Was The Sport of Basketball Actually Invented in Central New York?
Those who are hardcore fans of the sport of basketball, probably have an idea of who and where the sport was invented.
Popular belief states that the game was invented by James Naismith, a YMCA instructor working in Springfield, Massachusetts, who was charged by his boss to come up with a new game to entertain the kids who attended the facility. Naismith took a ball, and a peach basket, and basketball was officially born. Naismith became the namesake for the National Basketball Hall of Fame, which, you guessed it, resides in Springfield, too.
That being said, there's a bit of controversy involved in the legitimacy of Naismith's legacy. A group of people, profiled in a story by The Washington Post earlier this week, claim that their Central New York town acted as the backdrop for the new game, instead.
The Legend of Lambert Will, and Basketball in Herkimer, New York
Located just over an hour west of Albany, near Utica, sits the town of Herkimer, New York. Herkimer was settled in the 1700's, and had a population of just over 10,000 as of the 2010 census. It's a rural town, with a great deal of history that sits in various states of preservation.
One landmark that you can't see anymore, is the old Herkimer YMCA, located on Main Street in the center of the town. The YMCA burned down years ago, and the lot where it formerly stood is now a parking lot next to an M&T Bank. If you weren't alive while it stood, or hadn't read about it, you'd never know it even existed.
Not only did it exist, however, it was the alleged birthplace of the fastest-growing sport in America: basketball.
The man that Herkimer natives champion as the inventor of basketball is Lambert Will, a Swedish immigrant who would toss cabbages into baskets, according to the story from the Washington Post. He was just 16 years old at the time, but as some claim, was an architect of history.
The controversy here comes down to two years in history: 1891 and 1892. The old Herkimer YMCA is alleged to have played host to a game between a YMCA team, and a group of locals, in 1891. Not only that, but there is a faded photograph of a YMCA-based team holding a ball, with "91-92" scratched into it, signifying the "1891-1892" season. If this is true, then the team that was captured in the photo would have started playing this game in 1891.
Naismith is credited with inventing basketball in 1892.
Unfortunately, records from this time period are extremely hard to find, so there are few pieces of evidence convincing enough to credit one person over the other for the invention of basketball. Lambert Will never submitted a patent for the sport, nor did he ever seek out credit for inventing it.
He is reportedly quoted as saying that he was not looking for any glory for what he created, but rather, was just happy to have given people pleasure by playing the game.
James Naismith is synonymous with basketball, and his role in the game's popularization will never be questioned. One can, however, question its origins, and whether a small town in Central New York should be the "Cooperstown equivalent" for basketball fans everywhere.