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 STOUGHTON, Mass., Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Imagine a game so rough, so competitive that its spectators were known to heat up nails and hurl them at bum refs and opposing players. Imagine a game played by 18 men within the confines of a 65-foot-by-35-foot wire cage that drew blood upon harsh contact.
 Imagine a game that shunned black players for nearly 30 years. Then imagine that game as "basket ball," the early form of today's fast-paced, slam 'n jam dunk fest known, more affectionately, as hoops. December 1991 marks the 100th-year anniversary of "The American Game" and from peach baskets to PUMP sneakers, what a century it's been.
 When Dr. James Naismith invented the game in December of 1891 at the School for Christian Workers, he did so under duress. At this Springfield, Mass., YMCA training school, Dr. Luther Gulick commanded Naismith, a physical education teacher, to concoct a competitive physical activity capable of calming a rowdy group of students during the long stretch between football and baseball seasons. His deadline: two weeks. Though Canadian, Naismith solved the problem in typical, last-minute, American style. On day 13, Naismith took the concept of a childhood game ("duck on a rock"), and expanded and revised it to include elevated goals and a ball. Naismith nailed two discarded peach baskets to opposite walls of the gym, scrounged up a soccer ball, wrote 13 rules within an hour, evenly divided a class of 18 men into two teams, and on Dec. 21, 1891, an American obsession was born.
 It is difficult to determine why America fell in love with this quirky, happenstance game; but, whatever the reasons, basketball caught on -- quickly. And changes and refinements to its equipment, rules and general configuration began almost immediately.
 Practicality prevailed when vulnerable peach basket after peach basket deteriorated amidst the ruckus of those early games. By 1893, sturdy goals constructed with an iron rim and knotted cord basket were in widespread use. It's hard to believe now, but those new goals were also rigged with a pulley and chain release mechanism designed to dump the ball after each goal. The game was still being played with close bottomed baskets. It wasn't until 1913 that bottomless nets were accepted as legal equipment.
 The nine-man team existed only because Dr. Naismith had to capture and sustain the attention of 18 men. Quickly the inefficiencies of crowding the court with nine men per side quickly became apparent and, by 1897, five-man teams became the standard formation. The chicken wire cage, originally constructed around the playing area to keep the ball in-bounds and deter fan interference, eventually softened to netting, and then disappeared completely in 1929, leaving behind only that headline-weary moniker, "cager."
 Newly manufactured, laced cowhide "basket balls" replaced the makeshift soccer ball in 1894 and by 1950, the 30-inch molded basketball was deemed the official ball of play. Even the backboard hasn't always been around for smashing. In fact, it first appeared in 1893 not to assist shots, but rather to prevent tempestuous crowds from grabbing the ball.
 The most astounding advance in basketball accoutrements has been, arguably, the shoe. Basketball shoes started out as non-descript, flimsy little things. An early Spalding catalog advertised, "Basket Ball Shoes. High cut, best grade canvas shoe, rubber sole. Per pair $1.50," and they looked like something Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies" might slip into to get comfy.
 The shoes got a bit flashier in 1917 when the Converse Corporation debuted its All Star model. In 1936, Chuck Taylor's name was added to the All Star ankle patch and by the mid-1960s, between 70 and 80 percent of all basketball shoes sold were the standard-issue -- Chuck Taylor All Star. Suede and leather construction eventually added durability and stability but for the most part, shoes remained just that -- shoes. Necessities. Something to keep players from sliding across the parquet at Boston Garden.
 Then in the early '70s, engineering, podiatry, and marketing changed the sole of basketball footwear worldwide. Today's basketball shoes strike a harmonious balance of engineering, art and architecture; and are built to protect a player's knees and ankles from injuries. Take Reebok's new Double PUMP -- a hands-on, interactive, personalized mother of a performance shoe. At the flick of a discreet switch located just above the heal, players can actually direct an air flow through Reebok's THE PUMP system, to an upper or lower air chamber permitting customized fit around and underneath the foot. With a $160 price tag, the Reebok Double PUMP may not be for everyone, but its cutting-edge engineering is stirring up excitement among technology-hungry players in the NBA. When compared to The Double PUMP, even the formidable Nike-Air line (which was introduced more than 10 year ago) appears as passe as the trademark red, white and blue basketball of the defunct American Basketball Association.
