Where Was Basketball Invented?

We hear a lot about Naismith, the guy who invented basketball. But I’ve got a much more interesting question for you. Where was basketball invented? And the answer gets ridiculous!

Basketball was invented in Springfield Massachusetts and first played in the gymnasium of The School for Christian Workers at the corner of State and Sherman streets.

If you haven’t gone deep on this topic, you may question that statement. If you are quite savvy, but perhaps not quite savvy enough, you may notice the conspicuous absence of the name of a certain Christian athletics organization. Well, read on…

The Origin of Basketball

It was 1891 and instructor/graduate student James Naismith was tasked with the physical education of a group of young men. It was the middle of a cold Massachusetts winter and this rowdy crew of aspiring Christian clerics was going stir crazy in their modest 49 X 41 foot school gymnasium.

We do know these kids were Christian men, studying to be secretaries for mostly Christian organizations. That’s what the school in question was built for.

This fact does put a bit of a damper on the common portrayal of the students as overly aggressive or unruly. Some were probably football players, but they were probably just as unruly as the average kid in those days. I’ve seen some descriptions that treat these guys like they were convicts.

So, at the direction of the institution’s head of physical education, Luther Gulick, James Naismith was charged with creating a diversion that would serve to maintain the conditioning of the school’s track athletes while remaining fair and equitable in its play and fitting within the confines of the small gymnasium.

Naismith would analyze popular sports of the day, extracting elements and molding them into a system that would function safely between four narrow walls. If you’ve ever thought it interesting that basketball holds some similarities to hockey, well, Naismith was Canadian.

As guidelines for play, Naismith infamously penned the ‘13 original rules of basket ball‘ (Somehow there’s still plenty of confusion). Mr. Stubbins, the school janitor, would provide the baskets, when Naismith’s requested ‘boxes’ were unable to be found.

The rules allowed for the kids to get as rowdy as they wanted in the middle of an icy winter. They could burn off some steam and maintain some conditioning in the cold months. And there wasn’t much risk of serious injury. The sport was a hit from the beginning.

Where was basketball invented?

The sport of basketball was first played within the walls of this building…

The building where basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891

That’s the School for Christian Workers, which was known by a variety of names over the years. The building itself no longer stands. It was demoed back in 1965 and turned into a parking lot. Luckily, through historical records, it’s fairly straightforward to track down the original physical location of this building and the world’s first basketball court.

And here it is in modern times…

the physical location where basketball was invented, as it appeared in 2019

You might be forgiven for thinking that the location of the first basketball game ever played in the universe looks suspiciously like a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Indeed, it is a McDonald’s drive-thru. You see, in 1995, a McDonald’s was commissioned by the Honorable Ronald J. McDonald and erected to commemorate the site of the greatest sporting invention in all of history.

Alright, yeah, so this McFlurry factory was probably not originally intended as an ode to our favorite bespectacled Canadian and his bouncing ball game. In fact, McDonald’s claims they had no idea of the historical significance of the site until they started digging. And supposedly the location does incorporate a plaque or something. I haven’t been able to find any proof.

Now, across the street, at Mason Square, you can find a commemorative erection (*giggles*). In 2010, the city of Springfield finally got around to acknowledging its past as the birthplace of the greatest sport known to man. They built a little monument.

A monument in Springfield, Mass acknowledging the location across the street where basketball was invented.

How quaint, white people playing basketball. There are some plexiglas panels around it that tell the story of the invention of the sport. If you look closely you can see the McDonald’s in the background.

The monument was apparently vandalized at one point and remained boarded up until it was restored in 2015.

A Vast Conspiracy

There’s some serious confusion in this story.

One of the most widespread and persistent myths surrounding the invention of basketball is its association with the YMCA. You would be hard-pressed to find an early history that doesn’t mention Naismith’s involvement with the “Young Men’s Christian Association”.

And there would seem to be ample evidence that Naismith was at least closely involved with the YMCA. Naismith was born outside of Ottawa, not far from Montreal, where he would be influenced by D.A. Budge, General Secretary of the YMCA of Montreal, to move south to Massachusetts and study at the School for Christian Workers.

But the modern day incarnation of the school, Springfield college, insists that there was never any formal association with the official YMCA. The School for Christian Workers occupied the building at State and Sherman.

Portions of the building were rented during this time to the “Armory Hill Young Men’s Christian Association,” who were formally associated with the official YMCA. A small sign can be seen in early images of the building advertising this groups presence in the building.

However, documents discovered in 2010 clarify that while the building was occupied by the Armory Hill YMCA, it formally housed the School for Christian Workers. And evidence suggests that Naismith was employed by the school itself rather than the YMCA.

But again, matters are complicated. The school at that time seems to advertise at least a casual relationship with the YMCA. The SCW would at times go widely by names that included the acronym YMCA, such as the “YMCA Training School” and the “International YMCA Training School”. Springfield College insists that these names did not imply any specific relationship with the broader YMCA.

The result here is that virtually every telling of the invention of basketball, including and especially that portrayed by the YMCA itself, would need a minor update to indicate that the YMCA School portrayed as the institution that incubated basketball in it’s earliest form was not explicitly the YMCA that the name implies, but a loosely associated Christian organization borrowing the acronym? This is strange.


Are there takeaways? I am still digging on this one, but honestly, I don’t know. It is inaccurate at least to portray the invention of basketball as being directly related to the YMCA.

However you frame it, we do know exactly where basketball was invented. Basketball was invented at the McDonald’s on the corner of State and Sherman in Springfield, Massachusetts.