The game originated in the United States. Teacher James Naismith invented men’s basketball in 1891 at the School for Christian Workers (later the YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. Female teachers who watched the new game of a ball being thrown into a high peach basket became captivated by it and started playing their own version.
A new game for girls
In 1897 the Otago Witness reported, ‘A new game for girls, about which a good deal will probably be heard in the course of the ensuing summer, is basket-ball. It has already swept the United States, completely eclipsing lawn tennis, and effectually nipping in the bud the threatened revival of croquet ... The chief beauty of the game is its simplicity, and the fact that no expensive apparatus is required. Wherever two old baskets, a couple of clothes props, and a ball, are there can it be played.’1
Arrival in New Zealand
It is commonly thought that ‘women’s basketball’ was introduced to New Zealand in 1906 by the Reverend J. C. Jamieson, travelling secretary of the Presbyterian Bible Class Union. He had seen the game being played in Australia and thought it was ideal for teenage girls. In 1907 a demonstration game was played by YMCA and Bible class teams in a paddock in Mt Eden, Auckland.
However, there are suggestions that the game was already being played in Whanganui and Otago, introduced by physical education teachers from England, before the start of the 20th century. Herbert Milnes, the principal of Auckland Training College from 1906 to 1916, further boosted the sport’s popularity by encouraging his female students to play it and take it out to the schools.
Jamieson introduced a nine-a-side game, which was played on grass courts. This version of the game was different from men’s basketball. The art of dribbling the ball had disappeared. Heavy floor-length skirts and leg-o’-mutton sleeves restricted women players’ movement, so instead the ball was passed from hand to hand. Lines were drawn on the court to mark where players could and could not go.
Basketball associations were established in Otago (1915), Wellington (1918), Wairoa (1917), Auckland (1920–21) and Canterbury (1921). Rules of play varied from place to place. In 1924 the New Zealand Basketball Association was formed to run the game throughout the country.
In 1935 the New Zealand Basketball Referees’ Association was established. By that time there were 25 local associations and 1,112 teams, and basketball was the most popular winter sport for New Zealand girls and women.