Relatively speaking, basketball is a fairly new sport.
It was conceived in 1891, by a Canadian named James W. Naismith. As a training instructor, he wanted to keep students both warm and active during winter. He gave a new indoor sport a name and the first rules, the 13 commandments.
This all took place in a gym in Springfield, Massachusetts. Local students apparently took to the sport and spread the news across the states.
Since that time, basketball has come a long way. We can observe the evolution through the prism of players, tactics, popularity, and basketball equipment. We want to focus on the last aspect, the unsung hero of the sport.
Here is its fascinating history.
A Basket Case
Back in the olden days, basketball equipment bore a vague resemblance to the fancy gear of today.
It was more makeshift than anything else. There were no governing bodies, official rules, and dedicated equipment manufacturers. You couldn’t find a sporting goods store if your life depended on it.
The court centerpiece was a wooden peach basket, hanging some 10 feet from the floor. After each point, one would have to retrieve the ball manually. This tedious process involved a ladder!
Fortunately, somebody came up with an idea to drill the bottom of the basket. This simple innovation made the game much smoother and faster. And it was more practical than a trap door hoop with a string, which was used in some places.
The sport was only taking its baby steps.
The Dawn of Modern Basketball Equipment
The next era began in 1906.
Peach baskets gave way to metal hoops coupled with backboards. Backboards made scoring easier and introduced layups and rebounds.
Today, these two equipment elements are still the bread and butter of the game.
Hoops initially featured enclosed nets, but that was soon fixed. The ball could go through once more and players could rejoice.
As for backboards, they were first made of wire mesh. But, wood was recognized as a better solution, less prone to denting. Plate glass backboards became the norm in 1909.
It was possible to dunk, but nobody did it. Namely, the hoops and backboard were too weak to withstand the impact. They lacked the breakaway feature that backboards and rims have today.
So, it didn’t take Shaquille O’Neil to shatter them to pieces. Almost anyone tall enough could do it.
The Game of Balls
One of the most bizarre basketball facts is that originally, players used soccer balls.
Naismith wasn’t overly happy with this solution. He issued a request to the A.G. Spalding & Bros factory to produce a brown ball specifically tailored to basketball.
The design was quite elementary. Four stitched leather panels held the rubber bladder firmly in their embrace. Balls were a vast improvement over predecessors, but there were some problems.
First of all, they didn’t have uniform shape and dimensions. And secondly, depending on the look of the court, the players sometimes struggled to see them.
In the late 1950s, orange balls made everything easier. They retained four-panel design until the National Basketball Association (NBA) adopted eight-panel counterparts. That happened in 1970.
Thirteen years later, the NBA unveiled the full-grain leather ball. It became the official ball for all matches and Spalding once more took credit for the design.
This ball proved long-serving— it stuck around until 2006 when it was replaced by microfiber composite ball (Spalding Cross Traxxion). Yes, that was the one with those two interlocking, cross-shaped sections.
The new ball offered superior grip and consistency, setting a blueprint for most of the balls that appeared after that.
Big Shoes to Fill
In the early 20th century, basketball shoes were rather crude.
They were made from a few canvas layers and rubber base (for the soles). Converse was the first brand to attract a wide following. It enjoyed an uncontested reign from 1921 to the late 1960s.
The legendary Chuck Taylor model stood out as a crown jewel in the product palette.
In the 1960s, however, leather shoes started taking over. Converse fought to retain its dominance, but strong contenders like Puma showed up.
Finally, fabled Nike came out of the leftfield, capitalizing on a series of technological leaps and bounds. This disruptive advent ushered in a new era of shoes in the 1980s.
The pioneer, Air Force 1 shoe was invented in 1983. Soon afterward, the Michael Jordan hype train was underway. Air Jordan I, II, and III gained immense popularity across the globe. The last model was a groundbreaking solution due to the exposed air unit adorning the heel.
Reebok was quick to follow suit with its own flagship project called The Pump. In the years and decades to come, many other brands joined the race with varying success.
The Show Must Go On
We shouldn’t overlook other nuts and bolts of the sports machinery.
There are some that pushed the boundaries of what one can do on the court and around it. To name a few, these were knee pads, shooting sleeves, and shooting machines.
Pads reduced the risk of injury by protecting the players’ knees. On the other hand, the sleeves kept the body warm and blood flowing. When it comes to basketball shooting machine, it was nothing short of a game-changer.
We would argue it has a case for one of the most important technical novelties.
It enabled shooters to move around and do quick barrages during practice. They could stop chasing the rebound around and focus on what is most important– honing their skills.
As for modern fans and enthusiasts, they don’t worry about balls bursting at the seams or not being able to purchase quality gear. They want to know: how much do Lakers tickets cost? Who will be the new MVP?
This just goes to show how much has changed over the years, and in many ways for the better.
Basketball equipment doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Yet, it funnels the action and takes players to ever new heights. It’s hard to imagine where we would be without it.
As you’ve seen, the sport had ragtag, humble beginnings. A little more than a wooden basket was enough to get by. Fortunately, a slew of basketball inventions improved the game in almost every conceivable way.
Nowadays, basketball is an entertainment powerhouse, the dazzling spectacle enjoyed by millions. Remembering its history helps us appreciate it even more.
Check out our all-star section to learn about game results from 1951 on. The ball is in your court!