Dr. Naismith
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The original Dr. J.

Dr. James Naismith is best known world wide as the inventor of basketball. He also led an exemplary life, following the values he held dear. He was an educator and leader, dedicated to developing character through sport, and devoted to serving society. His gift of basketball is played in over 200 countries around the world.

Biography of James Naismith

1861: Born on November 6 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. Son of John Naismith and Margaret Young.
1867-1895: He attended the grade school at Bennie's Corners near Almonte.
1873: After the death of both his parents, plus his maternal grandmother, he lives with his uncle Peter Young.
1875: Enters Almonte High School but less than two years later leaves his studies for four years. He returned and completed his high school equivalency in 1.5 years graduating in 1883.
1883: Enters McGill University in Montreal where he earns a BA in Physical Education. He participates in football, rugby, lacrosse and ground gymnastics.
1887: Enters the Presbyterian College of Theology in Montreal and obtains a diploma in 1890.
1890: Departs for America and Springfield College in Massachusetts.
1891: At the end of his studies he becomes a professor at Springfield where he stays until 1895. During his vacation he goes to Martha's Vineyard to learn about the Swedish principles of gymnastics to adopt at his training school. In the autumn he takes up a seminar in psychology created by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, the director of the PE department. There is a need to create an interesting indoor game becomes the resulting quest
1891: On December 21st the first game of Basket Ball is introduced to James Naismith's class of secretaries. Following brief scepticism, the game is a hit before the students depart for Christmas break.
1892: Basketball becomes a big success: so successful in fact it is published in 'Triangle' magazine under the title 'A New Game'. In January, Frank Mahan demands the game be named 'Naismith Ball' but Naismith refuses.
1894: On June 20 he marries Maude E. Sherman from Springfield. The couple will have five children: Margaret Mason (1895), Helen Carolyn (1897), John Edwin (1900), Maude Ann (1904) and James Sherman (1913). Together with Gulick he publishes the rules in the "American Sports Publishing Company".
1895: Moves to Denver to become PE director at the YMCA where he'll stay until 1898. At the same time he is attending the University of Colorado Medical School (Gross Medical College) and graduates in 1898.
1898: Becomes director of the gymnasium, campus chaplain, and basketball coach at University of Kansas.
1910: Receives an honorary Masters degree in PE.
1911: Publishes "A Modern College".
1916: Sent to the Mexican frontier with his regiment for four months
1917: Nominated as YMCA Secretary and spends 19 months working in France. Returns in 1919.
1918: Publishes the "Essence of a Healthy Life".
1925: Takes American citizenship to meet government requirements after serving with the military.
1935: Under the NABC initiative funds are created from the contribution of coaches, players and spectators to send James Naismith to Berlin for the Olympics through the Naismith Fund.
1936: Inauguration ceremony in Berlin (April 7): A tribute from the organizational committee he throws the ball for the first match of the Olympic Games.
1937: His wife Maude dies. On March 3 he becomes Professor Emeritus in Kansas and retires at the age of 76 from the University.
1938: Receives the Legum Doctorate degree at McGill University.
1939: Honorary Doctor of Divinity at the Presbyterian College in Montreal (April): On June 11 he marries Florence Kincaid in Lawrence (Kansas): November 19: suffers a brain hemorrhage; November 28: dies of a heart attack aged 78 at his home 1515 University Drive. Lawrence.
1941: Posthumously voted Life Member of Physical Education Instructors of America. His masterwork, "Basketball - its Origins and Development" is published by the Associated Press Basketball. He was a member of the Republicans and honorary president of the American Association of Coaches.

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Naismith Family Background

James Naismith and Wife MaudeIn the hard times of the 1820's, the government of Britain arranged for the settlement of its constituents in particular areas of Canada. Specifying that the emigrants pay their own ship passage, the British government agreed to provide tools, blankets, seed grain and small sums of money to tide the settlers over until harvest next fall.

James Naismith's ancestors were among the multitudes of Scottish immigrants to settle in Lanark County, Ontario, near the junction of the Mississippi and Indian Rivers.

James' grandparents, Robert and Annie Young, arrived in Canada in 1852. Annie reared eleven children. The fourth of these eleven children was Margaret Young, James' mother, born in Scotland in 1833. A year after the Young's arrived, eighteen year old John Naismith, James' father, left his parents and migrated from Scotland to the Lanark District of Upper Canada. He soon moved to live and work with his Uncle Peter who had arrived in Ramsay Township in 1832.

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The Community

The community in which the Young farm was located was the most densely populated part of the township and was the place where the first schools and churches were built. The eighth line had two thriving settlements in the early days a few miles apart: Leckies Corners and Bennie's Corners. In 1847 Bennie's Corners (named for the pioneer postmaster in the village) had facilities more than adequate for its population of 75 people: a school, a church, a blacksmith shop, a shoemaker shop, a cooperage, a carriage shop, a general merchandise store and a post office. Within reasonable distance were a tannery, a carding mill, a weaving shop, a timber slide and sawmill, and several gristmills.

