This Day in Revisionist History

December 15:

“Without rules, there is no game. Without a game, there are no rules. Is any of this making sense?” – a rambling James Naismith to several confused, restless youths at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts as he attempted to introduce the new game he called “basket ball.”

If there’s one thing every American knows, it’s that there’s nothing better than seeing two teams go head-to-head on the gridiron. But you may not know that in Europe, what we call “football” is actually called “soccer,” and at one point in the United States was called “basket ball.” The inventor of this sport was a doctor by the name of James Naismith, although his version of the game bears little resemblance to the fast-paced action of the modern NFL. He posted the original rules of his newly crafted game on the wall of the gymnasium, which NPI has partially reprinted with the permission of several United States courts, which over the years have firmly established that claims of copyright infringement cannot be filed in cases of “common knowledge”:

1. Realizing that in certain parts of the state of Massachusetts the gathering of a majority may constitute an undue hardship, it is declared that in order for a game to commence there must be a quorum of upstanding citizens present, and a plurality of the sportsmen must be, in good faith, properly mustached.

2. A suitable shoe must be worn at all times by each player, such that if his primary endeavor were per chance interrupted by the entrance of a lady, the gentleman might offer her a dance.

3. There must be a minimum of two teams, whose respective captaincies will be decided by way of dueling pistols, or if pistols be undesired by either party, by the flip of a coin. But it has to be a quarter.

4. Upon the conclusion of the fifth round, and continuing until the commencement of the final intermission, the rule of silence shall be lifted in order to afford teams the opportunity to engage in diplomacy.

5. All peaches must be returned to their original baskets prior to the tallying of the score, in order to ensure that people don’t just walk away after the game is over, leaving all those peaches lying around for poor Mrs. Wilkerson to gather. She’s a widow, you know. It’s bad enough that we topple over her peach baskets and rough her up a little bit before each game, so let’s try to be civil and pick up after ourselves.

6. All players, without exception, are prohibited at all times from dismounting.

(The list continues to a total of thirteen rules, but we have omitted the remainder as they consist primarily of elaborate provisions to exclude the participation of “the Chinaman.”)

Naismith’s game became an instant hit, and soon the entire town of Springfield was aflutter with excitement for the new game. Visitors from all over the country would come to see the games and were so taken by the thrill of the sport that they soon began to take the ideas back to their own hometowns. Naismith’s prototype eventually evolved into a number of strange variations that persist today: The frost-bitten towns of the far North turned it into what we now know as “women’s curling” (strangely enough, despite bearing an uncanny resemblance, men’s curling developed independently), the balmy villages along the Gulf Coast came to know the game as “parasailing,” and somewhere underneath the prohibitive, sweltering Texas sun, the phrase reductio ad absurdum was coined.

Naismith became a national hero, and continued to play and coach the sport until, in late 1939, he was slain during the course of game while nobly attempting to ensnare the amulet.

History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History”!

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