James Naismith, a Canadian educator and sports recreationalist, invented the game of basketball in 1891 in response to a request by leaders of the YMCA to develop "a rigorous and interesting form of indoor entertainment." Naismith and his helpers spent 14 days in Springfield, MA, piecing together the rules for the game of basketball. It was initially played with nine players on the court per team and with peach baskets as hoops. The ball itself was a soccer ball.
Throughout its infancy, basketball was played by professionals who barn-stormed their way across the United States. The NBA was formed in 1946 and though the league produced some early stars and held competitive games, it lacked the exposure that the other major sports received. It wasn't until the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the NBA's popularity expanded as did that of the game of basketball itself, when Bill Russel and his Boston Celtics teams rang up eight consecutive championships.
Basketball is a game that is now played and enjoyed by people of all ages and sexes. The popularity of the game reached new heights in the late 1970s, due largely to the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson match-up in the 1979 NCAA National Championship game. Bird's Indiana State team lost to Johnson's Michigan State team but the two men then went on to play for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers respectively, where their teams met several more times during the 1980s to battle for the NBA crown. Their rivalry fueled tremendous interest in their sport.
Michael Jordan, arguably the finest NBA player ever, led his Chicago Bulls teams to six NBA championships throughout the 1990s, bringing the popularity of basketball to even greater heights and giving Jordan one of the most recognizable faces anywhere. Though invented in the United States, basketball's popularity has spread to Europe and every other continent. It is a game now played and watched world-wide.
Over the years, the rules of basketball and the game itself have been refined. Now, five players per team are allowed on the court at once, and the peach baskets used by Naismith have been replaced by iron rims measuring 19 inches (48 cm) in diameter, with a nylon or cotton netting beneath it. An NBA court measures 94 feet (28.65 m) in length and 50 feet (15.24 m) in width. College, high school, and grammar school court sizes all differ. Two points are awarded for a made basket and one point is awarded for a free throw, a shot taken from the free-throw line 15 feet (4.57 m) from the basket. Free throws are awarded primarily when a player is fouled during the act of shooting. A player who commits six fouls in an NBA game is disqualified. For other levels, a player is disqualified after 5 fouls.
Though the 3 point shot was used in the rebel ABA (American Basketball Association) league, the shot did not actually come into favor in the NBA until 1979 and with the NCAA until 1980. A shot made from beyond the three point arc (19 feet 9 inches (6 meters) in college, and 22 feet to 23 feet 9 inches (7 meters) in the NBA) is allotted three points. The advent of the three point shot has greatly changed the game of basketball. Coaches now have their players put in long hours perfecting their long range shooting, instead of simply shooting shots closer to the basket.
The NCAA's annual tournament, termed "March Madness," has become one of the most popular sports events of all time. Viewers tune in to TV's and attend games to urge on their favorites from the field of 64, to see who will become the next National Champion. Universities like UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, Duke, and Kansas have all won multiple national championships.