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James Naismith: Inventor of Basketball and Elongator of Infants

No other major American sport can claim a provenance as American as basketball: Baseball is corrupted rounders, football is a bastardized mix of soccer and rugby, hockey is Canadian via Native Americans, and soccer is soccer, the sport of effete Europeans, right? Basketball was James Naismith's idea, and a darned good one: Nail goals made of peach baskets ten feet up and make kids throw soccer balls in them to score, and you have a foolproof way to exercise children who needed exercise in the cold New England winters want.

But basketball was probably Naismith's best idea, and certainly his best one involving children. From the New York Times:

⇥⇥A minister as well as a medical doctor, he quickly realized that taller players had an advantage in basketball and wondered if there was a way to stretch babies to make them grow taller. Naismith actually conducted experiments on a machine he invented.⇥⇥

⇥⇥In 1907, he said his theory was that “the body is more or less elastic” and that “by stretching the body 30 minutes a day for six months, it will lengthen two inches.”⇥⇥


⇥⇥He thought the best time to stretch individuals was from 5 months to a year old. He was worried that an individual might grow too quickly, and there would be no way to stop it from happening.⇥⇥

Talk about progressive: Naismith was trying to create a homeopathic means of making children bigger almost a century before athletes started taking HGH like Flintstones vitamins!

The article also mentions that Naismith invented an early Breathalyzer (which he tried on himself, of course), had ideas about making a shot from longer distance worth more points in his sport, and never wrapped his mind around the idea that automobiles don't stop when you say "whoa."

In retrospect, it's probably a good thing he didn't contribute to the advancement of baseball. I'm not sure our society could take revelations that Honus Wagner's career was tainted by one of Naismith's kooky inventions. Learning that Barry Bonds probably wasn't on the up-and-up is enough dream-shattering for one country.

(HT: The Dagger.)


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.