Basketball and the Olympics

The Olympics just concluded in Rio and as usual, Basketball provided many exciting moments for all of the countries playing. Again, as usual, the United States had a very strong showing with both the Men’s and the Women’s teams going 8-0 and winning the gold medal.

For those who may not know how and when basketball made its way into the Olympics, let me give a brief history.  They showed up for the very first time in 1904 as a demonstration sport but not an official event.  Basketball became an official event for the first time at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany under the watchful eye of Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

Dr. James Naismith who invented the game was thrilled that his sport had made it to the level of the World Olympics.  He wanted to go to see this historic event.  There was just one problem; he could not afford to go.  A national movement rose up and everywhere that basketball was being played donations were being collected to send Dr. Naismith to Berlin.  The donations came from a very unusual source.  At halftime of games around the country, people would walk in front of the bleachers and spectators would throw pennies and change into the blankets. The money collected became known as the “Naismith Pennies.” Enough money was raised to send Dr. Naismith and his wife to Berlin.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Naismith became ill and could not make the trip.

Dr. Naismith did make the trip and actually tossed the jump ball to open the championship game against the United States and Canada.  The game was played on a dirt and sand court outdoors and in the rain.  The final score found the United States winning 19-8.  It was only fitting that the US and Canada played in the first championship game as Dr. Naismith was born and raised in Canada before coming to the United States where he invented the game of basketball and later became a citizen.

The Women’s teams first appeared in the games in 1976. Many nations have participated since their arrival in the Olympics but no nation has dominated like the United States. The Men have won 14 gold medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze with a staggering record of 130-5. The Women have won 8 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze.

Medals aside, the game of basketball has reached a level of worldwide play wherever a basketball hoop can be hung and a ball can be found.  It would be easier to list the countries that don’t play the game than all of the ones who do.

Dr. Naismith’s vision of inventing a game that can be played by anyone of any age or gender and offer the physical and mental workout in an atmosphere of competition and fun, surpassed even his own expectations.  It has become more than just a game to many.  It has been said that basketball has actually saved the lives of many people by their own admission.

All we can say to the man who invented such a wonderful game and said that he “hoped he could leave the world a better place by him being here,” is mission accomplished and thank you!