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Entry from March 03, 2012
Basketball (Basket Ball)

The game of basketball (first spelled “basket ball") became popular in 1892. The first college basketball game was played at Cornell University in February 1892.

Supposed basketball origins at the Herkimer (NY) YMCA have not been verified.


Hoopedia: James Naismith
James Naismith (November 6, 1861 – November 28, 1939) was a Canadian inventor who created basketball, and head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks from 1898-1907. The father of basketball was a high school dropout who eventually earned four college degrees. Dr. James A. Naismith was a modest man who neither sought publicity nor engaged in self-promotion. He was a remarkably versatile and humble man who in 1891 invented a game that is now played by more people than any game in the world.

It’s doubtful that even Naismith’s creative mind could have envisioned his game’s vast global popularity little more than a century later, or a National Basketball Association consisting of 30 teams spanning North America. All he was seeking was an indoor activity that would provide an outlet for sometimes-unruly students during the long, cold New England winters.

In late 1891, Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick Jr., the superintendent of physical education at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Mass., challenged Naismith to create a new indoor game “that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light.” Naismith reflected on popular games of the day (baseball, football, lacrosse, rugby and soccer) and the games from his childhood (duck on a rock), and assembled the pieces that would become Basket Ball. It would be 30 years before it would be shortened to one word.

Naismith had the school janitor, Pop Stebbins, nail two peach baskets to the lower rail of the gymnasium balcony, one at each end, while the secretary, Mrs. Lyons, typed the original 13 rules. Then he nervously awaited his students’ arrival.

“There were 18 in the class,” Naismith said years later. “I selected two captains and had them choose sides. I placed the men on the floor. There were three forwards, three centers and three backs on each team. I chose two of the center men to jump, then threw the ball between them. It was the start of the first basketball game and the finish of trouble with that class.” (See article on The First Team.)

The game was an immediate success. On December 21, 1891 the students played the entire class period and finished the game with a 1-0 score. Within a few weeks, basketball quickly spread on campus by word of mouth and across the United States through the YMCA network.

Hoopedia: Herkimer YMCA
Herkimer YMCA, from Herkimer, New York, was an early pioneer in basketball and a catalyst for the development of basketball in the state. The team is of interest in terms of historiography based on a claim in a memoirs of an old time basketball player that it was at Herkimer where basketball was invented and where the first formal game was played.

The Herkimer YMCA basketball team was reputedly founded by Lambert Will in the fall of 1891, according to a Utica Daily Press story from February 19, 1998. The team’s earliest photo supposedly dates from the 1891-92 season, and the story of the Herkimer team was presented by Frank J. Basloe in his 1952 book, I Grew Up with Basketball. In the book he makes the claim that basketball was invented at the Herkimer YMCA and the first formal game was played in February of 1891 between Herkimer YMCA and the Businessmen’s Nine. The author claims that Will “wrote down all the rules that he and boys had developed and sent them to James Naismith at Springfield.” These claims have never been accepted by any historian of basketball.

Basloe is on no firmer ground in reporting that during the 1891-92 season other upstate New York teams took up the sport, notably Albany YMCA, Utica YMCA, and Ilion YMCA. In February 1892, Herkimer YMCA played Albany YMCA for the self-designated, “Basketball Championship of New York State.” Playing for the Herkimer team were Frank “Simp” Peterson, Harry Stanchel, Paul Quackenbush, John Collis, Gorman Harter, William Wright, Fritz Gray (player manager), and Lambert Will (player-instructor). Albany boys won 9-5, but only by engaging in some shenanigans.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
basketˌball, n.
A game played indoors or out of doors with a large inflated ball, which is thrown from player to player, the object being to score by casting it into one’s opponents’ goal, a basket fixed ten feet above the ground at each end of the field of play.
1892 J. Naismith in Triangle (U.S.) Jan. 144 (heading) Basket Ball. We present to our readers a new game of ball.
1893 Birkenhead News 9 Dec. 7/5 Interesting Basket-Ball Match.
1898 Daily News 8 June 5/2 Vassar, Syracuse, Cornell, Wellesley, and Rosemary Hall have each their teams of girl basket-ball players.

Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
4 February 1892, The Cornell Daily Sun, pg. 2, col. 1:
Basket Ball.
A new game was introduced in the Gym Tuesday, that, judging from the enthusiasm shown alike by participants and spectators, has come to stay. It is called basket-ball, and the only essentials are two baskets for goals, one at each end of the hall, about eight or ten feet from the floor, and a regular Association football. Any number can play on a side, and the object of the game is for one side to put the ball into their opponents’ goal. The ball may be thrown or batted with the open hand, but never carried or kicked. Basket-ball is to the gymnasium what football is to the athletic field, and each player gets lots of exercise.

It is easily seen that the game may be made very scientific by good judgment combined with team work, although Tuesday there were so many playing that any kind of system was out of the question, but the cheers that went up when a goal was made, showed how intensely excited all had become, and it may safely be said that basket ball will hereafter be a favorite winter sport in the Gym.

Following are the rules governing it:

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 (Col. 2—ed.) who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
4. The ball must be held ill 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 he allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count i 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 meantime 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 fifteen minutes, halves, and 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 captain, be continued until another goal is made.
Pg. 3, col. 3:
The game of basket ball will be played this afternoon by two picked teams. Mr. Johanson will referee, and Mr. Nelligan will umpire the game.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
7 February 1892, Elmira (NY) Telegram, pg. 5, col. 4:
Game of Basket Ball.
On the evening of February 19, a game known as basket ball will be played between a team from the Twenty-sixth Separate company and one from the Y. M. C. A. The rules governing the game have been prepared by Professor Mayer.

8 February 1892, New-York (NY) Daily Tribune, “Among the Colleges,” pg. 4, col. 5:
CORNELL.
Ithaca, N. Y., Feb. 6 (Special).—The introduction of the game of basket ball has been the feature of the week at the gymnasium. A common football and two baskets, suspended eight feet from the floor at either end of the gymnasium for goals, are all the implements required. Goals are made by getting the ball inside the basket. The ball may be batted with the open hand or thrown, but not carried or struck with the fist. The play resembles football, and many football players are becoming interested in this winter substitute for the favorite fall sport.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
21 February 1892, Elmira (NY) Telegram, pg. 8, col. 5:
Elmira National Guardsmen Furnish Amusement For a Large Crowds.
At the athletic entertainment given by the Twenty-Sixth Separate company at the armory Friday evening, ...
(...)
In the basket foot ball games the Y. M. C. A. was victorious.

6 March 1892, St. Joseph (MO) Daily Herald, “College Athletics,” pg. 6, col. 3:
A new game called basket ball is a feature of the gymnasium at Cornell. A common football and two baskets, suspended eight or ten feet from the floor at either end of the gymnasium for goals, are all the implements required. Goals are made by getting the ball inside the basket. The ball may be batted with open hand or thrown, but not carried or struck with the fist.

26 April 1892, New York (NY) Times, pg. 2, col. 5:
A NEW GAME OF BALL.
A SUBSTITUTE FOR FOOTBALL WITHOUT ITS ROUGH FEATURES.
At the opening of the Athletic Grounds of the Young Men’s Christian Association on Saturday a new athletic game—basket ball—was introduced. The game has been started as a substitute for football, with an attempt to eliminate the roughest features of that sport.

The game is played with an ordinary association football, and the object of each team is to get the ball into its opponent’s goal. The field is 150 feet long by about 60 feet wide, and at each end is a post with a basket on top just large enough to conveniently hold the ball. The top of the basket is about nine feet above the ground, and a ladder is necessary to take the ball out after a goal has been made.

When a player gets the ball he is not allowed to run with it, but must stand and pass it to some other member of his own team within fifteen seconds after he touches it. The time for a match is about forty minutes, played in “halves” of fifteen minutes each, with a rest of five or ten minutes between.

