A Minister Who Invented Basketball

A Minister Who Invented Basketball

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."—Col. 3:17

What is America's most popular sport? Baseball? Wrong. Baseball is called our national pastime, but it is not our most popular sport. Basketball is.

It is perhaps the youngest of all our athletic games, being invented by a single man in December, 1891. I shall tell the story of this man, for I think it is important that he be regarded just as much a Christian hero as any great preacher or missionary or doctor. Any person who can bring to the world the good that basketball has brought and in such a fine, wholesome way deserves attention.

James Naismith was a Presbyterian minister. He was very highly educated with eleven college degrees, one of them in music. He was born and raised on a farm in Ontario, Canada, where he did much very hard work driving teams, chopping wood, sawing logs, walking, hunting, fishing, and the many other chores and sports a farm boy of that period enjoyed.

He entered McGill University in Montreal, planning to be a minister. When he graduated from McGill in 1887, he was the best gymnastic athlete of his class. Upon graduation he became athletic director for the university, getting paid enough to continue his studies at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he studied to become a minister.

Then he thought that he would be a different kind of minister—one who taught Christian living through sports. So he came to the United States and entered the Y.M.C.A. School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

There young Naismith was impressed by the lack of any winter sport that would be played in between the football and baseball seasons.

Instead of accepting the situation, which others had done, Naismith got busy. Adapting an old game he once played back at home, he obtained two round bushel peach baskets, mounted them on poles ten feet high, divided the students into two teams of nine men each, tossed them a soccer ball—and the great game of basketball was thus invented!

The game took awhile to develop with the present rules. Actually an old drawing shows a janitor standing at the top of a ladder to pick the ball from out of the peach basket whenever a goal was made. A pretty dangerous job.

For some time also any number of players was allowed. At Cornell University, where the game became an instant hit, over a hundred students were on the court at once. Imagine trying to referee a basketball game with fifty players on each side! Finally in 1895 the rule of a five-man team was drawn up.

Although Naismith never became the pastor of a church, he had a wide Christian influence. He read and reread his Bible. He marked it up, underlining the verses that meant most to him. He was a Christian gentleman in every way, teaching others and living in his own life the ideals of Jesus Christ.

His main interest was never in basketball itself but in the Christian life of those who played it. How they played and how they lived were far more important to him than the number of points they made.

When James Naismith, the Presbyterian minister, died on November 28, 1939, after forty years as head of the athletic department at the University of Kansas, not many Americans knew much about him. The game he invented over fifty years ago was far better known than the inventor, and is so today.

For of the 150,000,000 people in America who pay to see basketball games every year, certainly very few know anything about the man James Naismith. But his influence they know. They know that basketball is not only our most popular game but one of our finest, helping to build strong bodies, clean sportsmanship, and fine characters. What the man did is far better known than the man himself. But the world is a better place because of James Naismith, the farm boy from Ontario, Canada.

We can learn much from Naismith's life. All of us have chances to help the world. Few of us will be long remembered. But endless opportunities lie all around just the same. And whether people give us credit or not isn't the point. God knows what we do. No sincere effort goes unnoticed by him. He knows and he cares.

Let's each give to the world what we can. The number of people who know or care isn't important. What is important is that we use our minds, bodies, and talents to make them richer, not poorer.

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