Basketball Little Big History Project - Sally Paulsen

Basketball Today

Modern day basketball is much different from when the sport originally started. Today it's played in schools, colleges, and universities everywhere. Boys and girls now play the same version. The players of the NBA and WNBA even make a living off it as their career. Many things have changed over the years, including the rules.

Modern Rules

Today, ten players are allowed on the court during the game at a time, five from each team. If someone else on the team wants to go into the game, someone else from their team must go out and take their spot on the bench. This is so everyone gets playing time and the athletes in don't get too tired and can rest up before going back into the game. The point of the game is to score the most points before the time runs out. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. If the teams at the end have the same score, the game goes into overtime, as many as needed, until a team wins the game. If a player makes a shot from anywhere inside the three point arch, the basket is worth two. If a player makes a shot from anywhere on the court that is outside the three point arch, the basket is worth three. If a player fouls another from the other team, the team that was fouled either gets the ball out of bounds or gets to shoot free throws. The player will get two unless their team has a certain number of fouls themselves, pushing them into one-and-one. All made free throws are only worth one point. If you miss your second shot during a standard two free throw foul, the ball is back into play. This also goes for one-and-one during both shots. The officials, or referees are the people in the black and white strips on the court. They decide fouls and keep the game going smoothly.

Original Basketball

People have been playing basketball since early December 1891 when Canadian Dr. James Naismith nailed a peach basket to the top of a ten foot pole. His gym class then played the first ever game of basketball on this rainy day. After every basket, the ball had to be manually removed from the basket. This is what inspired the net to have an open bottom so there was less delay of the game.

Where It All Started

The first game was played at the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School (YMCA). Today, that place is Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dr. James Naismith was looking for something for his gym class to do inside on a rainy day, so he nailed the peach basket to the top of the ten foot pole. This was the birthplace of basketball.

Changes Over Time

In the beginning, the basket was an actual peach basket, bottom intact. Now we use a metal rim, backboard, and open bottomed nets. Basketball was originally played with a soccer ball that had laces, making passing and dribbling a challenge. Now we play with a smooth, lace-free ball. The original ballers didn't dribble and the bounce pass was the main form of ball movement. The most major changes happened in the rules and techniques. The use hasn't changed very much, except now it's more competitive. The game grew better with time due to the collective learning and sharing ideas on what worked and what didn't.


Basketball relates to Thresholds 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Threshold 3

Threshold 3 is New Chemical Elements.

By 200 million years after the Big Bang, the Universe had become a very dark and cold place. Then things started to change. First, galaxies and nebulae formed. These were the earliest structures in the Universe. Then stars- "hot spots" of light and energy- emerged from these clouds of dust and gas. Why did they form and how did they change everything? Stars, the first complex, stable entities in the Universe, have the capacity to generate energy for millions, even billions of years. The first stars, which passed through their entire life cycles relatively quickly, produced many of the chemical elements of the periodic table.

Chemical elements were created, making everything we have today. This includes the basketball, the basketball hoop, court, and everything else needed in order to play a game of basketball.

Threshold 4

Threshold 4 is Our Solar System & Earth.

Billowing clouds of matter spun around and around our young Sun, gradually forming just about everything in our Solar System- from meteors and asteroids to all the planets and moons. One planet in particular would enable the creation of even more remarkable complexity. Why? How did that happen?

Leftovers usually aren't all that interesting or important. The leftovers that circled our Sun just after birth are another story. Gravity helped to seperate that matter by density, forming all the different planets in our solar system. Our own planet, Earth, was uniquely positioned at just the right distance fro the Sun and composed of diverse elements. This proved ideal for generating just the right circumstances- or Goldilocks Conditions- for greater and greater complexity. But early Earth was much different then the world we know now.

We have chemical elements, making everything, including the basketball but now what? You can't play basketball in space because the ball would never fall through the hoop without gravity. We needed a planet, such as Earth. Earth is a stable planet, with good climate and conditions for playing basketball.

Threshold 5

Threshold 5 is Life.

What makes life so special? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? And how exactly did life emerge and diversify? In many ways these remain mysteries, but we do have enough evidence to explore some possible answers. Our exploration will span more then 3.8 billion years of Earth's history. Defining life is harder then it seems. One answer centers on four inherent qualities: metabolism, homeostasis, reproduction, and adaption. But what Goldilocks Conditions enabled life to prosper in so many diverse forms? To help answer some of these questions, you'll chart the remarkable journey of life on Earth, crossing six 'mini-thresholds" where life demonstrated distinct new characteristics. You'll also explore the biosphere and the dynamic, sometimes catastrophic, relationship between life and Earth.

Everything is ready, but now we need something to play the game. Life was created and it evolved, eventually creating humans, with legs and arms, perfect for the game of basketball.

Threshold 6

Threshold 6 is Early Humans.

Humans are unusual. We walk upright and build cities. We travel from continent to continent in hours. We communicate across the globe in an instant. We alone can build bombs and invent medicines. Why can we do all these things that other creatures can't? What makes us so different from other species? Investigating how early humans evolved and lived helps us answer questions. Most people give our big brains all the credit, but that's only part of the story. To more fully understand our success as a species, we need to look closely at our ancestors and the world they lived in. You'll learn how foraging humans prospered and formed communities, and you'll uncover the uniquely human ability to preserve, share, and build upon each other's ideas to learn collectively.

We have everything needed to play the game, good conditions, and players. After playing the game, people started sharing things that needed to change and what they like about the game. This is an example of collective learning. Because of collective learning, as well as all the other contributing thresholds, the game of basketball has evolved to where it is today.


Adobe Spark

Big History Project

Created By
Sally Paulsen


Created with images by B_Me - "basketball sport ball" • KeithJJ - "basketball player girls basketball" • KeithJJ - "basketball game ball" • KeithJJ - "basketball shooting player"

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