Listen to Basketball’s Inventor Recount the First-Ever Game in Springfield

It's the only known recording of Jim Naismith.

Among the myriad things Massachusetts has given the world—the Internet, the smiley face, Kelly’s Roast Beef—is the sport of basketball, invented by Canadian phys. ed. teacher James Naismith in Springfield in 1891.

Dr. Michael J. Zogry, an associate professor at University of Kansas, recently discovered a rare recording of Naismith: a January 31, 1939 radio interview with Gabriel Heatter of WOR-AM in New York, on the eve of a basketball doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

Naismith, who coached the men’s basketball team at Kansas in his later years (with a losing record, oddly enough), describes the first game of basketball ever played in the gymnasium of the International YMCA Training School, now Springfield College.


Naismith explains how a “real New England blizzard” kept his students inside, where they were prone to “roughhousing in the halls.” One day, he called them into the gym, divided them up into teams of nine and gave them an old soccer ball. He had nailed up two peach baskets at each end of the gym, and explained that the objective was to place the ball in the other team’s basket.

“What rules did you have for your new game, Dr. Naismith?” Heatter asked.

“Well, I didn’t have enough. And that’s where I made by big mistake,” Naismith said with a chuckle. Immediately, the game devolved into a scrum, as students punched and tackled each other for possession of the ball. By the team Naismith blew his whistle, one student was knocked out, and several others had black eyes.

Naismith died 10 months after the interview. The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, established in 1959, bears his name.

[h/t Sam Laird]