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Stan’s Stuff - A basket of surprises

By Stan Stewart.

A Basket of Surprises

There is no sporting talent on my side of our family. As a student I tried playing golf with some mates. On my first outing I landed a ball 50 centimetres from the pin. Impressive! The problem was I was aiming for a different hole. And then there was the day when I was playing Australian rules football and I kicked a goal for the opposing team. Just thinking about these disasters makes me blush.

Our family does have other talents. I have made my mark in the dramatic arts and I have composed and had published some memorable music. My sister and members of my extended family have been outstanding in the visual arts. A cousin, Napier Waller created the gigantic awe-inspiring figures in the Hall of Memories in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

However, there is no point in bragging about such things to my young friends. To them, such achievements are only yawn-worthy so why try.

Last year, I spent a lot of time with my grandson - 14 years old. Living in an apartment with him, I learnt a lot about his interests. One predictably enough is computer games – the ones I saw on the huge X Box screen were slam – bam – running – blowing up things and green slime. His other interest is basketball. I knew nothing about basketball but over the year I learnt a great deal. I am now a basketball fan.

Wanting to impress me, my grandson told me about how much the top players were paid. Some of them earn $1million NZD a week – 52 weeks a year – and their product sponsorship (shoes etc) is on top of that.

My grandson found a couple of video interviews with basketball superstars. On the two clips we viewed, I saw elegantly dressed tall men in luxurious settings with gold chains and expensive rings speaking in highly sexualized language. The bad language was not new to me, but my grandson was embarrassed. He turned them off and we have never watched basketball stars interviews again.

However, I have since watched hours of games. Also, I drove him to practise matches, personal training and actual games. Now I love the game, especially when my grandson is playing.

I started wondering how basketball came about – who invented it? The answer is easy to find.

There are many articles and some books written about it. The inventor of the game was James Naismith, a YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) Physical Director in Springfield College, Massachusetts, USA in 1891. Although he was an outstanding athlete, Naismith’s principal interest was in education and his personal goal was becoming a doctor.

The impetus for inventing basket ball was freezing winters and rowdy young men given to rough house and brawling in the gymnasium. Naismith’s boss, Dr Luther Gulick, gave him fourteen

days to invent some indoor athletic distraction that would keep young men in shape and not involve any thuggery.

Naismith analysed popular outdoor games. He identified the situations in which most of the injuries occurred and came up with essentials of a game he named Basketball. The original baskets were peach baskets (Naismith holds one in the pic). He placed the basket high above the player’s heads which required soft lobbing shots into the peach basket to score. In the first games, a janitor had to climb up on a ladder to retrieve the ball. Early in the evolution of the game, the base was cut out of the basket enabling the ball to fall through. Naismith noticed that most injuries occurred when the players were running and so he decided that passing was the only legal option. When it was obvious that the game was viable, Naismith named it Basketball and wrote the first book of rules.

I live near a basketball half-court. Full basketball games are not possible on half courts. However, these courts are used for practice and players can organize shooting contests. On many days, from first light to last light the court is in use. Sometimes it is a lone player, other times a group – a random assortment, I think. It pleases me to see them play and hear their banter - no supervision, no umpire required. A basketball half-court can keep teens and young men and women occupied for ages.

I am sure the players have no idea that the game was invented by a Bible class leader, dressed in suit and tie and button up waist coat. In his lifetime he was present and honoured at two Olympic games. Now he is forgotten. The game he invented goes from strength to strength, capturing the minds and hearts of young people – the same ones we find it hard to communicate with. Good on you James Naismith, we need your imagination and spirit.

Caption: James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball.


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