In 1891, while working as a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts he was asked to look for a way to relieve his students' boredom during indoor winter gym classes.
Inspired in part by a game he played as a child in Ontario called Duck-on-a-Rock, Naismith's basketball started December 15th 1891 with thirteen rules, a peach basket nailed to either end of the school's gymnasium, and two teams of nine players. On January 15, 1892 Naismith published the rules for basketball.
Basketball became popular in the United States very quickly, and spread to other countries as well. The sport was added to the Olympic programme at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin (although there had been a basketball competition in connection with the 1904 Games). There, Naismith handed out the gold medals to the American team, which beat Canada in the final.
Naismith became a professor at the University of Kansas and the school's first basketball coach. Kansas went on to develop one of the nation's most storied college basketball programs. Ironically, Naismith is the only Kansas coach to have a losing record during his tenure at the school.
In the late 1930s he played a role in what became the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball.
He was born in Almonte, Ontario, Canada, the older son of Scottish immigrants who had arrived there in 1852. Naismith was a graduate of McGill University in 1887, where he studied philosophy, and the Presbyterian Theological College (Montreal) in 1890. He also got a physical education degree from a YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891 and in 1898, he received a medical degree from Gross Medical College (which later merged into the University of Colorado).
Naismith married Maude Sherman in 1894. They had five children. Naismith became a naturalized American on May 4, 1925. After Maude's death in 1937, he remarried less than six months before his own death, in Lawrence, Kansas, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried there alongside his first wife.