Who Was James Naismith? Google Doodle Honors Basketball's Inventor

Today's Google Doodle celebrates Canadian-American Dr. James Naismith, the physical educator, professor, doctor, and coach best known for inventing the game of basketball.

Google's decision to celebrate Naismith on January 15 with a Google Doodle—a special temporary alteration to its homepage logo that commemorates holidays, events, achievements and historical figures—isn't casual.

It was on this date in 1892 that Naismith announced the invention of the game in an article in the The Triangle, the school newspaper of YMCA International Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

When Naismith started working at the school two years earlier, he was swiftly tasked with developing an indoor alternative to football and baseball to keep students occupied during New England's winters.

A native of Ontario, Naismith knew all too well the limitations of living in a region characterized by unforgiving wintry weather and by late December 1891 he was ready to introduce a new game to his students.

Less than a month later, the sport made its official debut on the pages of The Triangle, which detailed the game's original rules.

In its infancy, however, basketball was a vastly different game to the one that has developed into a sporting behemoth played in over 200 countries.

Initially it consisted of nine players per team, a soccer ball and two peach baskets. The sport combined elements of popular outdoor sports such as football, soccer and even field hockey and its rudimentary conception was illustrated by the fact it only had 10 rules.

James Naismith, inventor of basketball
Portrait of Canadian physician and teacher Dr. James Naismith (1861 - 1939), inventor of the game of basketball, 1890s. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"I showed them two peach baskets I'd nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team's peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began," Naismith said in a radio interview in 1939.

The boys began tackling, kicking, and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor [...] It certainly was murder." Naismith tweaked some of the rules to strip the game of some of its overly physical aspect and found the perfect recipe.

"The most important one was that there should be no running with the ball," he continued. That stopped tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those [new] rules and we didn't have one casualty."

Introduced at a time when schools were segregated, Naismith saw basketball as a way to allow all students to better improve themselves from both a physical and mental standpoint.

Like all innovators, however, Naismith initially faced scepticism, before the sport was introduced as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904 and then adopted officially at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

Naismith also lived to see the birth of the National Invitational Tournament in 1938 and of the NCAA Tournament a year later.

In 1898, Naismith pitched up at the University of Kansas and officially launched the men's basketball program. Ironically, for the man who had invented the sport, Naismith's eight seasons as head coach ended with a 55-60 record and to this day he remains the only head coach in Jayhawks history to leave the school with a losing record.

Naismith's memory lives on in one of the most popular sports in the world and in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, which was inaugurated in 1959 in Springfield.

Rules of basketball
A detail of the original 1891 copy of the rules of "Basket Ball" are seen at Sotheby's auction house December 3, 2010 in New York City. Basketball was invented by American teacher James Naismith in 1891 and was an immediate success, and today is played by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Chris Hondros/Getty