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James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball

Rob Rains

Publication Year: 2009

It seems unlikely that James Naismith, who grew up playing “Duck on the Rock” in the rural community of Almonte, Canada, would invent one of America’s most popular sports. But Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter’s fascinating, in-depth biography James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball shows how this young man—who wanted to be a medical doctor, or if not that, a minister (in fact, he was both)—came to create a game that has endured for over a century.

James Naismith reveals how Naismith invented basketball in part to find an indoor activity to occupy students in the winter months. When he realized that the key to his game was that men could not run with the ball, and that throwing and jumping would eliminate the roughness of force, he was on to something. And while Naismith thought that other sports provided better exercise, he was pleased to create a game that “anyone could play.”

With unprecedented access to the Naismith archives and documents, Rains and Carpenter chronicle how Naismith developed the 13 rules of basketball, coached the game at the University of Kansas—establishing college basketball in the process—and was honored for his work at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

Before I became the basketball coach at the University of Kansas in 1988, my knowledge of James Naismith was pretty limited. I knew he had invented the game of basketball, and I knew he had been the first coach of Kansas, but that was basically the extent of what I knew....

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pp. xi-xvi

When my grandfather left his uncle's rural Canadian farm to go to college, he had no idea what the future held. He thought he wanted to become a minister, but what was uppermost in his mind was that, whatever he did, he wanted to find a way to help people....

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1. Growing Up

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pp. 1-16

Late into the night, Jim Naismith worked alone in the blacksmith shop. Spending an evening standing by a fire on the side of a frozen river, having only been able to watch as other kids from Bennie's Corners skated and frolicked on the ice, had driven Naismith into action....

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2. The College Years

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pp. 17-28

Not only did Naismith have to adjust to college life, but the move from the farm and the rural community of Almonte to the big city of Montreal also required him to adapt to a new environment. "As I walked down the street a peculiar feeling came over me," he wrote later. "I had always lived...

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3. The Springfield Challenge--and a New Game

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pp. 29-41

One of the first things Naismith did after arriving in Springfield in the fall of 1890 was to see Dr. Gulick. Walking into the dean's office, he found Gulick sitting at his desk, talking to another young man. Gulick immediately stood up and introduced Naismith to another student coming...

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4. The Game Is Born [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 42-64

As Naismith arrived at his office the next morning, he picked up a football and soccer ball. He noticed how the football was shaped so it could be carried in the arms. Since running with the ball would not be allowed in his new game, Naismith chose to use the soccer ball....

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5. A New Frontier

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pp. 65-69

Moving nearly 2,000 miles in 1895 was not an easy task. For the new Mrs. Naismith, there was more involved than the physical move. Born and raised in the East, she had never lived anywhere else. She was close to her mother, and since the death of her father, that bond had grown even tighter....

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6. KU Bound

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pp. 70-85

Amos Alonzo Stagg had left the Training School in 1892 to become the physical education director and football coach at the University of Chicago. Stagg and Naismith remained in touch, even after Naismith moved to Denver, and Stagg knew of Naismith's graduation from medical school and...

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7. The Student Arrives

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pp. 86-99

Allen's arrival on the Kansas campus was big news, and there was more anticipation about the upcoming basketball season than ever before. On October 18, the University Daily Kansan reported that Allen had made his first appearance on the Snow Hall court the previous night....

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8. A Revolution Calls

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pp. 100-108

Pancho Villa was a hero to the poor people of Mexico, and he had counted on support from the United States in his attempt to become the president of the country in 1915. When the U.S. government instead recognized the new Mexican government, Villa became upset. He took revenge on the United...

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9. A Raging War

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pp. 109-128

A trans-Atlantic journey in 1917 on a troop ship would not likely have been a very pleasurable experience under any circumstance, but with a world war raging, it was even more precarious. German submarines were patrolling the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and German leaders had...

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10. Happy Homecoming

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pp. 129-142

Naismith was happy to be reunited with his family and to be away from the horrors of the war. He gradually built his weight back to his accustomed 185 pounds, and he resumed his work teaching the various physical education classes at the university...

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11. Becoming a Mentor

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pp. 143-150

John McLendon graduated from Sumner High School in Kansas City. He loved basketball and had decided as early as the sixth grade that he wanted to become a coach. He wanted to attend college in Springfield, Massachusetts, but could not afford to go that far away. McLendon's father told...

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12. Olympic Pride

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pp. 151-162

Even though basketball had been played in the Olympics as far back as the 1904 Games in St. Louis, those contests had always been viewed as "exhibitions" or a "demonstration" because teams from only one country participated. Similar contests were played at the 1924 Olympics in Paris and at...

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13. The Changing Game

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pp. 163-170

One of the reasons Naismith had such an enjoyable time at the Olympics basketball competition was that the rules used for the games were the older, more traditional ones, without some of the new rules that had been put in place for games in the United States during the previous seasons....

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14. Death of a Legend

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pp. 171-180

Naismith had been severely disappointed when Maude was unable to accompany him on his trip to Europe and the Olympics, and he was glad to be back home with her. The two really were soul mates, and all of the letters Naismith wrote to her during his extended time away from home...

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15. A Great Game

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pp. 181-190

In the foreword to Naismith's book, published in 1941, two years after his death, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of basketball's invention, legendary coach Clair Bee wrote, "The fiftieth anniversary of the invention of basketball finds the game recognized as the world's most popular sport...

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16. The Man, More Than Basketball

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pp. 191-194

The news of Naismith's death was broadcast around the world, and tributes began to pour in to Lawrence. Plans were made for his funeral, and his body was returned to the family home, where friends, colleagues, and former students paid their last respects....


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pp. 195-198

E-ISBN-13: 9781439901359

Publication Year: 2009