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Chapter VIII - The Foreign Spread

BASKETBALL was accepted in many foreign countries soon after the game was first played in the United States. It was early introduced into several European countries, although they did not play the game so extensively as some of the far eastern nations. Even today the sport is not so popular in England as it is in China and Japan. The Y.M.C.A., which had been instrumental in spreading the game in the United States, was also largely responsible for the foreign spread through its foreign branches.

There is little doubt that the war of 1914 did much to increase the popularity of basketball in foreign countries; as a direct result of seeing the Americans play the game, it has been taken up and accepted by nations that previously knew little of basketball.

I have seen the game played in foreign countries, and I have received numerous pictures of contests and courts from Australia to Alaska. In spite of the fact that I have also written many letters trying to determine just when basketball was introduced into other countries, I have been unable to gather complete and accurate data. To attempt to state chronologically when the game was first accepted by different nations might, therefore, cause confusion. In a few instances, however, the introduction of the game is clearly set, and in some the individual who first introduced the game is known. One instance in particular is that of my native country, Canada.


If Canada may be considered as a foreign country, it indeed may claim to be the first country outside of the United States to play basketball. Of the ten men on the first team, there were five Canadians. McDonald was from Nova Scotia, Archibald and Thompson were from New Brunswick, and Patton and I from Ontario. All of these men, with the exception of myself, returned to Canada and took basketball with them.

The spread of basketball in Canada was not so rapid as it was in this country. In the first place, the Dominion was not so thickly populated as this country; and in the second place, Canada was so well adapted for outdoor winter sports that it did not feel the need for a new winter game. It has been only in the past few years that basketball has taken a firm hold in the Dominion, and today the game is widely played in all of the provinces.

The Dominion is divided into basketball districts, and the winning team from each district competes in a national tournament, the winners of which are declared national champions. In the larger Canadian cities, the churches have done much to popularize the game; and the high schools have taken it up to such an extent that there is a representative on the rules committee from that country.

Several years ago I was invited to make a trip to Edmonton, Alberta, to see the Commercial Grads, one of the outstanding girls’ teams, play. Mr. and Mrs. Percival Page were in charge of the team made up of graduates of the Commercial High School in Edmonton. The girls’ playing was a revelation to me; they handled the ball as the boys do, and their floor work was far superior to what I believed possible for girls. In spite of the fact that these girls played either boys’ or girls’ rules, they were typical young ladies, not the tomboy type at all.

Some years ago the Toilers, one of the leading boys’ teams, from Winnipeg, made a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to play the champions of the United States, the Diamond Oilers. The Toilers were defeated in two games and were returning by plane to resume the series at Winnipeg, when the plane crashed at Neodeasha, Kansas. Two of the players were killed, and most of the others were injured. I felt then that this accident would break up the team, but Colonel Sampson, who was in charge of the team at that time, later informed me that they were carrying on and that they again expected to have a national championship team.

Although basketball is not so far advanced in Canada as it is in the United States, I feel sure that in a few years, Canadian teams will be playing on an equal basis with other teams in the world.


Don Alford, whom I had coached on the University of Kansas team, went to Alaska in 1906 and helped to organize a team in Nome. This Alaskan team liked the game, and with practice and coaching it became so expert that a trip through some of the States was scheduled. In spite of the fact that the players had been together through only one season, their record in the United States showed that these men from the North were as expert at basketball as our own teams. I have been unable to learn the exact number of games the Nome team won or lost, but as far as I can determine, it won more than 85 per cent of its games.

Philippine Islands

As there seems to be little to indicate exactly when basketball was introduced into the Philippine Islands, it is probable that the natives gained their first information of the game through watching the American soldiers stationed there.

It was not until 1910 that a league was definitely organized. The Manila Y.M.C.A. and the Bureau of Education both did much to promote the sport, and it is through their influence that basketball has been adopted throughout most of the twenty-one provinces. The Philippine colleges and universities are using the game as a part of their physical-educa-tion and sports program, and it has been adopted as an official event by the National Collegiate Athletic Association of the Philippine Islands.

