On March 6, 1861 — eight months after Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States — Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario. He would go on to spend his life as an educator and a sports coach, but his signature achievement for our purposes here came when he left Montreal’s McGill University and took a job as a YMCA training school instructor in Springfield, Mass.
His boss in 1891 asked Naismith to come up with an indoor game to keep athletes in shape and engaged during harsh New England winters. One ball and two peach baskets later, voila! “Basket ball” was created. The sport was instantly popular and spread internationally, though it took longer than you’d have thought before Naismith cut the bottoms out of the baskets.
Naismith was gone by November 1946, but his legacy lived on. Basketball already was being played as an amateur sport in the U.S., Canada and overseas by then, and was welcomed as an official Olympic event starting in 1936 (women’s basketball debuted at the Olympics in 1976). But the professional version got its first real traction right in Ontario when the Toronto Huskies played host to the New York Knickerbockers at Maple Leaf Gardens in the inaugural game of the Basketball Association of America on Nov. 1, 1946. (The Knicks won, 68-66.) That’s the league that morphed into the NBA three years later. The Huskies didn’t go along for the ride, finishing 22-38 that first season before disbanding.