Recording believed to be only known audio of Dr. James Naismith

December 15, 2015 / Basketball
From the University of Kansas

A University of Kansas researcher has uncovered what is believed to be the only known audio recording of Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball. The recording is located in the archives of the Library of Congress, and the university has received permission to include the recording in KU’s archives at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and to make it available to the public. Listen to it here.

Screenshot via University of Kansas.

Michael Zogry, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, found references to a brief radio interview with Naismith while researching his book in progress, “Religion and Basketball: Naismith’s Game.” The interview of Naismith was on the radio program “We the People,” hosted by Gabriel Heatter in New York, on Jan. 31, 1939. In the roughly three-minute clip, Naismith discusses setting up the first basketball game with two peach baskets in a gymnasium at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, in December 1891.

Naismith’s description of the roughhousing among 18 players in the first game sheds new light on the creative process that led him to draft the 13 original rules of the game, said Zogry and Naismith’s grandson, Jim Naismith, who first heard his grandfather’s voice once Zogry obtained the audio in November.

“The recording suggests the gym was a laboratory for developing the game and establishing the rules,” Zogry said. “There’s also value in just hearing his voice. In this day and age of media saturation, to find something like this is surprising.  No one’s heard his voice in over 75 years. When we hear him talking, we get a sense of his demeanor and his self-effacing attitude.”

After inventing the game, Naismith went on to earn a medical degree.  He was hired by the University of Kansas in 1898 to serve as chapel director, director of physical education and university physician.  He went on to serve KU for nearly 40 years as a professor of physical education, chairing that department until 1924.  He also served as KU’s first athletic director and was the first basketball coach from 1899 to 1907. Naismith died in November 1939 in Lawrence and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence.

Click here to read the complete news release from the University of Kansas.

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