The Origin of Basketball

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ollamalitzli was a 16th century Aztec precursor of basketball played in Mexico. If the rubber ball was put through a fixed stone ring on one side of the stadium, the player was entitled to the clothing of all the spectators. The captain of the losing team often lost his head (by execution).

Modern basketball was devised by the Canadian-born Dr. James A. Naismith (1861-1939) at the YMCA at Springfield, Massachusetts, in December, 1891, and first played on January 20, 1892. The first public contest was on March 11, 1892.

According to recent scientific evidence, the precursor of basketball dates back 3,400 years. American and Canadian anthropologists have unearthed a ball court of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica in Chiapas, Mexico, that dates back to approximately 1400 BC -- at least five centuries earlier than any other excavated court. Warren Hill and Michael Blake of the University of British Columbia and John Clark of Brigham Young University in Utah said the finding proves that formal courts have been present since the very inception of settled village life and were important in political, social and religious life.

“The discovery and dating of this ball court indicates first, that large-scale ball courts, requiring significant amounts of labor, were in use much earlier than previously thought; and second, that ball court form was conserved with few modifications until the Spanish Conquest (in the 16th century),” they said in a letter to the scientific journal Nature. It seems neither the game, in which players competed to pass a rubber ball through a wall-mounted hoop, or the sponsorship has changed much in thousands of years.

The scientists think that elite villagers may have sponsored the construction of ball courts to enhance their status and prestige and that inter-village competition may have helped to maintain community solidarity.

(REUTERS News Service 04/29/98)