneous eruption of basketball enthusiasm throughout YMCA’s in America.

The game spread to American Colleges and Schools and today nearly every school and college in the USA will have a basketball team.  The YMCA helped to spread the game world wide and further impetus the game as a world sport was received through American Service Personnel playing the game overseas during the two World Wars.

Basketball was first introduced in England between March 1892 and January 1893 by the President of the Birkenhead YMCA, a Mr CJ Proctor, who had seen the game during a business trip to Canada.  This introduction of the game lead to a growth in participation in the new game of basketball initially as an internal league played at Birkenhead YMCA members (England’s first Central Venue League), and later to other YMCA clubs in the Wirral and Merseyside regions.

In June 1894 Mel Rideout, a participant in the first game at Springfield College, introduced the game at a YMCA Convention held in England.  This did not lead to a wider take up of the game.

Birkenhead initiative remained a local development until 1911 when a YMCA instructor brought basketball to Birmingham YMCA, and a team was produced.  Within a few months teams had sprung up in the district playing one another in friendly matches.  The American Rules had been introduced, but the teams in Birmingham found them to be too complicated, and when forming a Local Basketball Association, they compiled a more practical set of rules for their own use.

The use of YMCA instructors from Springfield College gave a direct link to the origins of the game.  Within a short time after the Birmingham Development many YMCA clubs in England had adopted the game and had formed District Associations similar to the Association in Birmingham.  Most of these Associations found the same difficulty of complication in the American Rules and in 1912 the Birmingham Association Rules of Basketball were accepted throughout most of England with some slight differences in rules according to particular conditions.

Many Inter-Clubs and Inter-YMCA. games were played until in 1914 with the start of World War I a large number of young men left their home towns for France.  Basketball naturally lost a great deal of its initial impetus and although many games were played during the War years the development was limited.

With the arrival of the Americans into the War in 1917, many keen British basketball players, found out more about the game and in 1918 an American YMCA Physical Director brought some influence to hear on the District Associations in England, with the result that the local rules were altered slightly and the game became more like the American game.  The game was influenced greatly by American forces in Europe during and after World War I and many European Countries as a result began to play Basketball.  Britain continued to be influenced during this period, and YMCA clubs developed the game with added flavour.  Rules, however, continued to vary according to the country in which the game was played and this state was to continue for a great number of years.

In 1924 Basketball was included as a Demonstration Game at the Paris Olympic Games.  Great Britain was successfully represented in this Tournament by a team from the London Central YMCA who won all their games.  The London Central YMCA were reigning National YMCA Champions this championship having been established in 1922. One of the players from the victorious YMCA team introduced the game to the Netherlands.  In his honour the Dutch National Trophy is called the “Luke Trophy” to this day.

The game continued to develop in England and in 1936 a meeting was called at the London Central YMCA to form a Governing Body for the sport.  The new Association, the Amateur Basket Ball Association of England and Wales (ABBA.) was established with Mr. Herbert Naylor, the National Physical Director of the YMCA in England as Chairman, Mr. J. A. Clay of Birmingham as Honorary Secretary and Mr. W. Browning as London Area Secretary.
To run the Association England was divided into four areas:

1 )    Manchester and a radius of up to 100 miles
2 )    Birmingham and a radius of up to 100 miles
3 )    London (including Bournemouth) and a radius of up to 100 miles
4 )    Cardiff and a radius of up to 100 miles

With a Divisional Secretary appointed in each area.  The game continued to spread in England as it was doing worldwide. Prior to 1936 basketball had been included in the Far Eastern Olympics held in Japan each year.

Many new faces appeared in Basketball in England.  Mr. George Williams of London presented a cup to the ABBA, as Senior Championship Cup and the first tournament for the cup was staged in Birmingham on 6th June 1936.  The finalists in this Knockout Championship Tournament were Hoylake YMCA and London Polytechnic.  The former winning the 1st Championships of England and Wales by 32 points to 21 points.

Greater interest was taken in Basketball because of the incentive of the Championships and many more teams affiliated to ABBA the following year.  The standard of play also improved and on 19th March 1938, Hoylake YMCA (the 1937 winners) were opposed by Latter Day Saints.  This game won by Hoylake YMCA was the first game to be broadcast on radio with a running commentary being given during the final.

The George Williams Trophy played for by the teams in this competition is still used today for EB’s premier Championship Competition.

Hoylake YMCA in October of 1937 represented England in the Tournament at a Paris Competition – the first International team to play for England.

During 1937, Basketball had increased in popularity, not only with senior players, but also with the younger members.  Junior games were played extensively and in 1938 ABBA organised on similar lines to the Senior Championships a National Junior Championship of England and Wales.  Plaistow YMCA presented the ABBA with a Challenge Cup.  On the 9th April 1938 the first Junior Championship Final was held in Birmingham between Ton Pentre (Rhondda Valley) Boys’ Club and London Polytechnic with the Welsh Club winning the first tournament.

On the 18th, 19th, and 20th April 1938 basketball was included along with the European Roller Speed Skating Championships the Semi Finals and Finals of the Basketball Championship of England and Wales.  In the Final, the Catford Saints beat Rochdale Greys 61 points to 47 points.  The standard of play in this Championship showed considerable improvement.  On the day following the Championship Finals Catford Saints represented England in the first International match ever held in Britain.  The game against Germany was won by England by 40 points to 35 points.

On 22nd/23rd October 1938 a composite England International Team competed in the International Basketball Tournament at the Sports Palace in Berlin.  The team with Mr. W. Browning as Coach and Mr. J. Clay as Manager included three Birmingham players – F. Cole, C. Hunt and A. J. Lee, four London players – F. Gibson.  R. Bradley, A. Hants, M. Ashton. and also F. Allen (Rochdale) and G. McMinn (Manchester).  This was the first time a composite International Team had travelled abroad and this in itself showed the development of English Basketball.  Birmingham and London Area supplied the majority of those International players in keeping with the level of the development of Basketball in England.

ABBA of England and Wales, had, gone all out to attract the public, with success.  Basketball was now being played extensively in most areas of England and Wales and the public seemed to be interested. In February 1939 a London National League was started involving 6 teams playing in a League Competition at Haringey Arena.

English Basketball was progressing very well indeed and by including ‘Catford Saints’ as the English team (1939 Championship Winners) in the Liege Festival that year, the ABBA once more made England’s position in European Basketball felt.  It is unfortunate for the progress of Basketball that World War II started in the latter part of 1939.

A Championship Final was held in April 1940 with the Birmingham Athletic Institute (BAI) beating London Central YMCA in this final.  Due to the war there was no Championship for the next six years and thus Birmingham retained the Trophy for that period.

The War although stemming the development of the actual number of clubs in Britain it nevertheless it did have a good effect upon the game.  The Army adopted the game and a number of Army teams were started.  The Army influenced the other services and Inter-Service Tournaments were started.

Many novices at basketball were introduced to a better class of play and coaching in the services.  With the fall of the European Countries, many service personnel from these countries came to Britain, included in the Polish and French services contained some very keen basketball players, these people helped in the development of the game in the Forces.

In 1942/43 with the arrival of American forces a further impetus to the growth of the game was given and their influence on the game in Britain continued for many years after the War.