On Saturday afternoon a match was played between the Twenty-third Street Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association and a team composed of members of the Students’ Club. The students won by a score of 1 to 0. Next Saturday there will be two matches of basket ball at the association’s grounds—one between the Students’ Club and the Eighty-sixth Street Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the other between the Twenty-third Street Branch and the Harlem Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
29 April 1892, The Daily Standard-Union (Brooklyn, NY), pg. 3, col. 4:
Y. M. C. A. ATHLETES
TWO NEW GAMES OF BALL INTRODUCED.
The indoor work in the Central Branch has taken a new turn, and the diversion is rather novel. Prof. Ehler and his assistant, Mr. Brown, have prepared a course of exercises that will develop muscle, skill and nimbleness. The new game — called “Basket-Ball” — has been introduced, and teams are in practice daily. The game is on the same plan as football, only the sport is modified. There are two goals, elevated about ten feet above the floor with a basket wherein to catch the ball, which is a regulation football. The men line up, and the ball is put in motion, and it is the object of each side to get the ball in the opposite basket; the count is the same as in football. No tackling, wrestling or fouling is permitted, and precaution has been taken to make the game an interesting one, and a safe one to play on a smooth floor. A series of games will be played with the other branches. The new game will be played Tuesday, May 3, at 4:30 P. M., between the Central and Twenty-third Street Branch, of New York City.

Chronicling America
8 May 1892, The Sun (New York, NY), pg. 4, cols. 3-4:
FUNNY THINGS IN THE “GYM.”
Lively Exercises That the Y.M.C.A. Have Adopted.
(...)
The game of basket ball is perhaps the most exciting of the three. It is likewise more generally known. It has been practised both at Cornell and at the University of Pennsylvania by the football men. It is also being very generally taken up by players in this vicinity, especially in Y.M.C.A. gymnasiums. In fact, basket ball take the place in the “gym” that football takes on the field. THe floor is marked out, and the lines are drawn six feet from the walls, the outside of the lines being out of bounds. If there is a running track, the lines may be marked iut directly underneath the railing of the track. The goals consist of a box or basket, placed at each end of the “gym” ten feet above the floor. They should be about fifteen inches deep and fifteen inches across the opening. The object of the game is to get the ball into the baskets by throwing or batting it. No running with the ball, like in ordinary association football, is allowed. The player throws the ball from where he catches it, but allowance must be made for a man who catches the ball running at full speed. Rough playing counts as a foul. Three fouls made by one side, without the other side having made a foul in the mean time, counts as a goal for the opponents. A goal is earned when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those players who defend the goal do not touch or disturb the basket. Should the ball rest on the edges a goal is allowed if an opponent moves the basket and send the ball in.

The game usually lasts for two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between. In case of a draw the captains may decide to continue the game. The players are arranged as follows: A goal keeper and two guards to prevent opponents from scoring: three centre men to “feed” the ball forward to the man having the best opportunity to score a goal.

15 July 1892, Bangor (ME) Whig and Courier, pg. 3, col. 7:
BASKET BALL.
The West Siders Win Four Goals to Two.
(...)
The game of basket ball began soon after eight, It is somewhat similar to foot ball and a foot ball is used. There are nine on a side, but only six played last evening, and the object is to get the ball into the basket, which is ten feet from the floor, success in so doing counting a goal. As the game admits of considerable science in passing, etc., it is interesting and good exercise.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
27 July 1892, Utica (NY) Daily Press, pg. 6, col. 1:
Y. M. C. A. Notes.
The July issue of the Association Items has appeared. It is a bright number, containing a good deal of athletic news, also much concerning the Outing Park, and rules for playing “basket ball.”

20 February 1898, The Herald (Syracuse, NY), pg. 21, col. 6:
EXPERTS AT BASKETBALL.
Herkimer Crack Players Have Lost But
Two of Thirty-five Games.

Herkimer, Feb. 16. --The Thirty-first Separate company basket ball team, of the reorganized Herkimer Y. M. C. A. team, the chane being made about a year ago.
(...)
In the fall of 1891, the Herkimer Y. M. C. A. organized a basket ball team, which was believed would do credit to the association, and it was not long before they were the undisputed champions of Central New York. The players in 1891 were: Will, captain; Collis, Peterson, Stanchel, Gray, Steel and Schmidt.
(...)
This is the team’s first year with five men, they always having played with seven heretofore. Since the team was organized in 1891, they have played thirty-five games, of which they have only lost two.
(...)
The team has only had two managers, Gray, from 1891 until 1896, and Rulison(?), from 1896 up to date. The team has had three captains: Lambert Will, 1891; Frank Peterson, from 1892 until 1895, and Harry Stanchel, the present captain. The team is noted as always playing a fair and gentlemanly game.

