Basketball — History of Game Design

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Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education professor at what is now called Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. The story goes that Naismith came up with the earliest form of the game while trying to think of an activity that his class could perform on rainy days when they couldn’t go outside. Naismith came up with the original concept for the game, in which he nailed a peach basket to the balcony of the gymnasium and players would compete to throw the ball into the basket.

This early form of basketball only had 13 rules, and was much different from the game we know today. For one thing, the original rules did not specify how many players should be on a team. The first basketball game had 9 players per team, because there were 18 people in Naismith’s class — he simply divided the class in half. However, by 1895 five player teams had become standard.

Another difference was the basket — the original basket was a literal fruit basket, and every time a goal was scored a ladder had to be brought out so the ball could be removed. This quickly became tedious, so a hole was added in the bottom so that the ball could be knocked out of the basket with a broom handle. By around

Invented in 1891 by James Naismith in Springfield, MA. Naismith was a physical education professor at what is now Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. The story goes that Naismith came up with the earliest form of the game while trying to think of an activity that his class could perform on rainy days when they couldn’t go outside. He nailed a peach basket on an elevated rack, and had his students throw the ball into the basket. Originally the basket kept its bottom, but it was later removed after Naismith realized that it was inefficient to manually remove the ball from the basket after every point. By 1906, these baskets were replaced with hollow metal rims.

Basketball originally did not allow dribbling — players were not allowed to move once they got possession of the ball, and the only way to move the ball around the court was by passing from player to player. However, players soon developed the technique of “passing to themselves” by bouncing the ball away and running to recover it. This technique evolved to what we now know as dribbling, in which players continuously bounce the ball while in possession.

The final main difference was the ball — the game originally used a Soccer ball, which was held together with large stitches that would interfere with bounce-passes and dribbling. In 1894 Spalding became the first company to make official balls specifically for basketball, and developed techniques to hide the stitches.

The first official game of basketball was played on January 20, 1892, and it quickly spread around the country. At the time, Springfield University was known as the “International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School”, and was a part of the YMCA. Because of this, it quickly spread to YMCAs around the country as a game that could be played indoors with few players and very little equipment. This also made the game appealing to high schools, which were generally much smaller around this time.

Basketball also began spreading among American colleges. Just a year after the first game was played at Springfield College, the first college basketball team was established at Pittsburgh Geneva College, and Naismith himself established and coached a team at the University of Kansas, with University of Chicago and University of Kentucky also being early adopters. In 1895 the first intercollegiate game was played between Hamline University and University of Minnesota, with the University of Minnesota winning 9–3.

The first professional basketball league was the National Basketball league, which was formed with 6 teams in 1898. This was the first of many short lived professional leagues that primarily appeared in the first half of the 1900s. However, most professional teams during this early period did not make money playing in official leagues, but by touring around the country playing exhibition matches, also known as “barnstorming”. These teams would play wherever there was space, including dance-halls and even literal barns, and made money on charging admission. Examples of these early barnstorming teams include the Original Celtics, founded in 1918, and the Harlem Globetrotters, who started touring in 1926 and are still around today. Fun fact — the Harlem Globetrotters were not from Harlem. They were actually formed in Chicago, and didn’t even perform in Harlem until 40 years later! Harlem was included in the name because it was originally an all-black team, and Harlem was considered the center of black American culture.

During the early 1900s basketball also began to spread internationally, partially aided by World War 1 as American soldiers would spread basketball with them as they moved through Europe. In 1932 the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, was formed with 8 member nations — Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland. Men’s basketball was also added to the Olympics in 1936, being first played at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The first FIBA world cup was held in Argentina in 1950.

There were many attempts to establish a professional basketball league in the US, including the National Basketball League in 1937, and the Basketball Association of America in 1946, who merged to form the National Basketball Association, or NBA, in 1949. These competing leagues meant that there was no official authority on the rules of basketball, and the rules varied from league to league.

Even today the rules of basketball are slightly different depending on where you are playing, whether its college vs professional, men’s basketball vs women’s basketball, or American basketball vs international. The rules of basketball have also changed drastically over the years, and it can sometimes take decades for a rule adopted in one league to spread to others.

