Peach baskets 125 years later

The 125th anniversary of the first intercollegiate basketball game gives Hamline the opportunity to boast the fact that they both hosted and lost this historic national event.


Courtesy of Hamline Athletics

Vern Mikkelsen continued his basketball career after Hamline by playing professionally for the Minneapolis Lakers. He has since been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame

Cathryn Salis, Reporter

The creation of the game of basketball is credited to Dr. James A. Naismith, a professor at the University of Kansas from 1898 to 1942. Naismith created the original version of the game in 1891 with two peach baskets on either side of a gym and nine players on each team. From this first attempt came the original thirteen rules that Hamline University and Minnesota State School of Agriculture, now a part of the University of Minnesota, followed in their contest.


The first-ever intercollegiate basketball game was played at Hamline University in the old Hall of Science, which is now the Blue Garden, on Feb. 9, 1895. Minnesota A&M earned the first-ever victory and Hamline’s claim to fame is the first team to ever lose an intercollegiate basketball game. The score was 9-3, Minnesota A&M.


While there are other colleges that claim to have played the first basketball game, most had opponents from nearby YMCA programs. Hamline and Minnesota A&M were both universities, making the contest truly the first intercollegiate game of basketball. 

In a historically preserved recording of Naismith on the radio show “We the People,” he talked about the process of creating the game we know so well today. He spent a blizzarding winter trying it out with boys from what is now Springfield College. “They kept nagging me to let them play again, so I made up some more rules. The most important one was that there should be no running with the ball,” Naismith said. 


While the original thirteen rules have been altered since to create a more competitive and complex game, that one remains. Running with the ball is called “traveling” in modern basketball. 


The current basketball program is very proud to carry this history while representing Hamline on the court, and every recruit that tours and visits the team gets to learn the story. 


“Our story tradition goes way back –  obviously. The first intercollegiate game ever, so…we talk about it with our guys all the time that the legacy that they carry on just by wearing the jersey is pretty special,” said men’s basketball head coach Jim Hayes. 


Basketball was not a male-only sport for long. Only a year after Naismith introduced the game in December of 1891, women’s teams were introduced to intramural sports on college campuses and schools nationwide.


Modern-day men’s and women’s basketball still have different rules. The most prominent being no play above the rim in women’s games. The courts are slightly different sizes and the women’s ball is a little smaller. Women’s basketball also did not have a pro-team until 1997, compared to the men’s pro-National Basketball League beginning in 1898. 


“It’s gone from a way to be active to a real competitive sport for the amount of time and amount of practice that goes into it,” said women’s basketball head coach Alex Focke. “I’m sure people that aren’t in it would be really surprised by the amount of time and effort that goes into a season.” 


The love for basketball spread across the U.S. quickly after it was created. “Ten years later, basketball was being played all over the country, and in 1936 I saw it played for the first time at the Olympic games,” Naismith said. 


This anniversary, falling on the year where the occurrence of the 2020-21 basketball season is still unknown, is an opportunity to reflect on the long and successful history of Hamline basketball. Starting with the first humbling defeat and earning the title of the host of the first college basketball game ever is no small brag.


 “I don’t think the general student population knows a lot about that history, but it’s a pretty cool piece of history to be a part of,” Hayes said. 


While the rules today don’t involve peach baskets and eighteen players, basketball is a traditional sport Hamline intends to carry on.