Two Peach Baskets and a Soccer Ball


In 1891, a Canadian named James Naismith tacked two peach baskets onto a gymnasium balcony in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith, who had been born in Canada, was working as a physical education teacher at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College). He wanted to develop an indoor game that could be played during those harsh Massachusetts winters. The first game involved the peach baskets as goals and a soccer ball. The game caught on and soon was being played in schools and colleges across the United States. By the end of the 1900’s, basketball was annually drawing millions of fans to gymnasiums and arenas throughout the world, along with millions more who regularly watched games on television.

When the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia was published in 1917, basketball was barely 25 years old. The 1917 article called the game “basket ball” and portrayed it as a form of self-improvement. “It is an excellent game not only for physical exercise but for mental training as well, as it calls for concentration, quickness of perception and thought and the ‘team work’ which is so valuable for all group play.”




The game as described in the 1917 World Book did resemble the modern game in some basics. Each team had five players, a basket counted as two points, and a free throw counted as one point. The ball was about the same size and weight as today’s ball. But the court was almost 25 feet (7.6 meters) shorter and 15 feet (4.6 meters) narrower than today’s court. Dribbling was not part of the game. Players passed the ball among themselves until someone took a shot. The 1917 article cautioned that the game makes considerable physical demands on a player and advised “Any intending player of basket ball, man, woman, boy or girl, should be examined for heart condition by a regular physician before engaging in play.”

The 1917 article had only one illustration, a simple black and white drawing of a court of the time. The 2017 World Book devotes almost 15 pages to the game, combining text, tables, and 40 diagrams, drawings, and photographs to capture basketball’s color, excitement, skills, and history. James Naismith died in 1939, never suspecting that his two peach baskets would inspire one of the world’s most popular sports.


Celebrate a century of knowledge with The World Book Encyclopedia 2017!


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