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Archives Experience Newsletter - March 19, 2024

  • Court is in Session

Get your brackets ready and don your favorite jersey—it’s time for March Madness! In honor of this beloved NCAA tournament, we are sharing some of our favorite basketball-related holdings from the National Archives. Because the 2024 tournament starts tonight, we might be getting this basketball-themed Archives Experience to you right at the buzzer, but we promise these artifacts are slam dunks.

Let’s start at the very beginning, with the man who created it all.

Naismith and Team
National Archives Identifier: 12004702

Here is Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball (seen in his suit) with the first-ever basketball team. Naismith was an instructor at Springfield College, and in 1891, he was tasked with finding a game that could be played indoors between football and baseball seasons. Some peach baskets, an old soccer ball, and nine men later, they were in business.

National Archives Identifier: 262492081

The National Archives is home to more than three million patents, and one is for the more recognizable version of the basketball hoop. Basketball is a very fast-paced and high-scoring game, and using peach baskets meant having to stop the game every time someone successfully made a shot to retrieve the ball. You can imagine that this quickly became annoying. There were many iterations of wooden baskets in the 30-plus years after Naismith invented the game, but Bert Kennedy’s 1925 version of a “Basket Ball Goal” looks much more similar to what we now see.
Basketball quickly became a beloved American pastime, even enjoyed by Presidents and celebrities. President Gerald Ford played during his service in the navy. He has been identified as the jumper on the left in the photo below. Taken on the USS Monterey in June of 1944, these naval pilots found time to shoot some hoops even during World War II.

National Archives Identifier: 520764

A lifelong fan of basketball, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford invited the Harlem Globetrotters to the Oval Office in 1976. In fact, a list of jokes written just for this event is preserved at the Ford Presidential Library. The topics range from height to football to political musings. Our favorites: “I just wish Congress passed bills the way you fellas pass that ball” and “Be careful not to break anything. We don’t own. We just rent.”

National Archives Identifier: 6829582

Ford was not the only World War II-era dribbler. Here a young President Reagan poses with his Army Air Force basketball team in 1943. He is third from the left in the back row.

National Archives Identifier: 75857017

President Clinton also played. Here he is with Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and neighborhood boys at “The Playground” basketball court and shoe store.

National Archives Identifier: 183373908

And President Obama was known for his many pick-up games of basketball on the White House court on the south lawn. He played with actor George Clooney in friendly games with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his tie still around his neck.

National Archives Identifier: 200283839

He also played more competitively with congressmen and staffers.

National Archives Identifier: 222097025

Obama is such a fan of basketball that he even shared his NCAA bracket in 2015. He predicted quite the showdown between first-seeds Kentucky and Villanova going head-to-head for the championship. However, while Kentucky made it to the Final Four that year, North Carolina State upset Villanova in the second round. We can only hope he does better this year.

Obama Bracket
National Archives Identifier: 237615772

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