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Utah has rich history of basketball as game celebrates 125 years

Utah has rich history of basketball as game celebrates 125 years

(Utah Division of History)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday marked the 125th anniversary of the invention of basketball.

While the game itself was invented by James Naismith at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Dec. 21, 1891, it has become a staple in Utah throughout the years, with currently one major professional organization, six Division I men’s and women’s basketball programs and countless high school teams across the Beehive State.

Back in 1891, 30-year-old Naismith was on the faculty at the YMCA and had failed at introducing new concepts or games prior the invention of basketball. It took him less than an hour to create the initial set of rules, which consisted of 13 rules, according to the YMCA.

Today in 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented basketball at the Y. Did you play ball at the Y? Here's history's 1st b-ball team #125HoopYearspic.twitter.com/9qRD8qAuGS — The Y (@ymca) December 21, 2016

Despite the initial players skeptical of the idea, the first game was a success, and it eventually spread over the town, across the country and all over the world.

LDS Business College, then known as LDS College, offered basketball in 1900. According to Lynn Hilton in “History of LDS Business College,” there was a ban on football at all LDS Church-related schools at the time, so basketball was a sport students could concentrate on. That team later folded in 1931, when the school discontinued sports.

BYU, then Brigham Young College, formed its first men's team in 1902 under head coach W.A. Colton. The team went 4-5 in its inaugural season.

In 1903, the USU men’s team was established and lost to Brigham Young College 35-4 in its first game ever, played in 1904. Peter Campbell coached that team to a 2-2 record that season.

Many other schools, such as the Utah State School for the Deaf, also began field teams around this time.

And, its popularity wasn't just in school. It was a popular recreational game for all ages. In fact, several photos in the Utah Historical Society show businessmen playing the game at a YMCA gym in 1905.

Meanwhile, the University of Utah’s men’s program started in 1908 — initially going 3-8 under head coach Erastus Milne.

A picture of the University of Utah basketball team, coaches and mascot taken on Feb. 9, 1909. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)
A picture of the University of Utah basketball team, coaches and mascot taken on Feb. 9, 1909. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)

In 1916, the U. won the National AAU Tournament held in Chicago, defeating the Illinois Athletic Club 28-27. This, at the time, was the national tournament for college teams.

Utah won another title in 1944, defeating Dartmouth in the NIT, which was the precursor before the modern-day NCAA Tournament. The Utes had actually been eliminated from the tournament after a loss to Kentucky in the quarterfinals, but wound up back in the tournament after a serious crash injured two Arkansas players and Utah replaced Arkansas in the tournament.

Utah then went on to defeat Missouri, Iowa State and then Dartmouth for the title.

The Utes also won the 1947 NIT title.

Interior of the University of Utah Field House taken before a game on Feb. 11, 1950. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)
Interior of the University of Utah Field House taken before a game on Feb. 11, 1950. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)

Though schools played much earlier, Weber State began Division I in 1962, Southern Utah University began playing in the NAIA in 1963, later becoming Division I in 1991. Utah Valley University became Utah’s sixth Division I program in 2003.

Women’s basketball was offered at about the same time as men’s basketball in the state, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the modern-day NCAA women’s basketball tournament era began.

Five of Utah’s men’s Division I programs have made it to the NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball, while four of the women’s teams have made it.

Professional basketball came to Utah in 1970 with the Utah Stars, of the American Basketball Association. Previously the Anaheim Amigos, the team had success in Salt Lake City, winning the 1971 championship. However, the team folded in 1975.

The Spirits of St. Louis, also of the ABA, moved to Utah to become the Utah Rockies shortly after, but the league merged with the NBA and the team folded before it ever took the court.

The Utah Jazz during a timeout break in a photo taken sometime in the 1980s. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)
The Utah Jazz during a timeout break in a photo taken sometime in the 1980s. (Photo: Utah State Historical Society)

The New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah in 1979, and the Jazz have stuck around ever since. The Jazz went on to reach the NBA Finals twice in 1997 and 1998.

In 1997, the Utah Starzz began as one of the WNBA’s eight original teams. The organization, however, left Salt Lake after reaching the semifinals that year — moving to San Antonio in 2003 and becoming the Silver Stars.

Starzz players Debbie Black (left) and Natalie Williams (right) with head coach Frank Layden. (Photo: Chuck Wing, Deseret News, File)
Starzz players Debbie Black (left) and Natalie Williams (right) with head coach Frank Layden. (Photo: Chuck Wing, Deseret News, File)

Photos

Carter Williams

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