Happy Birthday, Kansas Basketball!

Hulton Archive

115 years ago today, a dynasty was born

115 years ago today, on February 3rd, 1899, a couple of groups of people got together to try out this new sport called basketball. The game's inventor, Doctor James Naismith, rounded up his University of Kansas team, where he had come to serve as physical education instructor and chapel director.

Oddly enough, KU's first ever game wasn't at home, nor was it against a fellow college. Because YMCAs had been so integral in the growing of the sport, Kansas made the half hour (give or take) long trek to Kansas City to take on the Kansas City YMCA.

KU's first captain, William Sutton, played on the team with his older brother. He went on to become a rather famous man in the field of science, even having a theory named after him, identifying chromosomes as the carriers of genetic material.

Sadly, the Jayhawks' basketball program got off to an inauspicious start, as the visitors lost 16-5 to the Kansas City YMCA. Even back then, however, student publications were experts at giving excuses for losses:

KU should not feel discouraged, but encouraged over the showing they made in their initial game. KU was handicapped by the fact that the baskets of the YMCA club were fastened to the wall while those which the KU boys were accustomed to play with were about twelve feet from the wall. The game abounded in brilliant plays and from time to time plays brought forth tremendous applause from the audience. After one minute of play, owing to a foul, (Will) Sutton threw a goal. The playing from this time was exceedingly fast. The YMCA after three minutes play threw down a field goal. Sutton made one of most sensational plays of the game one minute later. The ball was thrown to him, and he rolled it for three yards. He was viciously beset by two YMCA men, and bending backward he threw the ball fully twelve yards and got a goal.. The cheering at this good play was loud and long.

My favorite tidbit of that game though, is that the KC YMCA team featured a young man who played a "very rough and at times a very ungentlemanly game." That man? none other than the son of Jesse James.

Fortunately, Kansas decided not to abandon their pursuit of the great game of basketball, not even when the game's inventor finished his tenure with a losing record. As we know now, he was the last coach in Lawrence to do that.

The Jayhawks would later avenge their loss to the Kansas City YMCA, defeating them 17-14 in Lawrence. It's amazing how far things have come. A game once played between a bunch of local kids at a YMCA now features players from all over the world. Hell, this year's Kansas team got a prized recruit from Canada partly because he bonded with a recruit from Cameroon in a high school all star game pitting Americans against a team of players from around the world.

The game of basketball, and specifically college basketball, has come a long way. But we owe a lot of it to what happened 115 years ago today. Happy birthday, Kansas basketball.

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