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On 1939 Recording, Basketball Inventor Reminisces About First Game

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now the story of a different extracurricular, in the winter of 1891, there was a brutal New England blizzard. James Naismith was a physical instructor phys ed teacher at what's now Springfield College in Massachusetts.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

His students were stuck inside for days, and they were totally feeling cabin fever. So, Naismith got creative with an old soccer ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "WE THE PEOPLE")

JAMES NAISMITH: I called the boys to the gym, I showed them two peach baskets I had nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team's peach basket. I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began.

MONTAGNE: That was Naismith in a 1939 interview. You can tell by the voice, I think, "We The People," a New York-based radio show. Naismith later died that very year. This may be the only recording his voice. It was found at the Library of Congress by a professor researching him.

GREENE: Naismith said the only rule at first was to just get the ball in the basket. And that, he says, was a mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "WE THE PEOPLE")

NAISMITH: The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder.

MONTAGNE: With the addition of some rules, the sport caught on.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "WE THE PEOPLE")

NAISMITH: And in 1936, I saw it played for the first time at the Olympic Games. And the whole thing started with a couple of peach baskets I put up in a little gym 48 years ago.

MONTAGNE: James Naismith said, it just goes to show what you can do if you have to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASKETBALL")

LIL BOW WOW: (Singing) They're playing basketball. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.