Basketball was originally played with a soccer ball.

  • James Naismith with ball
James Naismith with ball
Historic Collection/ Alamy Stock Photo

Long before bright orange basketballs made their way onto NBA courts, the earliest basketball games were played using soccer balls. Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, who sought to create a new indoor activity that could be played by students during the winter months. Naismith asked the school’s janitor to fetch him two 18-square-inch boxes for “goals,” but the janitor returned with two peach baskets instead. Naismith nailed those baskets to the railing of the gymnasium balcony, which happened to be 10 feet off the ground (this is why official NBA hoops measure 10 feet high today). After Naismith procured a soccer ball, as basketballs of course didn’t exist yet, the new game was ready to be played.

The original version of basketball followed a list of 13 rules regarding fouls and ball movement. Players were required to remain stationary when in possession of the ball, as continuous dribbling wasn’t instituted until 1909. The game featured nine players per side and was divided into 15-minute halves. Naismith also enlisted the help of two men to retrieve the ball from the baskets at each end, as holes weren’t cut into the bottom of the baskets until years later. The game proved extremely popular, and the first official basketball was developed by the sports equipment company Spalding in 1894. The new sport led to the creation of the National Basketball League in 1937 and the Basketball Association of America in 1946, which merged to form the National Basketball Association in 1949.

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