Who was Dr James Naismith? Google Doodle honors Canadian-American sports coach hailed as inventor of basketball

Who was Dr James Naismith? Google Doodle honors Canadian-American sports coach hailed as inventor of basketball
Today's Google Doodle (Google)

The Google Doodle published today portrays an animated gif of indoor basketball practice, where a serious-faced man in the background can be seen taking notes. The quirky and cute Doodle actually honors Dr James Naismith, who is hailed as the inventor of basketball – the second most popular sport in the USA. 

Dr Naismith, a Canadian-American physical education teacher, physician, and sports coach is attributed to having invented the game of basketball in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. In fact, he wrote the original rules of basketball and also launched the University of Kansas basketball program.

Who was Dr Naismith?

Born on November 6, 1861, in Almonte, presently part of  Mississipi Mills, Ontario, Naismith belonged to a family of Scottish immigrants. Early in life he lost his parents and grew up with his uncle and aunt. He was never good at studies but he was extremely hard-working and skilled in farm labor. He spent his childhood days playing a lot of games – ranging from simple ones like catch and hide-and-seek to medieval games like ‘duck on a rock’.

The ‘duck on a rock’ game involved throwing a large stone at a distance, guarded by a player, while targeting smaller stones at it. During the course of this game, Naismith discovered that a soft lobbing shot worked better than a straight throw - a concept he later included in his basketball invention. 

In 1883, Naismith joined McGill University in Montreal as a versatile athlete and represented his alma mater in a wide array of sports - football, rugby, lacrosse, soccer, and even gymnastics. 

After pursuing a BA degree in physical education, he taught the subject at McGill University, soon becoming the first-ever McGill director of athletics. He later moved to Springfield to become a physical educator at the YMCA International Training School. 

Dr James Naismith (Wikipedia)

The invention of basketball in 1891

At the YMCA, Naismith was faced with a unique challenge. Due to the harsh winter months of New England, most of the students from his class chose to stay confined to the indoors a major time of the year. However, the lack of athletic exposure affected their behavior and academic acumen. Naismith was assigned 14 days to create an engaging indoor game that would help these students take interest in athletics and thereby improve their physical and mental health.

Naismith brainstormed and analyzed the main games of the times for this project. He calculated that a hardball was not safe for indoors and hence settled on a big and softer soccer ball as the main accessory. He then ruled out any physical contact between the players that can cause injury in a closed space, thereby concluding passing the ball was the best option. The chances of bodily contact were further reduced by placing the goal at a considerable height above everyone’s head, which can be accessed by a soft, lobbing shot like the one in ‘duck on the rock’ game. Thus, basketball was born.

The first-ever basketball game was played in December 1891, and the first-ever report about it was published on January 15, 1982, in the college newspaper- whose anniversary Google Doodle is celebrating today. 

In 1936, much later in life, Naismith attended the first Olympic game of basketball in Berlin. He passed away shortly afterward in 1939. His book on history and the process of creation of basketball was published posthumously in 1941. 

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