March Madness: Part Two

This time of year sports news is satiated with basketball. March Madness is a type of disorder including violent mood swings. Like millions my spirit soars when my favorite team scores a three pointer and my heart sinks when they miss the front end of a one-and-one. Emotions erupt when the Dark Vader of basketball, Duke (one of my personal favorites) gets eliminated.

The humble background of basketball makes it special. James Naismith, a Canadian-American, an inventor, educator, physician, and chaplain invented the game in 1830. Naismith was an ordained Presbyterian minister whose job was to help young men to become professional leaders in the rapidly growing Sunday School movement and simultaneously establish YMCAs. His objective was to build character and inculcate Christian character in the young men. Playing basketball was to be a pathway to solid character formation. It soon expanded beyond the school, giving young men an alternative to hanging out at saloons. 

The symbol of the “Y” was a red triangle symbolizing the holistic combination of the three sides of human nature: physical, mental, and spiritual. 

A photo from the era in which the game emerged shows the building in which basketball was begun and the sign over the entrance, “School for Christian Workers.” Officially it was the “International YMCA Training School.” It was birthed of necessity. The young men who had participated in football needed some means of venting their energy during the winter months.

Naismith’s idea of a game with a goal prompted him to ask a janitor for two 18-inch square boxes. None being available he settled for two half-bushel peach baskets. He nailed one on each end of the gym balcony which happened to be ten feet high. Initially people stood in the balcony and recovered the ball for play. Soon the bottom was cut from the baskets.

The game adopted ideas from several games of its time, including American rugby (passing), English rugby (the jump ball), lacrosse (use of a goal), soccer (the shape and size of the ball), and duck on a rock, which Naismith played with his childhood friends in Bennie’s Corners, Ontario. Initially there were three centers, three forwards, and three guards. Two opposing centers faced off at mid-court, Naismith tossed the ball, and the game of basketball was born, relieving the young men of Springfield of their boredom. 

One of my all time favorite players and dear friend, Pete Marivich, put it in perspective. The evening I baptized him we sat in my study with him asking one spiritually related question after the other. Suddenly he stood up and slapped my desk saying, “Man, was I good…” He having averaged 44 points a game in college before the three point play, I could not argue the point. Then he continued, “Just think what I could have been if I had Jesus in my heart then.”

Our nation would be better if the game still had those three virtues inculcated in the game and all of life today.