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Unlike other sports that evolved over time, basketball was invented basically from scratch by Dr. James Naismith, although he may have been influenced by a childhood rock-throwing game. In 1891, when Naismith had to develop an indoor game for students at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, he came up with an activity he termed вЂњbasket ball.вЂќ While most of Naismith's basic concepts remain, other aspects of the original game, including the basket and backboard, have changed significantly.
In Naismith's original game, peach baskets were attached to balcony railings 10 feet above the playing surface. There were no backboards. The first backboards were added a few years later -- at some time between 1893 and 1896 -- but they weren't intended to aid the shooters. Rather, they prevented fans seated in the balcony from touching a ball in play. Early backboards were made of either chicken wire or wood.
Some early backboards were placed directly onto walls. This permitted players to jump and place their feet against the wall, using the surface to help boost them toward the basket when shooting. As a result, backboards were placed 2 feet away from walls, beginning in 1916. The margin was doubled to 4 feet in 1939 to give players more maneuvering room beneath the basket. The backboard remains 4 feet from the end line in the modern game.
The first glass backboards were introduced in 1910. Glass was banned briefly in 1916, but Indiana University helped popularize glass backboards around 1919. When fans seated at the ends of the court in the school's new gym complained that the wooden backboards blocked their view, the university had a local glass company create 1ВЅ-inch-thick plate glass backboards.
The modern basketball backboard is 6 feet wide and 3ВЅ feet tall, according to NBA and NCAA rules, although the NCAA permits backboards as tall as 4 feet. Backboards must be flat and transparent. Each backboard contains a 24-inch-wide by 18-inch-tall rectangle painted on the surface above the basket. The upper edge of the rectangle's bottom line is even with the rim.
Future actor Chuck Connors was the first player known to have shattered a backboard. While playing for the Boston Celtics in 1946, Connors' pre-game warm-up shot bounced off the rim and broke a backboard that was missing a protective rubber piece. Modern NBA backboards feature a breakaway rim, an innovation inspired by a pair of Darryl Dawkins rim-shattering dunks in 1979.