Without God’s hand on a young man’s life, we may have never had basketball. Think of the game and the terms we use like March Madness or the NBA Finals. God placed his hand on a Theologian and invented a game that reconciled Dr. James Naismith’s love of sports with his Christian integrity.
To understand how God used a man to invent the game of basketball, we need to see the back story about the man, athlete, academic, and coach James Naismith.
Good stories are rarely told today. We get caught up in the negative news cycle. We are reminded daily of the problem with athletes, politicians, police, and even pastors. But a story how a theologian who was studying to be a minister could invent a game that millions of people would play and love, that’s quite a story.
James Naismith was the eldest son of Scottish Immigrants. He was born in Ontario, Canada. He grew up playing a game called “duck on a rock.” A simple game where you placed a smaller rock (the duck) on top of a bigger rock and tried to knock the duck off with another rock. If you missed you had to chase after your rock.
The players learned to lob the rock toward the duck. This simple shot would later be instrumental in shooting.
Naismith wasn’t really a good student. He dropped out of high school and went to work in the lumber camp to help support his younger siblings. When he was a boy, both his parents died of typhoid fever within three weeks of each other.
But God intervened one night in a bar. James walked in and ordered a whiskey. Someone asked him if he was Margret’s son. James said, “Yes.” The man replied that his mother would roll over in her grave seeing him with whiskey.
James quit. He decided right then and there to make something of his life, and he knew that education was the way to succeed. God put a teacher by the name Thomas B. Caswell in his life. James graduated at 20.
College offered education and sports, and James was good at both. He played football and rugby. He was also studying to be a minister. However, in the late 1800’s, sports was viewed in a vulgar light by good church people.
Naismith didn’t see things that way. When he heard a lecture comparing sports and Christianity, he realized that it took the same qualities to become a good athlete that it did to become a good Christian. It all made sense to him.
He completed his divinity degree in 1890 and moved to the United States. He got a job as a PE instructor at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts.
During the fall and spring, the young men had plenty to do with outside athletics. So seminarian Dr. James Naismith was charged with inventing a new game because during the long winter months in New England the students were bored.
He took a little bit of everything:
passing—from American rugby
the jump ball—from English rugby
the use of the goal—from lacrosse
the size and shape of the ball—from soccer
and the “shooting” of the ball from his childhood game—duck on a rock
Naismith then asked the janitor if he could find two eighteen inch square boxes to use as goals. But all he could find were two peach baskets.
The minister in Naismith had to keep the game clean. No brawling or rough play. Rules were developed and most importantly the “foul.” After all, The YMCA stood for Christian ethics, and basketball became a clean, fun sport.
There is no way Dr. Naismith could have envisioned how popular basketball would become. But if you ever get to Springfield, Massachusetts, stop by the Basketball Hall of Fame and see how it began.
God’s man, used God’s way, to invent a game of fair play and teamwork.
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