Nothing But (Peach) Net

Don't Pass Up HMNS's The First Game: The Birth of Basketball

The new, temporary exhibit includes basketball creator James Naismith's original handwritten rules for the game.

By Rebekah Kibodeaux August 28, 2020

If you go out in public, remember to follow social distancing guidelines (at least six feet between you and anyone else), wash hands often and thoroughly, and wear a face mask. 

Basketball fans in Clutch City are feeling a little physically distanced from their Rockets compared to seasons past. But the Houston Museum of Natural Science has an exciting play up its sleeve. The museum’s latest exhibit, The First Game: The Birth of Basketball, feeds both your passion for sports and your inner history buff. Through September 27, James Naismith’s original 13 rules of basketball will be on display, offering visitors a chance to delve deep into the early history of the game for the price of a regular admission ticket.

“The biggest takeaway I got from this exhibit is just how much the game of basketball has changed from the first game,” says Sahil Patel, a project manager at HMNS. “One of my favorite elements of the exhibit is the juxtaposition of a modern hoop with a peach basket, like what was used in the original game.”

In 1891 P.E. teacher James Naismith was asked to design an indoor game to keep people fit and entertained during severe winter weather (think Massachusetts, y'all, not Houston). The result was a vintage version of basketball, and it did indeed involve a basket meant for carrying peaches, without a hole in the bottom for the ball to fall through. We’re not kidding; someone had to climb a ladder ten feet into the air and retrieve the ball after every score.

There’s one of those peach baskets (plus a modern hoop) at HMNS for visitors to see, as well as photos of the original players, but the star of the new exhibit is Naismith’s handwritten rules, on loan from a private collector, complete with strikethroughs and revisions.

The 13 original rules of basketball, written by the sport's creator, James Naismith. 

“My favorite rule from the original game is one that is still around today in a sense,” Patel continues. “Rule three, which reads, ‘A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.’”

Patel explains that the first part of rule three is still in the fabric of the modern game, although the implication of the third rule is that the only way the ball could move was through passes or shooting, which meant no dribbling. No wonder the first basketball game ended 1-0. Dribbling was not introduced for several more years—in 1897, to be exact, when the team at Yale incorporated it into the sport.

With stunning visuals and Naismith’s handwritten account of the first ever game, you won’t want to miss the chance for a peek into sports history and enjoy some socially distanced A/C. You may even dream about what could have been.

“I loved watching Yao Ming play for the Rockets as a kid,” Patel says. “I think Yao would have been unstoppable in the original version of basketball.”

Thru Sept 27. $25. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 713-639-4629. More info and tickets at

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