The Far Eastern Athletic Association, which is in many ways comparable to the Olympics, lists basketball as one of its events. Competing with China, Japan, and India, the Philippines have won a good percentage of the basketball championships.

In a letter, Regino Ylanan says that the interest in basketball in the Philippine Islands is growing each year, and that the proficiency with which it is being played is showing a marked advance.

The West Indies

It has always been my opinion that basketball would not be accepted in the southern countries as readily as in the northern, because many of the southern countries can use outdoor sports the year around and because indoor exercise is not necessary. Yet many of the southern countries, as well as the smaller islands, have taken up basketball; in most instances, the game is included in the school activities.

Only recently Miss Anna McCracken, an instructor in the University of Kansas, told me that her aunt, Miss Alsina Andrews, from Hector River, Jamaica, had spoken of the popularity of basketball in Jamaica. Miss Andrews explained that most of the schools were private schools aided by the British government and that basketball was played extensively by the boys of the island. These boys are largely Indians, although there are many Negroes and some few Orientals.

In many of the smaller islands of this district where basketball is popular, the game is played entirely out of doors; the courts are the earth, pounded hard by the constant tramp of bare feet.

I have been unable to learn how old these courts are or when basketball was first played in Jamaica, but it seems that the game was well established by 1926. Haiti is well acquainted with basketball, although I cannot learn when it was introduced into this island.

Cuba, on the other hand, has quite as extensive basketball program. The game is played in the schools, and both school and independent leagues are well organized.

In Puerto Rico, basketball has become a national sport. In a letter, Julio A. Francis states that a meeting was held January 12,1930, in Mayaguez, to form a basketball association. This meeting was largely attended by officials, sports writers, and representatives of teams. The result was the formation of the Puerto Rican Basketball Association, which elected for its officers men who were interested in the promotion of the game. I feel it a distinct compliment that, along with Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of the island, I should be elected as honorary chairman of the Association.

South America

Basketball was introduced into South America in 1896 by a missionary stationed in S§,o Paulo, Brazil, who organized a team in McKenzie College.

This team took up the game readily and was well on the way to becoming adept at the sport. One day as the coach was working with the boys, he accidentally left a paper on his desk, and in this paper was the picture of a girls’ basketball team. Some of the team saw the picture and immediately refused to play any game that was meant for girls.

Although this attitude has almost disappeared, there are a few sections of South America where the boys still refuse to play basketball. Jess Hopkins, who has done much to promote the game in South America, stated in a letter that on a trip through Brazil he found some sections where basketball was still considered a girls’ game. Mr. Hopkins is known as the father of basketball on the southern continent.

In the larger cities of South America, basketball is played much as it is here. In Montevideo, Uruguay, the game is played in gymnasiums; the organization in this city compares favorably with those of our larger cities here in the United States.

Western Europe

It was a raw spring day in 1918, and the streets of Paris were damp and uninviting. As I walked along the Rue St. Michel going from my hotel to my office, I passed one of those small book shops that are so common in France. One of these shops I had noticed several times, and as I was early that morning, I stepped through the crowded door into its dim interior. Books were everywhere, old books and new ones, classics and the cheapest novels. As I stood in front of one of the racks, I noticed a small red book with the chapter title “Le Basketball,” in Les Sports pour Tons by Em. Weber. I bought the book and took it to the office with me. Upon examination I found that it was a French translation of the basketball rules. I was interested to know when the book was printed, but I could find no date either in the rules themselves or on the frontispiece. When I turned to the advertisements in the book, I found the date 189T.

There is no doubt, as I have said, that the War had a vital influence on the spread of basketball in the European nations. In France it was common to see basketball goals at the American cantonments, and the play on these courts was always witnessed by a group of French people. I remember a group of French soldiers watching a game. After its finish, they took the ball and attempted to throw it into the basket. They were at first quite awkward in their attempts, but the rapidity with which they learned to pass and shoot was astonishing. It was largely through the American soldiers that the

French people became acquainted with the game as it is really played by men. Although the French girls had played basketball for some time, its popularity among the men did not come until after the Armistice.

After the Armistice was signed, the Inter-Allied Games were held in Paris, and although the Americans won the basketball title, the French and Italian teams that had recently taken up the game furnished most interesting competition.

Only recently I picked up a paper and noticed that the girls’ championship team of the United States had returned from a trip to France to play the champions of that country. I had seen the American champions play and was much surprised to learn that they had been defeated by the French team and that the French women held the world championship.

Although France has wholeheartedly accepted basketball, England has shown little enthusiasm for the game. In searching for a record of some English team, I find mention only of the London Y.M.C.A., and there is little in regard to history of this group.

Soon after the origin of basketball, Miss Bessie Fotheringham went to England and introduced the girls’ game. The acceptance of basketball by the girls of that country stamped the game as one that was played by women, and the English men therefore refused to play it. England has not been alone in this attitude, but it seems that most of the other countries in which basketball was introduced as a girls’ game have overcome this viewpoint, and both men and women are now playing.

The Far East

While I was attending the Training School, one of my classmates, a Japanese named Ishakawa, made the first sketch of a basketball game. This drawing was printed in the guide for 1893 and has been reproduced many times. Mr. Ishakawa attended the University of Wisconsin after leaving Springfield, and, I understand, he returned to his native country soon after his graduation. Whether he introduced basketball into Japan I am unable to say; I do know that as early as 1900 Hancock, in his book on physical education in Japan, mentions basketball as an important part of the program for Japanese women.

Although basketball was undoubtedly introduced into Japan soon after its origin, it was not generally accepted as a sport for boys until about 1913, when Mr. Franklin Brown, a graduate of the Chicago Y.M.C.A. College, went to that country. Mr.

Brown organized teams and leagues in several of the larger cities, and with the help of some students who had attended school in the United States, he was successful in making the game so popular that it is played extensively throughout Japan.

The Japanese have sent several teams to the United States as well as to the Oriental Olympics. Wasida College sent a team that toured our West Coast, and a Y.M.C.A. team visited Honolulu and played a series of games. In 1938, a team from Meiji University played an exhibition game against Washburn College at Topeka, Kansas. The Japanese, although under a distinct handicap in size, were fast as lightning on the floor and handled the ball and played with astonishing agility. After this game I met the members of the team and their manager. Through their interpreter they told me that basketball was one of the leading sports of their country and that each year it was spreading rapidly.

Not only did Mr. Brown develop the game in Japan, but he made several trips into Manchuria and was instrumental in introducing the game into that country.

China was one of the first foreign nations to take up basketball, and I believe that the game was played there within a few years after its origin. Robert Gailey, who played center on the Princeton team, introduced the game into China in 1898. Although basketball was rather extensively played, it was not until several years later, when Dr. Charles Siler went to China, that the scientific type of basketball was played. Doctor Siler was an old K. U. basketball player, and it was largely owing to his efforts that the game earned the popularity that it now enjoys. In 1908, Dr. Max J. Exner went to East China as National Director for the Y.M.C.A. and spread the game in the eastern section of China through the tournaments and leagues that he organized.

A few years ago I received an interesting letter from Mr. M. Y. Ambros, who was traveling through China and was in Peiping at the time he wrote. Mr. Ambros says:

We remember you very often, Dr. Naismith, while looking from the train or riding in a rickasha, In all parts of different cities we saw basketball goals everywhere. It will be a real pleasure for you to travel through the orient to see how much basketball is really played. It cannot be described or pictured; it cannot be told; it must be seen.

Just recently we saw the girls’ league playing at Peiping “Y” gymnasium. Lots of spectators from all kinds of social levels, coolies beside the soldiers, and the family carrying a baby in hands, the referee in a long Chinese skirt or coat, the encouragement of the players by the crowd around. You can just feel what the game means to them.

India is another of the Far East group that has organized basketball, and from that country comes the report of the Bengal Basketball Association. This Association came into existence at a meeting called by Mr. M. J. Mukerjee, director of physical education of the Calcutta Y.M.C.A. The official playing code, as promulgated by the basketball rules committee, has been adopted by the Bengal Association. Nineteen organizations are represented in the Bengal Association, and I understand that this group meets annually.

