Canada’s Basketball History

Since it’s invention in 1891 by the son of Canadian immigrants, basketball has become one of the most popular sports for immigrants

The Toronto Raptors made history during 2019’s NBA Championship and Canadians are still reeling from the spectacular win. Raptors star player Kawhi Leonard is still being followed wherever he goes and team merchandise continues to be gobbled up. Why? This is the first time a Canadian team has won the NBA Championship. Here is a brief history of the game.

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian teacher in Massachusetts who wanted to keep athletes in shape during the cold winter months. The first game was played by his students at the International YMCA Training School. This now wildly popular sport, however, was not welcomed warmly by its first players.

“The class did not show much enthusiasm but followed by lead,” noted Naismith in a handwritten manuscript detailing the game. He describes his struggles in obtaining a suitable goal for his players to shoot at, finally settling upon a peach basket nailed to the court’s railings. Our modern basket, with metal hoops, nets and backboards, was introduced 15 years later.

After this, the YMCA went on to popularize the game throughout North America and the world. It was further spread when World War I broke out and the American Army brought basketball with them wherever they went.

Photo Credit Tourism Canada / Raptors basketball ACC
Photo Credit Tourism Canada / Raptors basketball ACC

Since then, the game has experienced multiple changes. The ultimate objective, like most team play sports, remains to outscore the opponent. Two teams of five players each, instead of the original nine, compete in scoring points by shooting the ball into their opponent’s basket, positioned three meters off the ground while trying to protect their own hoop. A different amount of points is awarded depending on how the basket was made – one point if it is a free throw, two points for basket thrown from inside the three-point arc, and three points for those thrown from outside the arc.

Despite its relatively young age, 128 years in comparison to soccer’s 2,000-year history, basketball has risen to become one of Canada’s most popular sports according to a Canadian Youth Sports Report. While soccer and hockey are still the most popular team sports for youth in Canada, amongst new Canadian kids basketball beats out hockey in popularity. This is because basketball is more accessible. All you need is a ball, hoop, and a playground. In comparison, hockey requires an ice rink, expensive equipment, protective gear and skating prowess – skills, gear and venues that many immigrant children have less access to.

Photo Credit Tourism Canada / Scotiabank Arena
Photo Credit Tourism Canada / Scotiabank Arena

For immigrant children, playing sports goes beyond having fun. It is an easy way to get exercise, learn about Canadian culture, and integrate into Canadian society. This applies to all sports, but basketball has been immigrants’ first choice because of its accessibility. In Toronto alone, the city offers 725 basketball programs and almost 11,000 drop-in hours of indoor court access across all Toronto locations. Public basketball courts and drop-in programs are also available in other Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg. Information on the locations and drop-in schedules are available on the cities’ official website.

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