Saturday, December 11, 2010

Naismith's Original 13 Rules Auctioned Off

You may have seen an item in today's Strib: The original 13 rules of basketball, as handwritten by Dr. James A. Naismith in 1892, were auctioned off for $4 million, with the proceeds going to charity (the Naismith Foundation, as it happens).

The brief goes on to say that Naismith invented basketball as a game for “boys of a Massachusetts YMCA,” which is completely inaccurate, and that the rules were written when Naismith was a “physical education instructor,” which is not wrong but hardly right either.

Naismith was a phys ed instructor at the YMCA International Training School at Springfield, MA (now Springfield University), but he trained other phys ed instructors, not members of the general public. The Training School was the first school to train physical educators anywhere in the world; their grads were employed initially by Ys but later by colleges as well. Ray Kaighn played in the 1st “demonstration game” that Naismith staged and became coach and athletic director at Hamline. Max Exner was Naismith’s roommate at the time and became coach and athletic director at Carleton. And Louis J. Cooke had trained at Springfield earlier and knew Naismith. He came to Minneapolis as physical director of the Minneapolis Y in 1896 but moved to the U of M in 1897 and was its basketball coach through 1922.

Naismith invented basketball so that Ys throughout the country could offer it to their customers as something they could do during the winter months when they could not go outdoors. Some “Massachusetts boys” may have been among those who played, but the game was not invented for them alone.

I suppose this sounds like a nit. I would say not. The brief instead shows that the writer had no concept of the world as it existed at the time, when athletics was generally lacking institutional supports and the Y, more than anybody, filled that gap. It would be several years before even the colleges would do so and 20-30 years before the high schools stepped up to the plate.

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