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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

It's Not About Winning

Basketball is the only major American sport with a clearly identifiable inventor. James Naismith wrote the sport’s original thirteen rules as part of a 1891 class assignment at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Born and educated in Canada, Naismith came south to pursue his interests of physical education and created a game that could be played in YMCA gyms during the winter.

The first games featured nine players a side, attempting to toss a soccer ball into peach baskets nailed to the balconies at the ends of a gymnasium (when a basket was made, the game paused while a man with a ladder retrieved the ball). After its first public match in 1892, Naismith’s game spread quickly through the global network of YMCAs. Basketball’s first professional league was founded in 1898, seven years before nets finally replaced the sport’s original peach baskets.

James Naismith devoted little effort to shaping the evolution of the game he invented, although he spent a decade as the University of Kansas’s founding basketball coach, losing more games than he won (55-60). He remains the only Jayhawks coach with a losing record. Today the sport’s leading historic organization, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., stands not far from where the first peach baskets were nailed up.

A historical lesson. One doesn’t have to be a “winner” to live a productive, worthwhile, and enjoyable life. The NBA notwithstanding, basketball is a game, and games are for fun. To be sure, in competitive games one enjoys winning . . . but wining or losing is not the point. Games involving physical exercise encourage healthy bodies. Team games enable the pleasure of cooperative effort. The testing of one’s mental and/or physical prowess is invigorating. Games are meant to be this, and more.

For many years I was an avid racquetball player. Sometimes I won; sometimes I lost. But winning or losing was not why I played. I always enjoy simply playing the game, and the camaraderie with fellow players. I’m betting coach Naismith came up with the game for those purposes. And I’m betting that when he retired he didn’t feel like a loser.

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