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The Statue Speaks: James Naismith’s Voice Surfaces Via Long Lost Interview

Patrick Kenney

Photo courtesy of Marketing and Communications.

Normally, statues don’t talk.

But on December 15, 2015 one particular Springfield College statue came to life.

That’s right, James Naismith has finally spoken and all two and a half minutes of his dialogue is glorious.

In 1939, Naismith appeared on a radio show, “We the People” during the heart of his basketball-centered trip to New York City. What has now become the only known recording of Naismith’s voice, the interview was found by Michael J. Zorgy while doing research on Naismith in the Library of Congress.

“It is just nice to hear his voice,” said Jeff Monseau, the College Archivist at Springfield. “[Hearing his voice] makes all of things that we have read and all the visions that we have imagined come to life.”

“As a Naismith and a member of the Springfield College community, I can assure you that there was much excitement and a lot of grinning going on when family members heard the voice of our relative,” Rachel Naismith, James’ great-granddaughter and the assistant director of information and research on campus, told MarCom when the story broke.

“His humor and humility came through loud and clear.  Rarely do we get such an opportunity to peek back on history.”

The interview, which originally aired on Jan. 31, 1939, focuses on the invention of basketball. Thanks in part to severe winter weather, Naismith and his crew of students were forced inside.

“I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket,” Naismith said. “I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began.”

The first game however ended in a “free-for-all” with several students walking away with black eyes, one with a separated shoulder and one not at all, as he was knocked unconscious.

Naismith told the show host, Gabriel Heatter, that he refused to play basketball again in fear of students getting hurt.

“After that first match I was afraid they would kill each other,” said Naismith. “But they kept nagging me to let them play again so I made up some more rules.”

The most important rule, Naismith goes on to say, was the elimination of running with the ball which effectively stopped the tackling and slugging the first game saw.

Thus the game of basketball was born.

Naismith’s voice is no longer a stranger to the college he called home way back when. No more imagination, no more speculation, just Naismith in his purest form. Some people enjoyed the intrigue of his mysterious voice, others seem to be overjoyed with the final piece of the puzzle finally fitting into place.

No matter where you fall on that spectrum, one thing is for certain; the statue has spoken.


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