Research Paper on The History of Basketball

Research PaperSports

Basketball is one of the most popular spectator and participant sports in the world. It is played by children, teenagers, as well as adults, both recreational and competitive. It is played in the streets, in schools, and in stadiums. There are numerous organizations and leagues where professional teams play. The National Basketball Association (NBA) so far is the most popular basketball league all over the world. This research paper explores the history of basketball starting from the late 1800s as well as its evolution into the game millions love today.

The Creation of Basketball

Basketball was created in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education professor at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts (Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.; Mokray n.p.). Basketball was invented as an alternative to outdoor games like football and soccer for winter. Naismith, at the request of his superior Dr. Luther Gulick, sought a sport that would preoccupy students and require the same level of fitness as the other outdoor games (Mokray n.p.). Thus, basketball was invented initially as an indoor game. 

The name “basketball” was suggested by one of the first players of the game. Frank Mahan first suggested the name “Naismith game” which Naismith did not like, according to the written narrative in his diary (ESPN NBA n.p.). Then Mahan suggested “basketball” since the game involved a basket and a ball. 

The Game

Basketball was first played with a peach basket. It was nailed on an elevated track on each side of the court. Two teams with five players each compete to get the most scores by shooting the ball onto the basket. Naismith wanted this new game to involve significantly less rough play and to be fair for all players, unlike common sports of the time like rugby, football, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer (Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.). To do this, he did two things to the game: Naismith elevated the basket so that it cannot be defended and he eliminated the ability to run with the ball. To make all these changes amenable to the goal of the game, Naismith had to make some adjustments. 

Duck On A Rock

Naismith incorporated a children’s game called “duck on a rock” which combines tag and throwing (Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.). In particular, he incorporated the lobbed arcing shot developed by the players of duck on a rock. This method of throwing is easier to control, more accurate, and less likely to bounce back.

 In this game, two rocks are stacked together—the duck. One player stands near and guards the rocks (Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.). Other players stand 15 to 20 feet away from the rock and attempt to dislodge the rock by throwing their own fist-sized rocks onto it. Once they knock off the rock from the other rock or platform, they must retrieve their rocks and run back to the throwing line without getting tagged by the successful thrower. The game of tag only lasts until the guard manages to place the rock back in the designated place. The players developed the aforementioned lobbed arcing shoot to enable them to easily hit the target while making it hard for the guard to block their shot. The lobbed arcing shot works well with Naismith’s decision to elevate the basket and his aim of reducing rough play.

The Rules

Naismith alone wrote the first rules of Basketball. There were originally 13 rules, as provided by the Naismith Basketball Foundation:

  1. The Ball may be thrown in any direction by one or both hands.
  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).
  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for man who catches the ball when running, if he tries to stop.
  4. The ball must be held by the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of the rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole game, no substitute allowed.
  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of rules 3, 4, and such as described in rule 5.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul.)
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
  9. When the ball goes out of bounds it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that team.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have the power to disqualify men according to rule 5
  11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals, with any other duties that are usually performed by the referee.
  12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with 5 minutes rest between.
  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may be by mutual agreement, be continued until another goal is made (Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.).

Although the rules of basketball have evolved in the last 129 years, the rules of basketball continue to emulate the spirit of the original 13 rules. For instance, the concept of fouls is still present in today’s rules, however the types of fouls have expanded and become more specific as have the penalties.

The Basket

In the first version of basketball, Naismith used a peach basket nailed on a wall as the goal. The peach basket was used with its bottom still on. As a result, the ball had to be manually retrieved by climbing up to the basket which slowed down the game. The peach basket was replaced with woven wire rims in 1892, then with cast iron rims in 1893 to make the retrieval of the ball easier (Mokray n.p.). The cast iron rims were used until the early 1900s. In 1912, open-ended nylon nets were used, which allowed the ball to fall freely after each shot (Mokray n.p.). The new nets were a significant improvement to basketball as they let the players continue with the game with minimal interruption.

The Ball

Before the iconic orange ball fans of basketball know today, Naismith and his students first used soccer balls to play basketball. Soccer balls at the time have lace on one side which disrupts dribbling (Mokray n.p.; Klein n.p.). The first manufactured basketballs were made in a similar manner—with brown leather as the outer layer, with laces, and an inflated ball inside (Klein n.p.). However, this basketball was, as mentioned not ideal for dribbling as it bounced erratically, and they were unable to maintain its shape for long. The basketball was redesigned in 1929 (Klein n.p..; Naismith Basketball Foundation n.p.). The laces were hidden in the new design and the balls were made larger and lighter for easier handling and dribbling.

Spalding, the most popular manufacturer of quality basketballs at present, is also part of basketball history. The company became the official ball maker of the sport in the late 1890s and was central in the evolution and improvement of basketball. In 1942, molded basketballs were manufactured, which were able to maintain their shape. Since then Spalding has been the official manufacturer of basketball.

The Spread of Basketball

Basketball immediately became popular in the United States. The game, in fact, sparked an increase in the YMCA’s membership (Mokray n.p.). However, basketball was not only popular in the US. Canada was the first country outside the US to play the game. Britannica attributes this to the fact that Naismith and the first players of basketball were all Canadians (Mokray n.p.). Basketball was introduced to France shortly after, then to England, Australia, China, India, and Japan between 1893 to 1900. 

