Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Biggest Changes in Basketball History

Posted on July 20, 2017 by Martin Banks

Basketball is an American invention, with a Canadian inventor. What began as a rather straightforward game in 1891 has grown into a global obsession. More than a century ago, James Naismith, a Canadian educator working in Massachusetts, came up with the game in an effort to develop a sport less physically punishing than football.

In the hundred-plus years since the first basketball game was played, the sport has undergone considerable changes. Read on for a look at some of the critical turning points in basketball’s development — from the introduction of the nylon basket to ball technology and the ever-diminishing shot clock.

Ending the Peach Basket Era


When basketball started, scoring meant putting the ball in a peach basket or an 18-inch square box. The baskets hung from balconies installed on most indoor running facilities of the time. They were suspended at the 10-foot height still in use today.

Peach baskets have closed bottoms, which meant the ball needed to be retrieved each time a team scored. Basketball lovers decided to speed the game up by introducing a woven wire “basket” in 1892, just a year after the game’s invention. The following year, cast iron was used, and by 1912, the first nylon nets were installed.

Evolving the Basketball


It’s difficult to play basketball without a ball, but the first balls used for the sport were, in fact, soccer balls. As you might imagine, they made some of today’s ball handling tricks impossible.

Spalding introduced a laced ball in the early 1900s, but teams had their choice of whether to use Spalding’s ball or other models available. By 1929, a new design with internal laces was released and by 1942 the first molded balls — bearing some resemblance to today’s NBA basketballs — became available. Today, the NBA has specific regulations for a ball’s size and weight, as well as an official ball supplier.

Designing the Court Layout



Even today, many different court designs are used in basketball, depending on the league. In the early days of the sport, size regulations were relaxed even in the NBA. A three-point line didn’t exist, and the maximum size of a court was 90 by 50 feet.

Dimensions became more defined in the 1940s, and the three-point shot came and went several times between 1961 and 1967. While the line has nearly always been at 23 feet, nine inches, it moved into an even 22 feet during the ‘90s. Now, NBA courts are 94 feet long and 50 feet wide.

Moving Basketball Into the 21st Century

Basketball’s stayed fresh and competitive through many interesting tweaks, like the implementation of charging rules and removal of center jumps after scoring — and even advances in shoe technology.

Today, basketball is one of the world’s elite fast-paced games. It’s played and watched all over the world, and while the differences may seem subtle, fans can confirm that a college and NBA game are different experiences. As we move into the next era of basketball, the only thing we can be certain of is the continued evolution of the sport.

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