The Canadian-born physical education instructor James Naismith made an indelible mark on sports history when he invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, in December 1891. With a soccer ball, two peach baskets, a ladder, and ten written rules, Naismith created the sport within two weeks, after he was asked to come up with an indoor game to keep students active during the severe New England winter. Word about “basket ball,” as it was originally called, spread quickly, and by 1900 the game had gained popularity at universities across the country. Although Naismith had played the game only a handful of times, he lived to see his brainchild become an international sport, making its Olympic debut in 1936, three years before his death.
The eldest son of Scottish immigrant John Naismith and his Scottish-Canadian wife, Margaret, James Naismith was born on November 6, 1861, near Almonte, Ontario, Canada. One of three children, eight-year-old Naismith moved with his family to a milling community in Grand Calumet, where his father took work as a sawhand. Loss was a theme of his early childhood, as he was orphaned at age ten, when his parents succumbed to typhoid fever within three weeks of each other. Naismith and his siblings then lived in the Upper Canadian village of Bennie’s Corners with their maternal grandmother. When she died only two years later, an uncle, Peter Young, took over care of the Naismith children.