Unfortunately, a fire in 1851 destroyed the village of Bennie's Corners and it was never fully rebuilt. Bennie's Corners in the 1870's, the time of James Naismith's adolescence, was no longer an important crossroad. It consisted of a few residences, a store, and a blacksmith shop and one very important institution--the schoolhouse. Here James received his grade school education.

James Naismith and GrandsonWith the decline of Bennie's Corners from a thriving village to a minor cross-roads, the settlement now known as Almonte became the economic, social and cultural centre for the area. Named by the Scottish-Irish Canadian group of settlers to honour General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, the Mexican ambassador to the United States in 1856, Almonte was one of the first villages in the Ottawa Valley. This textile-manufacturing centre of the country formed where the Mississippi River showed a sixty-two foot drop in three stages, making a tremendous supply of water available to generate power. This town is the town where James would attend high school and church.

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James Naismith: The Early Years

Born near Almonte, Ontario on November 6, 1861, James was the eldest son of Scottish immigrants John and Margaret Naismith. In 1869, at the age of eight, James moved with his family to Grand Calumet where his father began work as a saw hand. Orphaned at age nine, when his parents contracted typhoid fever while working in the milling community. When their grandmother died in 1872, the Naismith children, Annie, James and Robbie, were left under the care of their authoritarian uncle, Peter Young.

James cut across the fields to attend grade school in a one-room schoolhouse in Bennie's Corners. Jim was known in the neighborhood as a strong and skillful boy, but at school his monthly report cards showed poor grades. Mr. Thomas B. Caswell, James' grade school teacher, instructed him in reading, writing, arithmetic, advanced mathematics, Latin grammar and other subjects. Although not the head of his class in academics, he was a leader among his peers in all physical activities and showed signs of becoming a fine athlete. James attended high school in a gray limestone building in Almonte.

Before and after school hours, Jim was assigned chores around the farm and worked in the woods. Jim learned to chop trees, saw logs, and drive horses. The walk from the farm to school was 5 miles.

Jim learned early many lessons in honesty, initiative, independence, and ruggedness. Uncle Peter put great stock in reliability and self-reliance. When Jim was sent into the field or the woods with a team of horses, he was expected to do the assigned job without asking for help. If trouble arose, he was depended upon to take care of it himself.

James Naismith and R.Tait MackenziePlay
Despite the burden of farm duties, there was time for play. In Bennie's Corners the blacksmith shop was the gathering spot for the children of the area. Here they enjoyed watching the blacksmith work his materials and playing in the sugarbush behind the shop. Where a tree or boulder served as a convenient base, they played variations of tag and hide-and-seek or tried their skill at "duck on the rock" - a game which combined throwing with tag using a large base stone to be guarded by the one player.

In the fields, creeks and rivers beyond the blacksmith shop Jim and his friends found more space to play. With each season came a different opportunity for recreation.

In the fall, James was involved in hunting. In the surrounding forests the local boys hunted squirrels, partridge and snowshoe hare with bows and arrows. As they grew and matured they were given guns to hunt deer and Canadian lynx.

During the winter, snowshoeing, ice hockey, skating, and tobogganing were favorite activities. Not willing to ask his uncle for a pair of skates, James fashioned a pair for himself by setting metal files into pieces of wood.

In the spring, "sugaring-off" occurred in the Ontario maple groves. The making of maple sugar provided a fun time for Jim and his friends.

With summer came swimming. Jim used to lead boys across the fields and through the woods to favorite swimming spots in the Indian and Mississippi Rivers where they frolicked, swam and balanced on floating logs.

In all outdoor activities Jim was a leader. He was one of the strongest and most skilful boys in the neighborhood.

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Duck on a RockDuck on a Rock

This stone sat in the blacksmith's yard adjacent to the Bennie's Corners school in Ramsay Township where James attended. They played a game on this stone called "Duck on a Rock" which was a game that combined tag with throwing. Players formed a line from a distance of 15-20 feet from the base stone. Each player used a fist-sized stone. The object was to dislodge the "guards" stone from the top of the base stone, by throwing, taking turns. The guard would be positioned in a neutral area away from the thrower. If one succeeded, they would go to the back of the line. If you missed the guards' stone, the "chase" would be on and if tagged before the stone was recovered, the players would trade places.

Over time, they discovered that if the stone was hurled like a baseball it would bound far away and increase the likelihood of being caught by the guard. The players developed a lobbed arcing shot that proved to be more controllable, more accurate, and less likely to bounce away, thus increasing their chance of retrieval.