24 January 1950, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. 12, col. 3:
Balsoe Recalls Early Basketball
History at Kiwanis Dinner

Fascinating facts from the early days of basketball were related last night by Frank Baslow, one of the pioneer promoters of the game, at a meeting of the Dewitt Kiwanis club at Bob Casey’s restaurant.

Basloe, who is writing a book on the early history of basketball, introduced Lambert Will, a fellow guest, as the one who arranged the first competitive game of basketball ever played. That was in 1891, a few months after Dr. James Naismith had invented the game as a gymnasium exercise. That first game was played between the Herkimer YMCA team and a business men’s team of Herkimer, and Will, still in good health, was only 16 years old when he formed that original “Y” team. 

Syracuse’s first YMCA team was formed in 1893, Balsoe recalled, and it was in this city that the peach baskets still being used for the (Col. 4 --ed.) game first were reinforced with wire. A year later, in Herkimer, the game’s first backboard was devised, and in 1895, in Herkimer, the first high school team in the country was formed.

17 January 1952, Syracuse (NY) Herald-Journal, pg. 43, col. 3:
HERKIMER SEEKS PRESTIGE
Cage Hall of Fame
HERKIMER (UP)—Oldtime fans were promoting their village today as the site for a basketball Hall of Fame.

Frank J. Basloe, local businessman and basketball historian, said the monument to the indoor sport would be built here if enough people are convinced that this Central New York community was the birthplace of basketball.

Basloe said that Hall of Fame committees throughout the country had raised necessary funds but were awaiting a final decision on where to build. Herkimer is about 20 miles north of Cooperstown, site of baseball’s national Hall of Fame.

SPRINGFIELD, MASS., which first saw a basketball game in December, 1891, generally is credited with being the sport’s birthplace. But Basloe said the first game was played here Feb. 7, 1891, with rules drawn up by Lambert Will, director of the local Y.M.C.A., in that year.

To back up his claim, Basloe has the support of several living persons who witnessed the game and a scrapbook with documentary evidence.

Google Books
The Cavalcade of Basketball
By Alexander M. Weyand
New York, NY: Macmillan
1960
Pg. ?: 
So if the “1891” game was actually played in 1893 and the “1892” game in 1894, then it seems probable that it was in December, 1892, that Lambert Will introduced basketball to Herkimer. The above hypothesis is strongly supported by the results of an exhaustive search through contemporary local papers conducted by Edward J. Hickox, nonsalaried Secretary of the Basketball Hall of Fame, supplemented by efforts by the ...

17 May 1964, The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), pg. 20, col. 5:
Death
LAMBERT G. WILL
CAZENOVIA—Lambert G. Will, 88, died Friday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Heyden, Mt. Kisco.

A native of Herkimer, he was a member of the St. Francis de Sale Church. He was a veteran of the Spanish American War and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
22 December 1968, Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch, “P.S.” by Phil Spartano, pg. 1D, col. 1:
Cage Game Birth
With all due respect to the late Frank J. Basloe, the game of basketball was invented in Springfield, Mass.

Mr. Basloe had maintained until his last breath that nearby Herkimer and not Springfield was the birthplace of basketball and he offered records to prove his claim.

But in thumbing through some old belongings of Len Wilbur, sports editor for the Utica newspapers until his death in 1965, a booklet from the Basketball Hall of Fame shows without a doubt that the game was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith.

Mr. Wilbur probably had in mind to report the findings, but death silenced his typewriter.

In his book, “I Grew Up with Basketball,” Mr. Basloe says that the game was invented in Herkimer in 1890 by a 12-year-old schoolboy, named Lambert Will.

IN A LETTER to Mr. Wilbur, Edward J. Hickox, then secretary of the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee, he wrote:

“I read (Mr.) Basloe’s book, then I spent a few days in Utica and Herkimer, reading up old newspapers. Also, in the college library here in Springfield, are copies of practifcally every YMCA publication of the years 1885 to 1900. Under separate cover, I am sending you a copy of some of the material we found about early basketball in Herkimer, Utica, Albany, etc.

“In Chapter III, pages 15-22 inclusive in (Mr.) basloe’s book, he writes about situations and dates that do not seem to check accurately with accounts printed in the papers of those days.”

