Basketball’s Spiritual Roots

August 22, 2023

From left to right: Scott Drew, Jim and Beverly Naismith and Paul Putz

In 1891, James Naismith invented a new sport that involved throwing a soccer ball into a peach basket and would evolve into the current game of basketball. In Naismith’s eyes, however, the game was more than a success as it reflected his broader goal of using sports and physical education “to win men for the Master through the gym.”

More than 130 years later, Naismith’s last surviving grandson, James P. (“Jim”) Naismith of Corpus Christi, Texas, received a message encouraging him to watch a talk titled “Jesus and James Naismith: The Christian History of Basketball and Its Lessons for the Church Today,” delivered by Paul Putz, Ph.D., assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) at Baylor’s Truett Seminary.

Naismith watched the video and approved. “He gets it,” Naismith thought.

The Naismith family connected with Putz and made plans to meet on Baylor’s campus. Traveling with his wife, Beverly, Jim came to Waco and learned more about the ways sports and faith are connected at Baylor.

“I suspect that if my grandfather was with us today, he would be right in the middle of the action and very pleased with how it is blessing students every day,” Jim said.

While on campus, the Naismiths also visited the men’s and women’s basketball programs. Scott Drew, head men’s basketball coach, spoke about the “culture of JOY — Jesus, Others and then Yourself” he has instilled within his student-athletes.

For the Naismiths, the spiritual focus was what the game’s inventor intended. And for Putz, the Naismiths visit confirmed what he discovered in his research.

“Basketball was created at a Christian institution and inspired by spiritual values, but the beautiful thing about the game is that it is for everyone,” Putz said. “To get to spend time with Jim and Beverly and to hear their heart for the sport that Jim’s grandfather started was an experience I won’t soon forget.”