Despite basketball’s popularity, numerous associations within the YMCA outlawed the game because its nature allowed only a few members to use their facilities (Mokray n.p.). This decision of the YMCA paved the way for the professionalization of basketball as players had to hire gyms on their own. Being outside the YMCA, players were also free to make modifications. A jersey—knee-length football trousers, jersey tights, short padded pants, and knee guards—was established. Boundary lines that established the shape of the court were also developed due to the irregular shapes of gyms (Mokray n.p.). Wooden backboards were also added to the net to avoid interference from the audience (Mokray n.p.). Numerous aspects of the game were standardized, and soon leagues that regulated the game and held competitions were formed. 

High School And College Basketball

Basketball was favored in high schools, particularly in interscholastic competitions, due to its minimal equipment requirements. Both men and women played high school basketball in the early 20th century. The sport also became quite popular throughout the US and people enjoyed watching the games. Today, high school varsity players go on to compete for colleges and universities on scholarship, and then professionally. High school and college basketball are important foundational grounds for professional basketball. While the standard is to play for a college or university, some players who wanted to get paid for playing sports have attempted to join the National Basketball Association straight out of high school. Examples of these are Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal. Others, however, have been lobbying for colleges to pay student athletes for representing their schools. Basketball players enjoy a prestigious status both in schools and in their professional lives.

Basketball made its way to colleges by way of the YMCA. Games between college students became quite popular that, soon, colleges and universities sponsored teams and games (Mokray, n.p.). Collegiate championship tournaments were held and soon conferences and associations were established. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the most prominent association that emerged and it grew to become the major governing body among colleges. 

The strict time limit of basketball games today emerged from high school and college basketball (Mokray, n.p.). Associations imposed a time limit for holding on to the ball at midcourt to discourage slowdown tactics often employed by the leading team. The NCAA also imposed a time limit for controlling the ball before attempting to score. These modifications made the game the fast-paced and exciting rally people know it for today. 

Professional Basketball

The Fédération Internationale de Basketball or FIBA is the world governing body for basketball (Mokray, n.p.). However, FIBA also holds championships—the FIBA World Cup—where teams representing various countries compete. FIBA, although, not as big as the National Basketball Association of the US, is well-respected and patronized internationally.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the most popular basketball league in the world. The NBA is the sports league in the United States and Canada. It started with 11 teams but now there are 30 teams, divided into 2 conferences—the Eastern and Western Conferences (Mokray, n.p.). Teams and players in the NBA are recognizable all over the world. The NBA is one of the most profitable and popular leagues in the world, whose viewership goes beyond age, gender, and nationality. 

Women’s Basketball

The first women’s college basketball was played in 1893 at Smith College. However, women have been playing basketball as long as men have. The style of play and rules for women’s basketball were influenced by an H. Sophie Newcomb College for Women player, Clara Baer (Mokray n.p.). Women’s basketball games were governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) until it was transferred to the NCAA in the early 1980s (Mokray n.p.). Women’s basketball was quite popular at the high school and college levels, but there were no professional opportunities. There were attempts at forming professional leagues for women’s basketball, such as the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978 (Mokray n.p.). In 1997, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was established. Women’s games were held alongside men’s games. However, issues regarding the sportsmanship, popularity, and profitability, especially in relation to equal pay for male and female athletes, of women’s basketball games were questioned. From 2006 until the present, the WNBA has gained its own viewership and fanbase. 

The Basketball We Know

Basketball has been around for 129 years. Since basketball was created by Naismith, the game has changed numerous times. Although the general rules of basketball are universal, different leagues and organizations implement some modifications to the game such as the length of each game, the size of the ball and court, penalties, and so on. 

Some of the modifications to basketball were made to make the game more exciting, such as allowing players to run with the ball as long as they dribble, as well as the new time limits for holding the ball, not dribbling, and staying in certain areas of the court. Whereas other modifications made officiating games easier. As strategies and individual gameplays evolved, fouls have also evolved to be highly specific. Where Naismith only identified shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking opposing players and striking the ball with one’s fist as fouls, basketball rulebooks have expanded these fouls to 27 different fouls, with 3 main types of fouls—personal foul, flagrant foul, and technical foul—plus player foul and a team foul. These modifications have made playing basketball extremely competitive but also somehow stay true to Naismith and the YMCA’s goal of developing a sport that does not involve rough play. One could argue that there is still rough play in basketball, however, those are violations of the rules and are rare occurrences, especially when compared with other sports.

Towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, various modifications to the game of basketball have been made. Aside from the usual 5 players per team, there are games where only 3 or 2 players play per team. These are usually played in half courts, such as in the FIBA. One-on-one games are also played occasionally. 

Players’ uniforms have also evolved. From the knee-length football trousers, jersey tights, short padded pants, and knee guards, we saw players in the 70s and 80s wear shorter, tighter short pants and long socks while players of the 21 st century favored the longer, looser jerseys. 


Basketball has been around for a long time and continues to be played and enjoyed by people of all ages all over the world today. It is a game that involves high levels of teamwork and sportsmanship which makes it ideal even for younger people. Although there are countless changes and modifications to the game and rules of basketball in the last 129 years, there is no doubt that the essence of basketball, as Naismith intended, remains in the game’s core. If you need a more extensive research paper on Basketball or any other sports, feel free to have a chat with us at CustomEssayMeister anytime!

Works Cited

Klein, Christopher. “How A Canadian Invented Basketball.” History, 22 August 2018. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Mokray, William George. “Basketball.” Britannica, 20 August 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.

 “Naismith’s Rules.” Naismith Basketball Foundation.  N.d. Accessed September 30, 2020.

“Newly Found Documents Shed Light On Basketball’s Birth.” ESPN NBA,  13 November 2006. Accessed September 30, 2020.

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