Hickox pointed out that all of Mr. Basloe’s dates of particular games were wrong by two years.

IN THE COPY of the material about early basketball in this area, these items were among many others revealed:

Herkimer YMCA Review, Dec. 1892—“...Basket ball is a game that has but lately been introduced but is taking like wild fire. Already it is being played by a number of large Athletic clubs, Military organizations...the game is played something similar to football but is devoid of the roughness which makes foot-ball objectionable....”

Herkimer YMCA Review, Jun. 1893—“Gone Crazy: Who? Ministers, lawyers, bankers, editors, merchants, clerks, mechanics, boys, young men, yes everybody plays basketball not, it is the ideal game for fun, exercise and good fellowship....”

Herkimer Citizen, Dec. 27, 1892—“...The indoor athletic contest will take place at the Fox Opera house, Friday, Jan. 13. Two games of basket-ball will be played one by the Juniors and the other ebetween the Business Men and the Young Men....”

Herkimer Citizen, April 18, 1893—“...The basketball game Friday night between Utica and Herkimer teams was a decided victory for the latter by a score of 19-5. Another game will be placed in the Utica YMCA....”

Herkimer Democrat, Jan. 11, 1893—“...The most popular game in the country. It draws the crowdsm fills the halls, provides the fun. It requires head work, team work and blocking....don’t miss seeing two games played in the Fox Opera House Friday evening, next Jan. 13. The first between the Juniors of Ilion and Herkimer; the other between the Business Men and the Young Men of the Herkimer YMCA, Admission 25 cents....”

Utica Daily Observer, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 1893—“...A game of basketball was the most novel if not the most interesting feature....It has never been before played in public here, and the storms of applause and laughter which followed the frantic efforts of such staid and professional business men as Superintendent Griffith, Dr. Evans, Dr. Tompkins, Dr. Jones, Secretary Lute and others, to put the erratic ball in the basket, evidenced the enjoyment it gave....”

Utica Daily Observer, Jan. 12, 1893—“A novel entertainment will be presented tomorrow evening at the Fox Hall by the YMCA. The Programme embraces athletics and basketball. A game will be played between the Ilion Juniors and Herkimer Juniors, and one between the Herkimer Business men and the Young Men....”

IN MR. BASLOE’S BOOK, the author insists the game with Albany YMCA was played in 1892. But according to the Gym notes of the Albany Y for May-June 1894, the game was played May 4 of that year.

The reference of that game in part:

“....The game of the season was that played on May 4 with the team from the Association at Herkimer. This team had the reputation of playing for two years and never yet meeting defeat, although they had met many strong teams, including Utica, Ilion and West Troy. Their challenge was accepted with some forbodings and complete victory which our team won was hardly expected. The game resulted in favor of the Albany team in a score of 15 to 8....”

THUS THE FINDING of the Hickox for the Hall of Fame proof apparently is conclusive that the first basketball game in this area was played on Jan. 13, 1893, two years after Dr. Naismith’s game at Springfield College.

Vermont Public Radio
Basketball Inventor
Monday, 01/29/07 12am
By Philip Baruth
(HOST) Commentator Philip Baruth delivers a stunning bit of basketball history today: his great-grandfather invented the game. And this time apparently - he’s not kidding. Here’s Philip.

(BARUTH) Unfortunately there’s no way to soft-pedal what I’m about to say, so I’ll just say it: my great-grandfather invented basketball. Really. The game as we know it, the ball, the net, the rules, everything. And I know what you’re thinking: James Naismith invented basketball.

Well, no he didn’t. And, I can prove it.

First, let me say that everything I’m about to tell you comes from two sources. The first is my mother, and, my mother doesn’t lie. But just to make the case airtight, I’m also working from a book called I Grew Up With Basketball, written by Frank J. Basloe and published in 1952 by Greenberg Books. Here’s the story.

In the winter of 1890, my great-grandfather, Lambert G. Will, was a YMCA director in Herkimer, NY, a little village of 2700. He received a letter from James Naismith of Springfield, Massachusetts, with an idea for a game called “basketball.” And Lambert was intrigued: Naismith’s game could be played indoors, perfect for snowy villages like Herkimer.

