Jumping through hoops – Canadian overcomes adversity

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2010

The fourth child of Scottish immigrants was born in Ramsay Township in Ontario, Canada on Nov. 6, 1861.  By age 9, Jim had lost both of his parents. His grandmother raised him until her death two years later. Then, he lived with a bachelor uncle.

In 1875, Jim entered high school, but attended less than two years.  Later, he did complete his high school equivalency in a year and a half, graduating in 1883.  Then, he attended McGill University in Montreal where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education, participating in football, rugby and lacrosse. Jim often visited the YMCA in Montreal.

The young man went on to earn a master’s degree in 1890 from the Presbyterian College of Theology in Montreal.  During a rugby game his senior year, a player on his team uttered some profanity, apologizing to Jim by saying “I forgot you were there.”  Those words changed Jim’s life and gave him the idea to help men through physical and spiritual development.

Jim chose not to go into the ministry, but instead came to Springfield, Mass., to serve as a PE instructor at the YMCA’s International Training School for Christian Workers “to win men for the Master through the gym.”

In those days, indoor physical education consisted of calisthenics, gymnastics and drills. Participation in outdoor sports like football and track and field at the YMCA was on the increase.  Luther Gulick, Jim’ supervisor, asked him to invent new games for students to play indoors during the winter months.

Jim remembered a game he played as a child called “duck-on-a-rock,” in which players threw a rock at a “duck” placed on top of a large rock, trying to knock the “duck” off.  So he nailed peach baskets for goals on the wall at each end of the gym floor, and soccer ball for players to pass as teams ran back and forth between the baskets.  No tackles were allowed.

In 1891, James “Jim” Naismith invented the game of basketball.  Jim replaced the peach baskets with iron hoops and a hammock-style basket.  The opened-ended nets like we use today came 10 years later.

In his book, “Basketball: Its Origin and Development,” published after his death, Naismith wrote, “Whenever I witness games in a church league, I feel that my vision, almost half a century ago, of the time when the Christian people would recognize the true value of athletics, has become a reality.”

“Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals,” James Naismith once said.  Maybe he taught athletes how to achieve these three with the scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Interestingly enough, Jim never profited from the game he invented and did not accept any fees when speaking about basketball.  He and his wife, Maude, had five children.

Naismith died of a heart attack in 1939.  He left a legacy of faith and the gift of a game played in more than 200 countries around the world.