Basketball evolved because its inventor let go of control

On December 21, 1891, there was a big blizzard in Springfield, Massachusetts. Students wouldn’t be able to go outside for days. A thirty-year-old Canadian teacher at the YMCA Training School, James Naismith, had to figure out how to keep his students busy.

James started off with a game of indoor football, which was too violent, and soccer, which led to equipment damage (the soccer balls kept knocking dumbbells off their racks). He decided to try something new: 

He nailed peach baskets into the gym’s balcony, and the students would toss a soccer ball into them to score. He also wrote 13 rules in order to make sure the students didn’t attack each other. And just like that, James Naismith invented basketball.

Over the years, people have exploited the original rules. For example James’s third rule was, “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.” So the Yale basketball team started “passing to themselves,” which we now know as dribbling the ball. James Naismith approved of the idea, calling it “one of the most spectacular and exciting maneuvers in basketball.” 

Nick Greene writes in How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius, “While basketball is the only major sport that can be traced to a single person, that person’s most important contribution was that he relinquished control of his invention.”

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