James Naismith: The History Behind March Madness

Created on Mar 15, 2018 by Kathy Pinna

Didn't we all play basketball in school? It used to be mandatory in grade school for girls and boys to participate in P.E., which often included playing a game or two.

So it makes sense that the game was invented by a Canadian P.E. teacher named James Naismith a little over 100 years ago.

His first equipment was a pretty rudimentary: a soccer ball and two peach baskets closed at the bottom. This was enough to engage his students and keep them indoors during the rainy season.

Of course the sport of basketball evolved, and college tournaments - now called March Madness - came along in 1939 when basketball was about 40 years old.

Continue Reading Below
Share and discover the people and places from your past

Photo History of Basketball moment please loading spinner

Surprise Valley High, 1926

[ Click image for details ]

The history of basketball - James Naismith, born in 1861 in Ontario Canada, earned a B.A. in Physical Education at McGill University in 1888. After a couple of years teaching at McGill, he moved south to become a teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was there, in 1891, that he invented the game of basketball. In college, he had played several sports - including football - and he felt that the game of football was too hard on the body. In addition, he was teaching students who were stuck indoors during the harsh Massachusetts winters.

Lowell High School Champions, 1905

[ Click image for details ]

James needed a game that could be played indoors, was more "body friendly" and used up the excess energies of his students. So he came up with the game of Basket Ball - and the first game was played by his students in December 1891. There were nine players on each side, they used a soccer ball, and a peach basket was hung at each end of the gym (about 10 ft from the floor). His 13 rules of Basket Ball were posted and the game began.

Snohomish High School, 1923

[ Click image for details ]

North Manchester College, 1927

"Drowsy Dribs"??
[ Click image for details ]

Westmoreland High, 1949

[ Click image for details ]
Alan Heath
25 favorites
shared on 07/16/2012

Kansas Champions, 1911

[ Click image for details ]

Naismith later (1939) recalled the first Basket Ball game: “I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began. . . .The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. (The injury toll: several black eyes, one separated shoulder and one player knocked unconscious.) “It certainly was murder.” (Naismith changed some of the rules as part of his quest to develop a clean sport.) The most important one was that there should be no running with the ball. That stopped tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those rules (fouls), and we didn’t have one casualty.”

James Naismith

The founder of Basketball
[ Click image for details ]

8th grade team, 1924

[ Click image for details ]
Candace Miesse
18 favorites
shared on 03/01/2004

LIncoln High, 1911

[ Click image for details ]

High School Basketball Because the game of basketball doesn't require many people or much equipment, it spread like wildfire through schools in the early 20th century. While there is no tournament for a national champion on the high school level, local school teams are often a source of pride. In 1920's Indiana, the Franklin High School "Wonder Five" team had 104 wins and only 10 losses in 4 years. The boys began playing together as children and most of them even continued playing at Franklin College, beating large Universities.

Blog posts

Back to Top