But when Lambert assembled a group of 18 boys, they found Naismith’s game disappointing: you rolled a medicine ball along the floor to your teammates, and eventually one would throw the ball into a peach basket nailed high up on the wall. The boys thought that rolling the ball was for babies and passes were too easy to block. If someone did make a basket, someone else had to climb a ladder to remove the ball from the peach basket. And nine men on a side was just too many.

So my great-grandfather made an executive decision: they cut the bottom out of the peach basket and then reinforced the remaining frame with wire. Immediately the game became faster paced and more addictive. Lambert dashed off a letter to Naismith, describing the changes but there was only silence from Springfield.

By late 1891, Lambert had organized the first team, the first league, and he’d standardized the basketball court. He replaced the medicine ball with a bounce-able rugby ball, and players began to perfect the art of dribbling. The peach basket he replaced with a metal hoop forged by the Herkimer blacksmith, but it was difficult to tell whether a ball had actually gone through the hoop.

So my great-grandfather asked his mother, my great-great-grandmother for help. As Basloe put it, quote: “So the boys took the iron hoop down and carried it over to Mrs. Will and explained what they wanted. She agreed to do her best to knit two drapes for the hoops. The innovation was a masterpiece”.
(...)
Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

Standard-Examiner (UT)
Conspiracy theory about hoops inventor hasn’t faded
By Kent Babb, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri, 03/18/2011 - 3:16pm
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—They stood in the center of Kirkwood Hall, surrounded by dark marble columns and prepared to pull the copper-colored cloth from the latest exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

It was last Friday. The museum’s director, Julian Zugazagoitia, and a millionaire CEO named David Booth were at the sides of the display, tucked into an alcove decorated with photographs of basketball’s past. They drew the cloth, revealing James Naismith’s more than 119-year-old “Rules of Basket Ball.”
(...)
But there’s a family that maintains that their grandfather had more to do with basketball’s early days than he’s credited for. There’s even a 60-year-old book that suggests a man from Herkimer, N.Y., named Lambert Will, not Naismith, was the game’s actual inventor.

Will’s family says Lambert Will did not invent the game, but the conspiracy theories haven’t dried up.

Ian Naismith, the grandson of the man who wrote those 13 original rules, has fought these theories for decades. The constant swatting of the rumors even contributed to his decision last year to put the rules up for auction, where they sold in December to Booth and his wife for $4.3 million.

“I’m tired of it,” Naismith said. “I want Herkimer out of my life.”
(...)
According to Herkimer native Frank Basloe’s 1952 book, “I Grew Up With Basketball,” a 19-year-old Will, then a volunteer at the Herkimer YMCA, sent letters to other recreation directors in the Northeast, explaining the rules for a new game.

Basloe contends Will organized a team in the fall of 1891, before Naismith is believed to have played the first game in Springfield, Mass., on Dec. 21 of that year.

There’s also a photograph of the Herkimer basketball team, Will standing in the center, and a date—“91-92”—scrawled on the ball in white ink, suggesting Will played a game before Naismith.
(...)
Lawrence and Rick say their childhoods were filled with stories about their grandfather (Lambert Will—ed.), including one about how he once received a letter from Naismith, asking for help developing a new kind of game.

They say Lambert Will responded with a few suggested rules. The family believes some of those suggestions—the ability to pass the ball instead of rolling it across the court, for instance, or cutting the bottom out of the peach baskets—made it onto the list of 13 rules being displayed through May at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
(...)
Ian Naismith says that Lambert Will had nothing to do with the invention of basketball and that Herkimer’s influence has been exaggerated. He believes that Will simply witnessed a game long after James Naismith organized a team, and when Will introduced the sport to Herkimer, he was credited by the townspeople as its inventor.

New York (NY) Times
1892: A Newborn Called ‘Basket Ball’
By MARK BULIK MARCH 3, 2015 9:33 AM March 3, 2015 9:33 am 11
March has arrived, with March Madness sure to follow. Fans of the N.C.A.A. tournament know that each team will rack up scores of points, so one of the many fascinating elements to the first mention of basketball in The Times, on April 26, 1892, was the final point score: 1-0: ...

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Saturday, March 03, 2012 • Permalink