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Basketball Celebrates Centennial : Anniversary: Weekend ceremonies in Springfield honor the game’s birth.

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THE HARTFORD COURANT

Somewhere in Brazil, the next Pele is shooting free throws.

Although soccer remains the most popular sport in the world in terms of number of fans, there are more people in more places dribbling with their hands instead of their feet. Estimates indicate 250 million people in 176 countries are playing competitive basketball, and the game continues to grow at a staggering rate.

Dr. James Naismith is responsible. One hundred years ago, he picked up the soccer ball. Then he threw it into a peach basket. The rest, as they say, is history.

This weekend, the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield celebrated the centennial.

Thousands have poured into Springfield to pay homage to Naismith and his game, perhaps the only modern sport with roots so purely American. Curiously, Naismith was reared in Almonte, Ontario. Growing up in lumber country, Naismith was a rugged lad who participated in organized sports.

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As a youth, Naismith decided the ministry was his calling. He attended McGill University in Montreal and played football. “Football at the time was supposed to be a tool of the devil,” he wrote, “and it was much to my amusement that I learned that some of my comrades gathered in one of the rooms one evening to pray for my soul.”

Out of this, somehow, Naismith decided “to make athletics . . . an avenue of preaching.” This led him to the Young Men’s Christian Assn. College, which later became Springfield College.

At the conclusion of the 1891 football season, Naismith was charged with keeping a class of 18 prospective YMCA secretaries busy in the gymnasium.

“My new game, I decided, must have the ball tossed at the goal,” Naismith once recalled. “Now, a goal on the floor would be too easy to guard, so I decided (to put it) on a box above the floor. The janitor couldn’t find a box, but he offered a couple of peach baskets, which were nailed to the gymnasium railing. That rail was 10 feet from the floor. . . .”

Naismith later moved on to a YMCA in Denver, where he completed studies in medicine in 1898. He became the first basketball coach at the University of Kansas--and the only one in Jayhawk history to finish with a losing record.

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