The Naismith-Basketball commemorative issue was released in 1961 on the centennial of James A. Naismith’s birth. Naismith, a native of Ontario, left Canada in 1890 for a position as a physical education teacher at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. While there, he was asked to invent a new sport for young men – one that could be played in the winter off-season between the end of football and the beginning of baseball in the spring. The game that Naismith invented in 1891 was basketball. It was based on aspects of a favorite childhood game known as “Duck on a Rock,” as well as elements of soccer, lacrosse, and football. The result was a skillful, less aggressive game suitable for play indoors. In explaining the process of inventing the game, he said, “We simply recombined the factors of the old and made the new.”
Basketball soon exploded in popularity and Naismith received great acclaim for his work.
As the new sport rapidly spread to every YMCA in the country, the landscape of sports in America was being changed forever. But Naismith continued to refine the game and to teach its play to both young men and women. In 1898 he was hired as the first basketball coach for the University of Kansas. It was here that he tutored some of the most important names in basketball lore, including Forrest “Phog” Allen. As a disciple of Naismith, Allen would pass the torch as standard-bearer for the game to legendary coaches Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, who in turn mentored coaches Pat Riley, and Larry Brown, guaranteeing basketball’s place in American culture.
Naismith, after serving in the US military, became a naturalized American citizen in 1925. And the Basketball Hall of Fame, which was dedicated in 1959, was named in his honor. Today, Naismith’s legacy lives on through this game that is played in almost every country of the world.
No portrait of Naismith appears on this stamp issue that was designed by Charles R. Chickering, designer for dozens of American postage stamps since the late 1940s. Rather its design captures the motion of the classic lay-up shot that Naismith had invented. The Naismith-Basketball Issue stamp was printed with a Rotary Press, even though this machine was being used less and less as the 1960s progressed. The Post Office Department production of the 4-cent Naismith-Basketball Issue totaled 109,110,000 stamps.
Adam Bleznak and Alexander T. Haimann, National Postal Museum