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Introducing a new series. Things you were never taught in school about native Americans. I hope to impart some glimpse at false history and have some fun educating people as well. These will most likely be short and scattered randomly. I will do two today because I want to start the series off right. This will be all for today. Until next week!

Fact #19


1000 BC or nearly 2500 years before Columbus and more than 1900 years before the Vikings.

Basketball, a team sport in which points are scored by throwing a rubber ball through a hoop, is an all-American game that most people believe was invented about 100 years ago. In truth, it was played by American Indians about 3,000 years ago. The Olmec, who lived in what is now southern Mexico and Central America from about 1700 B.C. to 400 B.C., originated the game because LATEX-producing trees grew in their area and they had developed the technology to create BALLS made from rubber. Because this game is the first one known to have used a rubber ball, many anthropologists consider it to be the forerunner of all modern games that use bouncing balls, including basketball, soccer, and football. Both nobles and commoners played the game, and nearly every adolescent male participated. The nobility sponsored professional basketball teams that played on feast days. So important was the ball game to Olmec culture that huge stone ball courts were built in the central, ceremonial areas of Olmec and, later, the Maya and Aztec.

Evidence of these impressive courts has been found from Honduras to Arizona; the archaeological remains of 600 ball courts have been found in Mexico alone. They typically contain large circular stones with a hole in the center that were mounted high on the side walls of the playing field. Instead of being horizontal, these pre-Columbian hoops were mounted vertically. Many anthropologists think the game, which involved making goals by getting the ball through a stone or (sometimes) wooden hoop, spread throughout the Americas when the Indians of different areas visited one another. Archaeologists have found about 200 Hohokam ball courts in what is now Arizona. The Hohokam culture arose in about 300 B.C. Both solid and hollow rubber balls have been found near the old courts.

As basketball spread, it eventually became more of a ritual than a recreational pastime. Some anthropologists who have studied hieroglyphs believe that the Maya impersonated the Gods as they played, making the match a form of theater. The precise details of how pre-Columbian basketball was played remain a mystery, but glyphs and small statues offer some clues. For years archaeologists thought that the players were not allowed to touch the ball with their hands or feet, instead moving it from one end of the court to the other with their shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees in play that must haveresembled a very intense soccer game. Recently some scholars have begun to disagree, among them archaeologist Nicholas Hellmuth. Based on the evidence of two eighth centuryMaya sculptures and several Maya vases that show players with their hands on the ball, he believes players could in fact touch the ball and that the Maya played two types of games—a form of handball using a small, solid rubber ball, and what he calls “big ball,” a ritualized form of the game using a larger rubber ball.

The notion that two distinct games developed is supported by the fact that pre-Columbian basketball courts were built in two shapes, one like a capital T and the other a capital I. Both courts were large, 20 to 30 feet wide and 40 to 50 feet long. They were surrounded by 8 1/2-foot whitewashed walls on which the hoops were mounted. A line on the ground divided the court in half. Tiered stone seats built into the walls indicate that the games attracted large crowds. The ancient basketball courts also had facilities where the teams prepared and dressed for the game.

Locker rooms (yes another invention) seem to have been as necessary an adjunct to basketball in ancient times as it is today. Early Spanish explorers who watched the basketball game that the Aztec called tlachitli admired the way the sport was played and commented on how dexterous and skilled the players were. Because the ball was so hard and the play so rough, the team members wore padding much like a goalie on an ice hockey team does today. Hernán Cortés liked the Indian sport so much that he took two teams back to Spain to play exhibition matches beforeEuropean audiences. However, basketball never caught on in Europe.

As the conquistadores spread through the Aztec and Maya Empires, under the direction of the Catholic Church, they suppressed all “heathenish practices” of the indigenous people, including the game. James Naismith, a non-Indian teacher of Bible studies and physical education at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, reinvented basketball in the United States. Faced with a gym class full of bored and rebellious students, he was desperate to keep them occupied during the winter of 1891. He tried to modify the rules of LACROSSE,another game invented by American Indians, so that it could be played indoors. When that failed, he came up with a game in which points were scored by players getting the ball in peach baskets mounted on the end walls of the gym. His version of the game borrowed some of the offenses, fast breaks, and defenses from the strategies of lacrosse.

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This from the complete works of Mayan and is not my work alone. I don’t claim to have written 100% of this myself. No these words are a mash of mine and those from the book the complete works of Mayan.