When he was given the task of introducing a new indoor game in 1891, he was given two main objectives - "make it fair for all players, and free of rough play".
James analyzed the games of the day (rugby, lacrosse, football, soccer, hockey and baseball) and observed that the larger ball didn't move as swift as the smaller balls, so he chose the soccer ball for the new game. Next he observed that contact and rough play in the other games occurred when the object was carried, dribbled, stick handled etc. His first decision was to remove running with the ball.

The next observation was that there was much jostling and rough play in the defense of the goal, net or goal line in the other games. He chose to place the goal over head where it couldn't be guarded.

This posed a new problem, since this was the first game with the goal above the plane of the playing area. How would they shoot to score?

Remembering back to "Duck on a Rock" and how successful the lobbed arcing shot proved, he incorporated it into the shooting method for his new game Basket Ball.

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Athlete and Scholar

At McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Jim Naismith began a four year Bachelor of Arts program. Jim studied as he had never studied before. He made the decision to put sports aside and spend all his time on assignments. That was, until one day when two fellow students convinced him of the need to join the athletic program at the university for the sake of keeping fit.

Jim headed for McGill University's gymnasium where he soon began participating in the gymnastic and rugby program. By his junior year, he was winning the university's highest honours for his athletic involvement. Jim had time for extracurricular interests, joining the student government and Literary Society for which he debated. He was also a member of the Society choir.

In 1887, after four successful university years, he was cited on the Prize and Honour List for having passed the Bachelor of Arts in Honours in philosophy and Hebrew. He graduated as one of the top ten in his class on April 30, 1887.

After graduation Jim enrolled in the largest theological school affiliated with McGill University, the Presbyterian College. To finance his education he accepted an appointment as instructor of physical education in the gymnasium at McGill. As a student in a theological program, he studied hard and became involved in extracurricular religious activities. He was a member of staff of the Presbyterian College Journal, active in the Literary and Philosophical Society, and in the Missionary Society.

Although James won theological scholarships, he dismayed colleagues and professors by continuing his involvement in athletics. He played lacrosse - a sport occasionally referred to at the time as "legalized murder", and rugby - a hard hitting sport, which some considered a tool of the devil. Jim was advised to leave the evils of the athletic life and devote himself to books and Christian duties. James' views of athletics differed from those of his instructors. He continued his involvement with sports.

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A New Path

During a rugby game in his senior year in seminary, a player on Jim's team uttered some profanity, then apologized to Jim explaining " I forgot you were there." These words changed the course of James' life. From this remark he began to play with the idea of helping men through athletics and the ministry.

The Young Men's Christian Association (founded in London nearly a half century before) had been established in Boston and Montreal in 1851. Jim often visited the YMCA in Montreal and had become acquainted with the general secretary D.A. Budge. Jim explained to Budge his idea of helping young athletes. It was through Budge that Naismith learned of the Y.M.C.A International Training School in Massachusetts for the education of laymen-leaders of youth. Shortly thereafter, Jim left the Presbyterian College as an non-ordained minister to pursue a career with an emphasis on physical education.

In the late summer of 1890, after spending some time learning about the YMCAs in Canada and the U.S., Jim bid farewell to Bennie's Corners and Almonte and traveled to Springfield to enroll at the YMCA Training school. Here he would take courses that emphasized spiritual and physical development.

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The Years at the "Y"

The Early Years at the "Y"While at the YMCA training school, James took and taught various courses, and played rugby for the YMCA

At this stage in its development, indoor physical education in the U.S. consisted of calisthenics, gymnastics, and drills. The late 1870's and 80's saw a rise in interest in outdoor intercollegiate sports, especially track and field and football, and participation in these games at the YMCA increased. But between the close of the football season in the fall and the opening of the baseball season in the spring there was emptiness.

Recognizing the danger of overemphasis on exercises that demanded excessive routine and wanting to bring recreational sports into the gymnasium the superintendent, Luther Gulick, assigned James and the other students the task of inventing new games.

The needs to revamp the indoor physical education program grew quickly, as one group of students, primarily mature men, were losing interest in the existing program. After two instructors of this group of students asked for relief from instructing this class, Gulick assigned Naismith as the instructor, asking him to see what he could do with the class and the program.

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He embarked on a career in Physical Education through the YMCA, took time out to earn his Medical Degree while operating the Denver YMCA. This led him to accept the positions of Physical Education Director, Campus Chaplain and Basketball Coach at the University of Kansas. He remained there from 1898 until his retirement in 1938. In between, he served twice in military conflict, including WWI in France, and saw his gift of basketball admitted into the Olympic Family of sports at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. To see the youth of the world united to play his game, his gift to mankind, basketball. It remains the highlight of his career in his words.

