Happy B’day Mr. Naismith, We’re Setting the Basketball Record Straight
On this date in 1861 (11/6/1861), Dr. James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. Naismith is best known for being the inventor of the game of basketball. After moving to the United States, he is credited with writing the original rules for the game of in Springfield, Mass. in 1891. The problem is, evidence shows that a group of YMCA athletes had already been playing the game using peach baskets as nets, nearly a year before Naismith wrote the rules. In fact, some say there's evidence to show that a player in Herkimer actually sent the rules to Naismith in Springfield, and not the other way around.
Washington Post reporter Ben Strauss was recently in Herkimer taking a serious look at what many people in the village of Herkimer have been claiming for years. Is it true that the game of basketball was invented in the village of Herkimer, and not in Springfield, Mass?
It's the story Scott Flansburg, known nationally as the "Human Calculator" because of his "super human-like" ability to compute numbers in his head, has been shouting from Mohawk Valley hilltops for the last three years. Scott has uncovered history, documents and media reports that show the game of basketball being played and created in Herkimer by a 16-year-old Sweedish immigrant named Lambert Will, who started playing the game by tossing cabbages into peach crates.
The Herkimer story has been told for years and was even featured in a book called, "I Grew Up with Basketball," by Frank J. Basloe in 1952. The village's library is named after
Basloe, by the way.
Most recently, the 2022 book NAIS-MYTH - Basketball's Stolen Legacy by George and Darril Fosty, and Brian Carroll, was released in February following nearly a year of research and analysis, and the authors say they've uncovered proof that Herkimer does indeed have a legitimate claim to the creation of basketball.
The Washington Post story digs into both sides of the issue, even from those in Springfield who feel Flansburg its crazy. “Count me on the side of this is nuts,” said Matt Zeysing, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s historian, who spoke with Strauss.
The WAPO story also references news articles in the Utica Observer Dispatch and the Syracuse Post Standard that chronicle efforts throughout history to challenge the Dr. James Naismith story of Basketball, with efforts over the years to at least give Will and Herkimer credit for playing a role in the game's creation.
The historians, combing through archives, discovered correspondence between Basloe and his publisher that showed Basloe had wanted to publish a revision with even grander claims for Herkimer. It was Will, Basloe wrote, who actually sent his rules east to Springfield, not the other way around. The publisher, though, never issued the revision.
The writers found other evidence they believe bolstered Basloe’s case, including an 1898 article from the Syracuse Herald that reported on the success of Herkimer’s early basketball team, which it said had been playing since the fall of 1891. “Herkimer Crack Players have lost but two of thirty-five games,” it declared. A 1940 article in Little Falls, a neighboring town, noted a celebration of the 50th anniversary of basketball with Will as grand chairman. -Washington Post
Flansburg's goals of turning Herkimer into "the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame," with a museum, an arena and even the "world's largest basketball Sculpture" right in the village where he says the original rules were developed, is all featured in the newspaper profile.
Will was nominated to the 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ballot, and the New York State Legislature is considering the adoption of a resolution recognizing Herkimer, as the actual birthplace of the game of basketball.
Read the complete Washington Post story here.
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