In early December 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian physical education student and instructor at YMCA Training School (today, Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, sought a vigorous indoor game to keep his students occupied and at proper levels of fitness during the long New England winters. After rejecting other ideas as either too rough or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums, he wrote the basic rules and nailed a peach basket onto a 10-foot (3.05 m) elevated track. In contrast with modern basketball nets, this peach basket retained its bottom, and balls had to be retrieved manually after each "basket" or point scored, this proved inefficient, however, so a hole was drilled into the bottom of the basket, allowing the balls to be poked out with a long dowel each time. A further change was soon made, so the ball merely passed through, paving the way for the game we know today. A soccer ball was used to shoot goals. Whenever a person got the ball in the basket, they would give their team a point. Whichever team got the most points won the game.
Naismith's handwritten diaries, discovered by his granddaughter in early 2006, indicate that he was nervous about the new game he had invented, which incorporated rules from a children's game called "Duck on a Rock", as many had failed before it. Naismith called the new game 'Basket Ball'.
The first official game was played in the YMCA gymnasium on January 20, 1892 with nine players, on a court just half the size of a present-day Streetball or National Basketball Association (NBA) court. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of Naismith's students, was popular from the beginning.
Women's basketball began in 1892 at Smith College when Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher, modified Naismith's rules for women.
Basketball's early adherents were dispatched to YMCAs throughout the United States, and it quickly spread through the USA and Canada. By 1895, it was well established at several women's high schools. While the YMCA was responsible for initially developing and spreading the game, within a decade it discouraged the new sport, as rough play and rowdy crowds began to detract from the YMCA's primary mission. However, other amateur sports clubs, colleges, and professional clubs quickly filled the void. In the years before World War I, the Amateur Athletic Union and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (forerunner of the NCAA) vied for control over the rules for the game.
Basketball was originally played with an association football ball. The first balls made specifically for basketball were brown, and it was only in the late 1950s that Tony Hinkle, searching for a ball that would be more visible to players and spectators alike, introduced the orange ball that is now in common use.
Dribbling was not part of the original game except for the "bounce pass" to teammates. Passing the ball was the primary means of ball movement. Dribbling was eventually introduced but limited by the asymmetric shape of early balls. Dribbling only became a major part of the game around the 1950s as manufacturing improved the ball shape.
Basketball, netball, dodgeball, volleyball, and lacrosse are the only ball games which have been identified as being invented by North Americans. Other ball games, such as baseball and Canadian football, have Commonwealth of Nations, European, Asian or African connections.
Although there is no direct evidence as yet that the idea of basketball came from the ancient Mesoamerican ballgame, knowledge of that game had been available for at least 50 years prior to Naismith's creation in the writings of John Lloyd Stephens and Alexander von Humboldt. Stephen's works especially, which included drawings by Frederick Catherwood, were available at most educational institutions in the 19th century and also had wide popular circulation.