Spiritual Roots of Basketball: Truett Chapel Sparks Connection with Basketball Founder’s Family
The Naismith family visits Baylor’s Truett Seminary to celebrate the sport’s Christian roots.
WACO, Texas (June 12, 2023) – In 1891, James Naismith brought 18 men together in Springfield, Massachusetts, to try a new sport. It had 13 rules, and the idea was to score by throwing a soccer ball into a peach basket. There was no dribbling in that first basketball game, and with just a few shot attempts, the game ended with a score of 1-0.
In Naismith’s eyes, however, the game was more than a success as it reflected his broader goal of using sports and physical education “to win men for the Master through the gym.”
More than 130 years later, Naismith’s last surviving grandson, James P. ("Jim") Naismith was waiting in his car in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, when he received a message encouraging him to watch a talk given at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. The talk, titled “Jesus and James Naismith: The Christian History of Basketball and Its Lessons for the Church Today,” was delivered by historian Paul Putz, PhD, assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) at Baylor’s Truett Seminary.
Naismith watched the video, smiled, and approved. “He gets it,” Naismith thought.
Drawing on his passion for sports and his research into the intersection of basketball and Christianity, Putz described how James Naismith founded basketball and the Christian vision that inspired Naismith’s hopes for the game. Putz never dreamed that a message he shared at a Truett Chapel service would create a connection between Baylor and the family of the inventor of basketball.
The Naismith family connected with Putz and made plans to meet on Baylor’s campus. Traveling with his wife, Beverly, the two came to Waco, Texas, to learn more about the ways sports and faith are connected at Baylor.
James Naismith had been a seminary graduate before he envisioned basketball, so the Naismiths were especially pleased to see the presence of a Truett program devoted to sports. In fact, the Faith & Sports Institute is unique in that it is housed at a seminary and embedded within Baylor, an R1 Christian research university that also competes at the highest level of college athletics. FSI’s mission is to foster the thoughtful integration of faith and sports through theological education, compelling research, and formative practices for the flourishing of Christian leaders and their communities.
“I suspect that if my grandfather was with us today, he would be right in the middle of the action and very pleased with how it is blessing students every day,” Jim said.
Along with the Seminary, the Naismiths learned about the ways faith shapes Baylor’s sports programs, from the strategic vision set by the athletic department’s leaders to the spiritual care and support provided to student-athletes through Baylor’s sports ministry program.
While on campus, the Naismiths also connected with the men’s and women’s basketball programs. Baylor’s head men’s basketball coach Scott Drew spoke about the Christian perspective that infuses the “culture of JOY - Jesus, Others, and then Yourself” he has instilled with Baylor men’s basketball. Former Baylor All-American, Sophia Young-Malcolm, assistant AD for player development with Baylor women’s basketball, shared how she brings a spiritual focus to her role with the team.
"It was an absolute joy and privilege to have the opportunity to meet the Naismiths,” Young-Malcom said. “Their passion for seeing the gospel spread through basketball is incredibly inspiring.”
For the Naismiths, the spiritual focus was what the game’s inventor intended. And for Putz, the Naismiths visit confirmed what he discovered in his research.
“Basketball was created at a Christian institution and inspired by spiritual values, but the beautiful thing about the game is that it is for everyone,” Putz said. “To get to spend time with Jim and Beverly and to hear their heart for the sport that Jim’s grandfather started was an experience I won’t soon forget.”
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
ABOUT GEORGE W. TRUETT THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is an orthodox, evangelical, multi-denominational school in the historic Baptist tradition that equips God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, Truett Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Master of Arts in Contextual Witness and Innovation, Master of Arts in Theology, Ecology and Food Justice, Master of Arts in Theology and Sports Studies (online), Master of Theological Studies, Doctor of Ministry, and Ph.D. in Preaching. Truett Seminary also offers joint degrees through Baylor University school/college partnerships in social work, business, law, music, and education. In addition to the flagship Baugh-Reynolds Campus in Waco, the Seminary also has locations in Houston and San Antonio. Visit the Truett Seminary website to learn more.