Throughout the history of the game rules changes were primarily made for 2 reasons — to speed up the pace of the game to make it more exciting for spectators, and to reduce the advantage of very tall players. For an example of the former, look no further than “time line” rule, which requires a team who gains possession of the ball to cross the half-court line within 8 or 10 seconds and was added in 1933. A good example of the latter is the “3 second rule”, which states that offensive players cannot spend more than 3 seconds in an area around the hoop known as foul lane or “key”. This rule was added in 1936 after a particularly rough game between University of Kentucky and New York University, and the stated reason was to reduce roughness beneath the basket. This rule also made it more difficult for tall players to hang around the basket and make easy shots, although this was not a major concern at the time.

It may be hard to believe, but early on basketball was not dominated by tall players, because it was believed that they did not have the agility necessary to be successful. One player who shattered these expectations was George Mikan, who played between 1946 and 1956, primarily for the Minneapolis Lakers. He was an incredibly successful player who won 7 championships in the various competing leagues of the NBL, BAA and NBA, and was responsible for several changes to the game. First, he is responsible for the widening of the foul lane from 6 feet to 12 feet. This became known as the “Mikan Rule”, and the rule was specifically changed to make Mikan a bit less dominant by forcing him to stand further from the basket.

Mikan was also responsible for creation of rules outlawing defensive goaltending. Goaltending is basically when a player knocks away a ball that is on its way into the hoop, and there was no rule against it until 1944 when it became a technical foul specifically because Mikan was so good at guarding the hoop.

Mikan is also at least partially responsible for the creation of the shot clock, which requires that the team in possession of the ball attempts to make a shot within a specific period of time — usually 30 or 24 seconds. Before the shot clock was introduced it was not uncommon for teams in the lead to simply try and stall the game and prevent the opposing team from getting an opportunity to score. This tendency came to a head during a game between the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Minneapolis Lakers in 1950. This game was the lowest scoring game in NBA history, with a final score of 19 to 18, and as soon as the Pistons got lead they simply passed the ball around and didn’t even attempt to score, because they didn’t want to give George Mikan an opportunity to make a comeback. Soon afterwards the shot clock was introduced to prevent situations like this from occurring.

Finally, Mikan popularized, if not outright invented, the hook shot, which was incredibly difficult to block and would go on to become a preferred shot for players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Yao Ming.

Another dominant player who caused rules changes was Wilt Chamberlain, who played between 1958 to 1973. Like Mikan, he was responsible for the further widening of the lane (this time from 12 feet to 16 feet), and goaltending rules (in this case, rules against offensive, rather than defensive goaltending). He was also responsible for rules changes around free throws, because of his reported ability to slam dunk from behind the free throw line!

One of the biggest rules changes made in the history of basketball was the addition of the 3 point line — an arc on the court where field goals are worth 3 points instead of the usual 2. There were experiments with a 3 point goal line during individual games in 1945 and 1958, but it wasn’t established as an official rule until the 1961 season of the American Basketball League. Even after the NBA was formed in 1949 there were still several competing leagues, and the three point shot was considered a way that they ABL could draw in fans and differentiate itself from the NFL. The three-point shot was not successful in saving the ABL, which shut down in 1963, but several other leagues adopted the rule before the NBA finally added a 3 point line in 1979.

More recently, Stephen Curry has been changing the way that professional teams think about 3-point shots. Curry has been playing professionally for the Golden State Warriors since 2009, and is considered to be one of the best shooters in NBA history. He is known for his incredible accuracy when shooting from long distances, and is largely responsible for an increased focus on 3-point shots in the league.

While men’s basketball is the more popular sport worldwide, women’s basketball also has a long history that goes back nearly as far. The first women’s basketball team was formed in 1892 — the same year that Naismith played his first game at Springfield College. By 1976 Women’s college was added to the Olympics, and the NCAA began supporting women’s college basketball in 1982. Americas major professional women’s basketball league, the WNBA, began in 1996.

That’s all I have for today. If you liked this video give it a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos, like my previous entries in the “history of game design” series. I also have over 100 articles on the Rempton Games blog, which you can check out at the link in the description down below. And join me next time, where I’ll share the project that got me a master’s degree in computer science! Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.

Originally published at https://remptongames.com on December 15, 2020.

Software engineer by day, game designer, writer, and enthusiast by night! I love learning about games and sharing what I learn with all of you!