Born in Almonte, Ontario, Canada, Naismith was a graduate of McGill University and the Presbyterian Theological College. He taught physical education from 1887 to 1890 at McGill University and in 1891, while working as a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts he began to look for a way to relieve his students' boredom during indoor winter gym classes.
Inspired in part by a game he played as a child in Ontario called Duck-on-a-Rock, Naismith's basketball started with 13 rules, a peach basket nailed to either end of the school's gymnasium, and two teams of nine players. On January 15, 1892 Naismith published the rules for basketball.
Basketball became popular in the United States very quickly, and spread to other countries as well. The sport was added to the Olympic programme at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin (although there had been a basketball competition in connection with the 1904 Games). There, Naismith handed out the gold medals to the American team, which beat Canada in the final.
Naismith went on to become a professor at the University of Kansas and the school's first basketball coach. Kansas went on to develop one of the nation's most storied college basketball programs. Ironically, Naismith is the only Kansas coach to have a losing record during his tenure at the school.
James Naismith is buried alongside his first wife, Maude Sherman, in Lawrence, Kansas.