 The spread of basketball across the country is first credited to YMCA's that served as breeding grounds for players and fans alike, but eventually a few Y's attempted to ban the game. Basketball increasingly monopolized gym time and, well, it just wasn't Christian, what with all that shoving, yelling and occassional blood letting. Too late. Basketball learned on the floor of YMCA's had already dribbled and shot its way into the schools and out on the streets of towns and cities nationwide.
 By the turn of the century, the diminished support of the YMCA's had created a small problem: Where to play the game? Players organized themselves and rented out dance halls, armories and theatres, often playing between dances or shows as an "added attraction." Charging admission helped offset the cost of rental fees and in 1896 a game played in Trenton, N.J., pulled in enough attendance to send each player home with $15 in his pocket. Basketball was well on its way to becoming the full-fledged, high-stakes profession that (according to the National Basketball Association) paid out an average salary of $900,000 per player in 1990.
 Professional basketball is just one segment of a larger story. High school basketball has historically commanded as much attention (if not more in some states) as the pros. In Indiana alone, the 1990 finals of the state tournament drew a cumulative three-game attendance of over 105,000. Two years ago, the tournament was moved from Indianapolis' 17,300-seat Market Square Arena to the colossal Hoosier Dome, partially to allow room for a swelling population of zealous fans. Pat Roy of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, states, "People in Indiana are just that avid, that crazy about the game. A 17,000-seat arena just wasn't big enough and it was next to impossible to get a ticket. We wanted to give every fan in the state of Indiana an opportunity to attend the tournament."
 Then, of course, there is the college game and the $166.2 million CBS Television paid the NCAA in 1987 for the rights to the annual March show. Contrast that with the first NCAA tournament played in 1939 in Evanston, Ill. The entire shebang lost $2,531.
 Perhaps the truly amazing and unique aspect of Dr. Naismith's game is its pervasive, far-reaching appeal to diverse segments of American society and the world. Basketball caught on internationally as early as 1892 in Mexico, and was first played as an official Olympic sport in the 1936 Berlin games. Although womens' basketball went unrecognized at the Olympic level until the 1976 Montreal games, women of Smith College took to the court in their bloomers and paved the way for superstars Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller, as well as the briefly popular Women's Professional Basketball League (Remember the Chicago Hustle?). 1946 marked the first appearance of wheelchair basketball games in Veterans Administration Hospitals, and today, wheelchair games are played internationally, including the Pan American, Commonwealth and Far Eastern Games.
 But no other group has quite impacted the scope and pace of basketball like African Americans. This wasn't always so. In keeping with the political and social tempo of America in general, basketball remained a predominantly segregated sport despite the remarkable performances of all-black barnstorming teams like the New York Rens (who went 112-7 in 1939) and the Harlem Globetrotters who, in 1948, seriously beat the Minneapolis Lakers 61-59.
 Ironically, it was the Boston Celtics, a team that has been periodically rebuked for its white hiring practices, that drafted the first black player into the game in 1950. That man was Chuck Cooper and the face of the game changed forever. Basketball history lacking the talents of Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Kareem, Magic and Dominique would surely echo as lonely and boring as an empty gym.
 Thankfully "boring" doesn't spring to mind when describing the game as it's played 100 years after its inception. Last February when a young and relatively unknown Dee Brown of the Boston Celtics bent down, pumped up his Reeboks, took flight and jammed the ball through the net with enough panache and exuberance to win the 1992 NBA Slam-dunk contest, the collective pulse of America's heart quickened at the promise of a new star, a new game, and a bright new century of basketball. Thank you, Dr. Naismith.
 -0- 12/13/91
 /CONTACT: Nan White of Reebok, 617-341-7896/ CO: Reebok International, Inc. ST: Massachusetts IN: SU:

KM-SH -- NE004 -- 2378 12/13/91 12:50 EST
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Date:Dec 13, 1991

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