Like many American households, ours will be dedicated this weekend to the sport of basketball. My nine-year-old has his final game of the season on Saturday and unlike with other sports seasons he’s had, I’m a little sad to see this one end.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy being the mom who makes it on time to all the practices with a water bottle for my kid and an extra for yours in case he forgot (because I’m the super mom), brings after-game snacks complete with little bottles of red Gatorade (because I’m the cool mom), never argues with the bonehead coach or the most likely blind ref (because I’m the respectful mom), or chants elaborate rhyming cheers (because I’m the most embarrassing mom in the world).
It’s just that this basketball season was the first time my kiddo, who is brilliant, but also big for his age and a little awkwardly coordinated, has seemed to really enjoy playing a sport (now if only he could ditch his embarrassing mom). He’s always liked the social aspect of being on a team, but this is the first time that tiny details like rules, skills, strategy, and competition have entered the equation for him.
I’m grateful for a couple of reasons. First, I actually like and understand basketball. Second, it’s one of those great indoor cold-weather sports that keeps him active during even the most brutal winter (this one).
And it turns out, that’s exactly why the sport exists to begin with. Because in 1891, a teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts by the name of James Naismith, needed a way to keep his class of 18 young athletes in good physical condition, as well as a way to keep them from driving him completely insane during the indoor months of a brutal New England winter.
What he came up with was a game with 13 rules in which two teams of nine players each had to pass a soccer ball up and down the gym floor and score goals by tossing the ball into peach baskets nailed onto the edge of the gymnasium balcony. After having to stop play and get out a ladder to retrieve the ball a few hundred too many times, someone was finally smart enough to cut the bottoms out of the baskets and the game started to gain some traction.
Actually, it spread incredibly quickly through the YMCA system and soon enough to college campuses where the rules were tweaked until on March 20, 1897, the first 5-on-5 intercollegiate basketball game was held between Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. In case you care (I don’t), Yale won 32-10.
Obviously basketball has grown and changed a lot since those earliest games. Players now dribble the ball (except in the NBA) and the sport can now claim its very own ball that though roughly the size of a soccer ball is much more orange. The peach baskets too have been replaced with metal rims on backboards and nets that make a pleasant swooshing sound.
And as the players get more skilled and taller (the average NBA player is now well over ten feet tall), and the game becomes too easy and therefore boring to watch, the rules will continue to change. I’m sure my son will keep track of them all because he likes basketball. And he even kind of gets it, which is a great source of joy for my husband, because I hear that in addition to my son’s game, there may be a few other ones to watch this weekend as well.
Frankly, I probably won’t pay a lot of attention to those other games. I didn’t fill out a billion dollar bracket because I really only cheer for two, or possibly three college teams, when I happen to catch them on television. None of them are in the tournament this year. But I bet all the players who are participating will manage just fine without me because I have no doubt their moms will be there with extra water bottles, elaborate rhyming cheers, and a snack with a little bottle of celebratory red Gatorade for after the game.