Grandson of basketball's inventor brings game's exhibit to Geneva College

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The grandson of the man who invented basketball more than 100 years ago is bringing his History of Basketball exhibit today to Geneva College in Beaver Falls, where the first college hoops game was played.

Ian Naismith will have the 2,000-square-foot Naismith Basketball Exhibit on campus through Saturday in the Metheny Fieldhouse.

The display consisting of about 700 to 1,000 pieces of memorabilia is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.

James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Mass., where he was director of athletics at the YMCA Training School.

The original game was played with soccer balls thrown into peach baskets mounted 10 feet off the ground. When a basket was made, a ladder was dragged out onto the court so the ball could be retrieved and put back into play.

Among the exhibits is the original list of rules.

"The original peach basket was gone the day of the first game" on Dec. 21, 1891, Ian Naismith said. He suspects it was destroyed by the rigors of play.

But, 11 years ago, he found 93-year-old peach baskets that he thinks look like those used in the original game. There are 15 baskets, and they're part of the display that includes Naismith family memorabilia and items from top NBA stars.

Mr. Naismith has been touring with the basketball memorabilia since 1999. Last month, he stopped at the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis. About 30,000 fans viewed the exhibit, Mr. Naismith said, and none of them paid a cent.

"The exhibit has always been free," Mr. Naismith said. "No one in my family has ever made money from basketball, though we could have. Other people get rich off the game. My grandfather would not like that, and I do not like it."

Mr. Naismith said he made Beaver Falls the first stop on this year's tour "because the first college game was played at Geneva College" in 1892. "My grandfather's bio was very clear about that."

Dr. Naismith was 30 when he invented basketball, and he already had earned a doctor of divinity degree. By age 35, he had earned four doctoral degrees, including medical doctor, his grandson said.

He served as a Presbyterian minister until the age of 72, and his resume includes 41 years as pastor and athletic director at Kansas University.

The year of the first college game was 1892, according to Dr. Naismith's book about the history of basketball.

"Mr. C.O. Beamis, a Springfield [Mass.] boy, had gone to Geneva College as a physical director," Dr. Naismith says in his book. "He realized it might solve the need of a winter activity in his school. I told him of the success we had and explained to him the fundamentals of the game. On his return to Beaver Falls he started the game in Geneva College. It is my belief, therefore, that this college was the first to play basketball."

Ian Naismith has a degree in engineering and was a rancher in South Texas for 45 years. His father, James, was also an engineer in Texas. Ian Naismith says he owns the "rights to the game" and the original rules of the game, as did his father and grandfather before him.

In 1989, Ian Naismith founded the Naismith International Basketball Foundation, headquartered in Chicago. He lives in Burlington, Ill., when he's not traveling with the exhibit for 200-250 days per year.

"I'm not rich," said Mr. Naismith, who declines to give his age. "I do this because I believe in my family, I believe in the game and I believe in the kids."

The costs of running the foundation and the tour are covered by "sponsors," he said.

Visit and for information about Dr. Naismith and the history of the sport.

The History of Basketball exhibit in Beaver Falls coincides with Geneva's annual Founders Day celebration on Saturday. The school, which bills itself as "a comprehensive Christian college of the arts, sciences and professional studies," was founded in 1848.

Also Saturday, Geneva will host Western Pennsylvania's high school Round Ball All-Star Classic for girls and boys, single-A through quad-A.

Visit for more information.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-722-0087. First Published April 15, 2010 4:00 AM


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