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9 Things You Need to Know About the Origins of Basketball

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With March Madness here and the NBA playoffs just over the horizon, we thought it was about time that serious and seasonal fans alike learn a thing or two or nine about the humble list of rules that started it all. But since basketball creator James Naismith is long dead, we found the next best things: Neil Fine and Gary Belsky, authors of the forthcoming On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games (Artisan). The ex-ESPN editors provided us with their favorite takeaways from Naismith’s 13 original 1891 laws of the game. Whether you reward them by buying their book is entirely up to you. —Editors


It was a soccer ball.

2. THE MORE THE MERRIER.           

Nowhere in the original rules is the number of players per side specified. Naismith, who had been asked to invent an indoor winter activity by his boss at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, wanted a game adaptable enough to include whoever wanted to play. For a while the crowd on the court was a default 18, nine per side, because that’s how many showed up for the first game. In 1897, though, the starting five was formalized, and substitutions allowed. But it wasn’t until 1920 that a replaced starter could return to a game—just once—and not until 1945 that unlimited substitutions became the rule.


In the beginning, a player could not advance the ball himself. Rather, he had to throw it from wherever he caught it. The first team credited with advancing the ball by dribbling it played at Yale in 1897. (The same Yale that made this year’s NCAA Tournament, for the first time since 1962.) Leave it to Ivy Leaguers to re-interpret the passing rule to include a bounce pass to a player himself. Official allowances for the dribble—just one per possession initially—were adopted four years later.


Shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or otherwise striking an opponent was never OK. But such offenses weren’t recorded as personal fouls until 1910, with the advent of a rule disqualifying a player for committing four of them. That total was raised to five in 1946, in the inaugural rules of the Basketball Association of America (the original name of the National Basketball Association), and to six the next year.


The original description of what constituted a goal—“when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there”—held until 1913, when open-ended nets replaced closed, woven cast-iron rims (which had replaced peach baskets in the mid-1890s).


When the ball landed out of bounds, possession was determined by throwing it down court and seeing which team touched it first. That’s one wrinkle Naismith didn’t quite think through; scrambles to be first to the ball resulted in seriously injurious confrontations. Thus, the rule change in 1913, giving the ball to whichever team hadn’t touched it last.


That’s because one of the official duties of early refs was timekeeping. Then again, there wasn’t that much time to keep: the 24-second shot clock wasn’t instituted until 1954, to combat stalling tactics NBA teams had begun to employ.


Naismith envisioned two 15-minute halves, with five minutes’ rest between. When the BAA was formed in 1946, the two halves were rejiggered as four quarters of 12 minutes each to give fans more ball for their buck.


In the case of a tie, Naismith stipulated that the game could be continued “by agreement of the captains” until one more goal was made.It wasn’t until the 1960s that such sudden death gave way to a five-minute overtime period. 

On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games (Artisan) comes out April 19th.

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Fox Sports, YouTube
Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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