By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – A game drawn up to occupy some bored boys as winter approached at a Massachusetts gymnasium celebrates its 125th anniversary on Wednesday and basketball’s status as the world’s second most popular sport.
Basketball began on Dec 21, 1891 at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) gym in Springfield with rules made up by Canadian physical education instructor James Naismith.
Last year more than one billion people watched National Basketball Association programming, said NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, who helps preside over the world’s preeminent ‘hoops’ league.
On Wednesday, Springfield’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame marks the anniversary with celebrations including a Birthday of Basketball college doubleheader featuring Auburn, Boston College, Fairfield and Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Naismith recalled the sport’s primitive beginnings in a New York radio interview in 1939.
“I called the boys to the gym, divided them up into teams of nine and gave them a little soccer ball,” he said.
“I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym (about 10 feet above the floor), and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket.
“I blew the whistle, and the first game of basketball began.”
Running with the ball was not allowed, only passing or directing it with the hand toward a team mate or the basket. Dribbling and other developments came over time.
The new game quickly caught on after Naismith’s 13 initial rules were spread by the YMCA’s newsletter. By 1894 basketball was being played in France, China, India and more than a dozen other countries.
It became a favorite in schools, college campuses and playgrounds, and at the Olympics and in professional leagues across the globe.
The NBA includes international players from 41 countries and territories – a contingent making up more than 25 percent of the league.
“Basketball is appealing because it can be played by both boys and girls, indoors and outdoors, in rural communities and cities, and without a lot of built-in infrastructure,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum.
Tatum said technology and social media had helped boost the massive growth of the sport.
“NBA games and programming can be seen in 215 countries and territories in 49 languages, and last year more than 1 billion people watched NBA programming,” he said.
Old fashioned technology showed its value when an alumnus of the University of Kansas, where Naismith in 1898 became its first basketball coach, paid $4.3 million at auction for the two pages of typewritten rules that launched the sport.
Kansas built a $21.7 million facility that connects to the Allen Fieldhouse to house the original two-page document and a student center.
(Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Peter Rutherford)