With a new month upon us, many have their March Madness brackets at the forefront. Basketball is a beloved sport across the United States and with good reason. For many Americans, there are few greater joys than tuning in to a great basketball game and watching their favorite players race up and down the court. But did you know the first professional basketball game was held here in Trenton?
Basketball as a game dates back centuries ago, with the first reported games being played by the Olmec people in Mexico over 500 years ago. Basketball in its current form took shape in the late 1800s when Canadian Doctor James Naismith proposed the game for the YMCA. It was designed to be a simple game that could be played during the winter months. With a couple of peach baskets and a ball to play with, the game was on! The first basketball games were played with 18 or nine players per team. Since they did not have the funds to create a new ball, the first games were played with a soccer ball. William R. Chase was the first documented player to score a basket.
As the game grew in popularity, it spread through the YMCA network and, eventually, across the country. Of the original 13 rules Naismith proposed for the game, nine have been modified and are still a part of the game today. Basketball grew so immense that in 1936, Naismith had the pleasure of watching basketball become an Olympic sport at the 1936 Games held in Berlin. One area where basketball was especially popular was right here along the east coast, with cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston taking a liking to the sport. It was in these cities that the first competitive leagues were formed and where professional basketball would transform into the phenomenon that it is today.
The first known professional basketball game was held in Trenton on November 7th, 1896. Since the game originated in the YMCA network, the first professional game was held between the Brooklyn YMCA and the Trenton YMCA. The game was held at the Trenton Masonic Temple, still a landmark in the community today. Admission was a whopping .25 cents per seat and .15 cents for standing-room tickets. Once the fees were paid to the Masonic Temple, players were paid $15 each. Since these were the first players to be paid, this is often regarded as the dawn of professional basketball.
Not only was Trenton the first to host a professional basketball game, but they were also the first winners! Trenton beat out the Brooklyn YMCA in a landslide, touting a 15-1 victory. After this victory, several teams across the east coast joined forces and formed the National Basketball League (NBL). Although the NBL was short-lived, it would go on to serve as the inspiration for the NBA. During the NBL’s 5-year lifespan, Trenton won back-to-back championships in 1899 and 1900. Again, the NBL was short-lived; many leagues came and went throughout the early 20th century. In 1946, the NBA was founded in New York, and today’s companies began to take shape.
Since the NBA was formed, basketball has had a tremendous impact on sports here and abroad. Basketball is still one of the nation’s premier pastimes, loved by spectators and players alike. So the next time you tune into a game or shoot a few hoops, take some inspiration from Trenton, the first city to go pro officially.