SI Vault
Gerald Holland
August 16, 1954
For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history
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August 16, 1954

The Golden Age Is Now

For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history

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But for the genuine football fan, not even color television in 3-D would provide an acceptable substitute for the thrill of being part of the football crowd. The 56,338 seats for next October's Notre Dame-Michigan State game were sold out on July 23.

In sports' new golden age, football is at its peak of popularity and a significant change in the rules last year may well produce individual stars to match those of the '20s. For more than a decade, the rules had permitted unlimited substitutions. Out of this came the two-platoon system. Now limited substitutions are again the rule and as a result, players must be more versatile and durable. And of versatility and durability the Red Granges and the J. C. Carolines (J. C. is performing brilliantly on Red's old campus at the University of Illinois) are made.


In the development of games played with an inflated leather-encased ball (soccer, rugby, U.S. football), there was a digression in the fall of 1891?a digression with magnificent results.

James A. Naismith, a physical director employed by the Springfield, Mass. branch of the Y.M.C.A., was worried about his job. Attendance at the Y gym was falling off and Naismith was searching for some new kind of game, suitable for part-time and middle-aged athletes, and playable in a gymnasium. Walking the streets of Springfield one night, he passed a grocery store with peach baskets stacked outside. Naismith had been thinking of a game to be played with soccer balls and now the complete idea hit him. Why not throw soccer balls into peach baskets?

Naismith hurried home and started drafting a set of rules. Next evening he assembled a group of middle-aged men at the Y and began to teach them the new sport. They were crazy for it, and by January 20, 1892 Dr. Naismith had enough players to put on the first basketball game in history at the Springfield Y.

"Next season," he recalled years later, "young boys took up the game and the world knows the rest of the story."

Today, basketball is one of the great games of the world. Last season in the United States, college games drew crowds totaling more than eight million. Professional basketball games attracted 2,250,000 persons and were televised to weekly audiences averaging 7,500,000. Basketball teams of the Amateur Athletic Union gave 6,635 men and 6,056 women an opportunity to participate. High schools play the game before uncountable millions (it is a year round game in many states) and in Indiana high school basketball is an institution that outshines the very moon along the Wabash. Fort Wayne has a basketball arena seating 10,000?Switz City (pop. 328) has one seating 4,500.

The Y.M.C.A., missionaries, American soldiers of both World Wars and the Harlem Globe Trotters, a professional team that features comedy with flabbergasting ball-handling, have spread the peach basket game around the world. China, Japan, India, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Canada have had the game for half a century. Almost every other European and Asian country has taken it up, in varying degrees, in more recent years. Russia played it well enough in the 1952 Olympics to finish as runner-up to the U.S.

For dyed-in-the-wool fans, there is no game like basketball and among its heroes, George Mikan of the professional Minneapolis Lakers occupies the position of Babe Ruth in baseball. On all levels one thing is certain: Naismith's invention (the only game purely American in its origin) now is so exciting that the middle-aged man for whom it was conceived finds the mere watching of it strenuous enough.

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