The only known audio recording (listen here) of basketball inventor and Springfield College alumnus James Naismith describing the first organized game of basketball, played 124 years ago this month at Springfield College, was unveiled this week by Michael J. Zogry, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas. Zogry, who recently obtained the three-minute audio from the Library of Congress, has collaborated with Springfield College Archivist Jeffrey Monseau throughout the years in sharing historic documents regarding James Naismith and the history of basketball.
Rachel Naismith, the inventor’s great-granddaughter and the assistant director of information and research at Springfield College’s Babson Library, described the excitement of the Naismith family when the audio recording was released.
“As a Naismith and a member of the Springfield College community, I can assure you that there was much excitement and a lot of grinning going on when family members heard the voice of our relative -my great-grandfather - on this long-lost radio broadcast,” said Rachel Naismith. “It was startling to hear his voice clearly recount his recollection of the invention of this sport, a sport that is played by people of all races, genders, and nationalities, rich or poor, around the world. His humor and humility came through loud and clear. Rarely do we get such an opportunity to peek back on history.”
The audio takes the listeners back to the winter of 1891 when James Naismith, a 31-year-old-graduate student at the time, was instructed by Luther Halsey Gulick, superintendent of physical education at the College, to come up with a new activity that can be played by college students indoors during the long winter months in New England.
James Naismith’s charge was to create a game that was easy to assimilate, yet complex enough to be interesting. It had to be playable indoors or on any kind of ground, and by a large number of players all at once. The goal was to provide plenty of exercise, yet without the roughness of football, soccer, or rugby since those would threaten bruises and broken bones if played in a confined space.
James Naismith explains in the audio that it was that first game played that led Naismith to draft the 13 original rules, which described, among other facets, the method of moving the ball and what constituted a foul. A referee was appointed. The game would be divided into two, 15-minute halves with a five-minute resting period in between. James Naismith’s secretary typed up the rules and tacked them on the bulletin board. A short time later, the gym class met, and the teams were chosen with three centers, three forwards, and three guards per side. Two of the centers met at mid-court, Naismith tossed the ball, and the game of “basket ball” was born.