Artisan
Artisan

9 Things You Need to Know About the Origins of Basketball

Artisan
Artisan

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

1. THE FIRST BASKETBALL WASN'T. 

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.

3. NO DRIBBLING ALLOWED.  

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.

4. NO HARM, NO FOUL.  

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.

5. "BASKET BALL" WAS NOT A EUPHEMISM.

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).

6. IT WAS ALMOST TACKLE BASKETBALL.  

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.

7. EARLY REFEREES NEEDED WATCHES. 

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.

8. THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS BRIEF.  

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.

9. NOW THAT'S AN IDEA: OVERTIME BY CONSENSUS!

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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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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