History of Basketball — Everything You Need to Know

Today, basketball is a ball-and-hoop sport with two hoops on each side and five players per team on a standard 94-by-50-foot court. But has basketball always been the same?

In this article, we’ll look back at the origins of basketball, including the first game ever played, the original regulations, and how it gained popularity across the world.

How it All Began

Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891. Naismith was a Canadian-American and a physical education instructor at Springfield College in Massachusetts (then known as the YMCA International Training School). 

When the New England storm forced students to stay indoors, Naismith came up with a game to keep the students in shape during the cold winter months.


The game was designed to allow the class to exercise without exposing players to the risk of injury. At the time, marching, calisthenics, and apparatus work were among the winter athletics activities offered by the gymnasium class. 

The result?

Naismith divided 18 students into two teams, each with nine members and 13 rules to follow. The game involved shooting a soccer ball into 10-foot-high peach hoops (hence the name “basketball”), put on opposite ends of the balcony of the school's gym.

The First Game Ever

As you can imagine, the first game was wildly different from the current game on various fronts. For instance, the gym was 50-feet by 35-feet, as opposed to today's massive 94 by 50 feet courts.

The hoops were originally peach baskets with a bottom enclosure, and a person had to be on stand-by to return the ball every time someone scored a goal.

Evolution – How Basketball Took Over the World

Basketball has been around for nearly 130 years and has seen significant changes since its inception.

The game first gained popularity in American colleges in the first decade before expanding to Canada and the rest of the globe thanks to efforts of the US Army and the YMCA.

Let's take a quick look at the various milestones in basketball history. 


1893: This was when the first international basketball game was played. In the same year, several matches were held in various regions. Mel Rideout organized the first European game in Paris, Bob Gailey in China, Duncan Patton in India, Hareek in Persia, and Genzabaro Ishikawa in Japan.

1894: Dr. James Naismith contracted Spalding to create a basketball that would replace the soccer ball.

1895: Hamline University hosted the University of Minnesota for the first-ever documented game between college teams. The former won with a score of 9 – 3. You can take a look at the first intercollegiate basketball game in this video.

1896: The first collegiate five-on-five game took place between the University of Chicago and Iowa. The University of Chicago won the game by a score of 15 – 12. 

1898: The first professional basketball league was formed, with six teams participating in the National Basketball League.

1900: The game expanded to the point where almost every institution had formed a basketball team.

1904: World War I saw the creation of small championships, although most teams preferred to compete for money. In the same year, various petitions by basketball fans resulted in the game being featured in the Olympics.

However, it wasn’t until 1936 that the game was officially included in the Olympics’ schedule of events.

1905: The Basketball Rule Committee introduced formal basketball rules for college games. The sport was also identified as a year-round activity.

1906: Metal hoops, nets, and backboards replaced the peach baskets.

1909: The National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA took over control of the game.

1914 – 1918: The American Expeditionary Force introduced basketball wherever they went during the World War I period, leading to the widespread appeal of the game. 

1921: Players were allowed to return to the game after substitutions. 

1939: The first NCAA men's tournament was held. The inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, died in November of the same year at the age of 78. 

Formation of FIBA

The International Basketball Federation, also known as FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball), was established in June 1932 to coordinate basketball teams worldwide.

Argentina, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Latvia were founding members. Dr. James Naismith was named as FIBA's Honorary President in 1936. 

Thanks to the efforts of the international organization, basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936. The game was included in the official Olympic schedule, where the United States basketball team defeated Canada and won the gold medal. 


In the same year, FIBA was instrumental in revising the existing basketball rules to suit international games in playing style and tempo. The regulations also helped the teams improve their overall performance.

Since 1950, FIBA has hosted the FIBA Basketball World Cup every four years. 


The National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and grew into a multi-billion dollar industry by the end of the century.

In 1949, the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to become the NBA. The league comprises 30 teams and is recognized as the national governing body for basketball in the United States by FIBA.

What were the 13 Original Rules of Basketball?

Initially, Naismith came up with 13 rules to govern the game. After students introduced the game in local YMCAs, the rules were printed in a college magazine and circulated across the country.

Let's revisit Naismith's original rules of basketball:

  1. Players could throw the ball in either direction using one or both hands.

  2. The ball may be hit with one or both hands in any direction, but not with the fist.

  3. A player was not supposed to run with the ball but rather toss it from where they caught it. However, there were allowances if the player ran at a reasonable speed.

  4. Players must hold the ball with their hands, and they were not allowed to grip it with their arms or bodies.

  5. Players were not allowed to shoulder, hold, push, strike, or trip an opponent. In the event of a rule violation, the first counted as a foul. The second resulted in disqualification until the next goal, or for the whole game if it was evident that the player was intentionally injured.

  6. It was deemed a foul to strike the ball with your fist.

  7. If there were three consecutive fouls by either team, with no fouls by the opponents in between, it was considered a goal for the opponents.

  8. A goal was scored only when the ball was thrown or hit into the basket from the ground and stayed there as long as the defending team did not disturb or touch it. If the ball rested on the edges and the opponents moved the basket, it counted as a goal.

  9. The first player to touch the ball out of bounds had to toss it onto the field. If there were a disagreement, the umpire would throw it right into the designated area. If the thrower-in held it for over five seconds, it went to the opponent. Plus, the umpire called a foul on any team that continued to delay the game.

  10. The umpire was the judge of the players, recording fouls and informing the referee when teams made three consecutive fouls. Based on rule 5, he also had the authority to disqualify players.

  11. The referee was responsible for deciding when the ball was in play or out of bounds. He also determined when a goal was scored and kept track of the goals and time.

  12. Both teams played the game in two 15-minute halves with a five-minute rest.

  13. The side that scored the most goals in the allotted period was declared the winner. In case of a tie, the game continued until someone made a goal. 

In 2010, the two sheets of Naismith's original basketball rules were auctioned off for $4.3 million. Although some rules have been updated and expanded, the principles of the original game have not changed much.

Conclusion: Basketball History

The history of basketball is fascinating and worth learning about. The game began with a 31-year graduate student at Springfield College asking the janitor for two square boxes to use as goals but securing two baskets of peaches instead.

In short, basketball is a game that was once a modest solution to the cold weather and has since taken the world by storm.

You may also like: 15 Interesting Facts About Basketball That May Surprise You

Joshua Bast

My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast