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March Madness and NCAA basketball is something that’s hard to avoid at this time of year. It seems like everyone from your neighbors who live on Adams Boulevard to your President who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue are talking about their teams, their brackets, and their picks for the final four.
But in the midst of all the armchair quarterbacking and the overabundance of feigned expertise, here is a bit of trivia that may surprise you.
Did you know that basketball was invented more than 100 years ago by a Christian theologian, as an evangelism tool?
In 1891 James Naismith became convinced that he could model the Christian life more effectively through sports than through preaching. So he took a job at a training school for Christian workers in Springfield, Massachusetts, “to win men for the Master through the gym.”
From the beginning, Naismith demanded that basketball was a game that would “be kept clean” and that the sport would not tolerate any behavior that violated “the elementary principles of morals.”
For fifty years Naismith stayed true to his vision. In fact, in 1941, Naismith wrote, “I feel that my vision, almost half a century ago, of the time when the Christian people would recognize the true value of athletics, has become a reality.”
So this spring, as we all enjoy a sport that is uniquely American and nearly universally loved, remember what led its inventor to toss the first ball into a peach basket at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Remember that athletics at its best is about something much more important than winning a game. Remember that the highest achievement of all on the court is “winning men for the Master through the gym.”