In 1920, H. C. Buck wrote from Madras, India, that in his city a school of physical education had been opened and that physical directors were being trained for all parts of India, Burma, and Ceylon. He added that basketball had become an important sport of these countries and that it was sure to make progress in the schools and colleges as well as in the Y.M.C.A.

While mentioning basketball in the Far East it may be well to mention some of the other distant countries that have taken up the game. Down off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar received the game from the French soldiers stationed at that place. Though the people of this island were acquainted with the game, it was not until Eugene Beigbeder went there in 1924 that basketball was really organized. Today it is played in the schools and forms an important part of the sports program of that country.

In the southern part of Asia there are several countries that have not only adopted basketball but have also translated the rules into their own languages.

The Near East

In 1924, I received a letter from Chester K. Tobin, who was connected with the Y.M.C.A. in Turkey. I knew Mr. Tobin here in the United States before he went to Constantinople, and I was pleased to hear that the Turkish people were translating the basketball rules into their language. The letter from Mr. Tobin asked if I would write a message to the boys of Turkey, to be printed in the front of the rule book.

At the time I received the letter, I was in a camp in the Rocky Mountains, and I answered on the only available paper that I could find, a few sheets of foolscap. Several months later I received a copy of the basketball rules from Constantinople, and in the front of the book was my picture and the message that I had written. I had not kept a copy of my letter to Tobin, and I never knew just what I said.

Egypt is another country that has developed basketball to an astonishing degree. A recent picture that I received from Cairo shows a group of boys playing on an open court and clad only in shorts.

G. M. Tamblyn is largely responsible for the introduction of the game into Egypt, and his interest and work in this country have resulted in the games being taken up by the schools and in the formation of leagues. In 1925, Mr. Tamblyn, along with Dr. William A. Eddy, of Cairo University, formed the Egyptian Basketball Union; today this organization largely controls the sport, especially around Cairo. At the time of its conception, the Union had as an ideal the spread of basketball throughout the nation, and it is largely owing to the influence of this organization that basketball has attained the status that it has there.

Syria is another country that has used basketball as a recreation for many years. In 1901, Joseph A. Goodhue, who was physical instructor at the Protestant College in Beirut, organized eight teams in the college and arranged a tournament. A letter written in 1929 related that the game had become



so popular that many institutions were building athletic fields and installing basketball courts.

Central and Southern Europe

In recent years Czechoslovakia had advanced rapidly in the number of teams that were playing basketball. F. M. Marek was instrumental in pushing the game in that country, and his interest and work was a decided help in the formation of a basketball league in the European countries.

While the game was played by both boys and girls, the lack of adequate facilities kept the game from spreading rapidly. Prague was probably the basketball center of the nation, and basketball was a part of the activity program of the schools in this city.

That basketball is taking a firm hold in the southern European countries is clearly indicated by a meeting that was called in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1932. In this year, representatives from ten countries met at the First International Basketball Conference. The Conference was called as a result of a request by the National Basketball Federation of Czechoslovakia, Portugal, and Switzerland.

The meeting was called as a result of the general dissatisfaction that existed because of the variations of the rules and the lack of a uniform playing code; the outcome of the Conference was the formation of the International Federation of Basketball. The ten countries represented in this Federation were Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Switzerland, Latvia, Italy, Argentina, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania. They adopted the rules that are used here in the United States with a few variations to meet the national conditions of the countries mentioned.

One interesting fact about the conference was that, although France was invited to attend, that country was not represented. A statement was made that France was unwilling to change the rules that were used in that country, and a separate conference was held in Paris. This conference was rather a national meeting, and none of the nations represented in the International Federation of Basketball were present at the Paris meeting.

There is every indication that some of the countries that do not play basketball at the present time will soon take it up. In 1936, basketball was included for the first time in the Olympic Games, in Berlin. There is little doubt that this did much to increase the interest in basketball over the entire world.

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