He succumbed to heart trouble on November 29th, 1939. His legacy is reflected in the games played around the world, the basketball nets that adorn garages, walls and barns in communities' abroad. And finally, in schools and YMCA's around the world, the first game requiring a high ceiling space for a gymnasium.

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He is remembered in the communities that he has most closely been associated. Streets and building in Almonte, Springfield and Lawrence are named in tribute. He is a member of the following Halls of Fame

Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
Canadian Sports Hall of Fame
Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame
Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame
McGill University Sports Hall of Fame

Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame

Naismith Museum


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Dr. James Naismith's
13 Original Rules of Basketball

Dr. James Naismith

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.

  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).

  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.

  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.

  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3,4, and such as described in Rule 5.

  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).

  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.

  10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.

  12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes' rest between.

  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

Note: The original rules of basketball were written by Dr. James Naismith in December, 1891 in Springfield, Massacussetts. These original rules were published in January 1892 in the Springfield College school newspaper, The Triangle.


by Curtis J. Phillips (1996)

History may be fickle. Take for example the name of Dr. Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
Countless encyclopedias and reference books pride themselves on the fact that they are usually accurate to the letter. In this case though, the letter is in fact the problem as these books state that Naismith's full name was Dr. James A. Naismith.

If Naismith did have a middle name, what was it then? Alvin, Andrew, Ace or even stealing some basketball jargon, Airball? Well, according to his surviving family members and a few historians, Naismith never had a middle name let alone initial, despite the fact that the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica states that he adopted the initial A. in later life.

So, the natural question that every basketball player who has ever shot a "J' is now asking, "Where did that A. come from?"

Mrs. James Sherman Naismith, second wife of the late James Sherman Naimsith, who was the youngest of Naimsith's five offspring (born 1913) stated in 1991, told this writer a few years ago, that the father of basketball inherited the letter A. from his unique writing style. "He (Dr. Naismith) always wrote James and made the last 's' in James very large," said Mrs. Naismith, who was predeceased by her husband in 1980. "It was a great big letter S coming all the way up and I guess a lot of people took it for a letter A instead. Someone wrote it that way in a newspaper a long time ago and it stayed that way."

So why didn't the good doctor speak up and correct the infraction?

"My husband said his father probably didn't care or even notice. He was just too busy. And my husband's family really didn't take notice either," said Mrs. Naismith, who resided in Corpus Christie Texas at the time of the interview. "The only time my husband said anything about his dad was when he overheard his father's name with the letter A. inserted."

Also living in Corpus Christie was James P. Naismith, grandson of the original Dr. J. "It's true what they saymy grandfather never had a middle initial," says James P., who was three years old when his grandfather died in 1939. "According to my father (James Sherman) the A. came from the way my grandfather signed his name. He always abbreviated James to Jas. and everyone took it for James A.
"I guess someone wrote it down wrong and the rest of the people just followedcopycats. I guess they thought, "Hey it's in this book, so it must right," and no one ever bothered to check it out.
"I still see books with it wrong but with stories like this, people will have it correct in time."

The one and perhaps only Naismith offspring who seemed really upset with the name error was his second born and second girl, Helen Carolyn (all five of Naismith's children have passed away the last John Edwin in the 1980s'). John Dewar, whose 1965 dissertation of Florida State University was entitled "The life and contributions of James Naismith," had a chance to talk to Helen (then Mrs. Helen Dodd) at her residence in St. Louis Missouri in 1965. "She was very upset when she told me that her father never had a middle initial," says Dewar, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan.

"According to Mrs. Dodd, the letter A. came from the pronunciation on how he said his name. He spoke slowly and said "eh" between his name. It just came out that way and it stuck. People thought he was saying Dr. James A. Naismith. "I guess you could say it was the proverbial Canadian "eh" and his Canadian heritage. That's another one I've heard of how the A. came about."

In a 1959 letter to Major James Leys - founder of the Memorial Museum to R. Tait McKenzie, another Canadian educator and close friend of Naismith - detailing the biography on her father, Helen had under his name James Naismith, in brackets and underlined - "He had no middle name or initial.":

In Springfield Mass., birthplace of basketball, Joe O'Brien then executive director of the Naismith Hall of Fame, also went along with the guide that Naismith had no middle name, "There is no legitimate proof that we know of that he had a middle name or even a middle initial."

If you're still not convinced, talk o historians from Almonte Ontario , birthplace of Naismith.
"We have heard or read that he has a middle initial A. but no birth certificate or record shows us that," says historian John Dunn.

So why do people continue to refer to the farther of basketball as Dr.

James A. Naismith? Perhaps they are copycats or unaware of the truth? Did Naismith really adopt a middle initial or name or is history wrong? Was it the way the Dr. learned how to write or was it just Canadian slang that confused everyone?,.

I guess only the good Dr. will know for sure"eh"