Did You Know?: YMCA was Birthplace of Basketball

By: Mollie Shauger | Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | Youth Programs

Children holding basketballs. Credit: Y-USA

One of America’s most popular sports, basketball, was first played at the YMCA more than 125 years ago. The Y has continued the legacy of basketball by offering programs for children and adults that encourage exercise, and concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship. 

Following is a brief history of basketball’s evolution.

According to the YMCA of the USA: In 1891, a YMCA program director named Luther Gulick asked James Naismith, a gym teacher at the YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Mass., to invent a new indoor sport. Gulick wanted an activity to keep students fit and limber during the winter months. Naismith hung two peach baskets from the bottom of an elevated running track, posted a list of 13 simple rules, and basketball was born. 

The game quickly gained popularity, with students introducing the game at their own YMCAs just a few weeks after it was invented. The rules were printed in a college magazine, which was mailed to YMCAs around the country. 

The first games featured nine players a side, attempting to toss a soccer ball into peach baskets nailed to the balconies at the ends of a gymnasium. The baskets did not have holes in them yet, however, so a person had to climb on a ladder to retrieve the ball whenever a basket was made.

Young men from the first basketball team seated on the front of a building. Credit: University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Other noteworthy basketball facts:

  • The first official rules were published in January 1892. Also that year, the Trenton, NJ YMCA started a basketball team and claimed to be the national champs in 1896 after beating other YMCA and college teams.
  • The first recorded women’s team plays basketball in 1894, and Naismith’s future wife is one of the players
  • Basketball’s first professional league was founded in 1898. 
  • High schools and colleges began to introduce the new game, and by 1905, basketball was officially recognized as a permanent winter sport.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Olympic track star Jesse Owens and baseball legend Jackie Robinson all played on YMCA basketball courts during their lives.

Visit your local YMCA branch to inquire about basketball programs for all ages, or browse our programs at metroymcas.org. Because the Y is for all, financial assistance is available for eligible individuals and families who would like to participate in Y programs.


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