‘Mr. Archibald’

For a brief time, professional basketball drove through Warren; Before that, there was Lyman Archibald

Photo courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections A circa 1893 portrait of Lyman Archibald.

For one and a half seasons, Warren was represented in one of the two leagues that formed to create the National Basketball Association.

The Warren Penns were members of the National Basketball Association in the 1937-1938 season and part of the following season.

About a decade later, that league would merge with the Basketball Association of America to form the current National Basketball Association, or NBA.

So, for a year and a half, Warren had a professional basketball team along with teams from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, among other cities far larger than Warren.

That team would have direct links to two members of the current Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

And the seeds of those teams start with a direct link to Naismith and the first ever basketball team.

Before we get to that, though, we need to revisit a story told last March — that of Lyman Archibald.

According to the Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, Lyman Archibald was a member of the class of 1893.

Archibald “hailed from Nova Scotia and was one of the original members of the very first basketball team,” according to Springfield College which, at the time, was the International YMCA Training School.

Archibald “is credited with bringing basketball to Canada via the YMCA in St. Stephen’s Nova Scotia. Eventually, he returned to the United States and ultimately became, alongside his son Gerry Archibald, a prosperous fox breeder in Warren, Pennsylvania.”

That “very first basketball team” was just that — the very first basketball team.


Archibald was born on July 3, 1868, in Nova Scotia, according to information on the Springfield website.

While Archibald was at Springfield, James Naismith — who invented the game — was a professor there after his graduation in 1891.

“After graduation, (Naismith) was hired as a faculty member, where he taught for five years. It was in his first year as a faculty member at Springfield College that he created the game of Basketball as an activity for an unruly class.”

In 1891, Archibald was part of a team.

The first basketball team.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame tells that part of the story: “In an attempt to increase participation in his gym class, which consisted of older gentlemen training to become executive secretaries, James Naismith invented a game he called ‘basket ball’ (then two words). Initially, his class of eighteen ‘incorrigibles’ who had already driven off two previous instructors, scoffed at the idea. But from the moment the first ball was tossed into the air, the class played with an enthusiasm never before seen at the Springfield YMCA. Initially, the class concentrated on individual skills. But when both the class and Naismith realized that group effort was needed to play the game well, the first true basketball team was born. Word spread quickly.

“Spectators flocked to watch this exciting, new sport. By playing the first game of basketball on December 21, 1891, Naismith and the First Team laid the groundwork for what was to become the fastest growing game in sports history. The first game was played to a 1-0 score and included nine players to a side.”

Unsurprisingly, the game looks a little different today than it did in 1891.

From Springfield College: “It became an adaptation of many games of its time, including American rugby (passing), English rugby (the jump ball), lacrosse (use of a goal), soccer (the shape and size of the ball), and something called duck on a rock, a game Naismith had played with his childhood friends in Bennie’s Corners, Ontario… Naismith approached the school janitor, hoping he could find two, 18-inch square boxes to use as goals. The janitor came back with two peach baskets instead. Naismith then nailed them to the lower rail of the gymnasium balcony, one at each end. The height of that lower balcony rail happened to be ten feet. A man was stationed at each end of the balcony to pick the ball from the basket and put it back into play. It wasn’t until a few years later that the bottoms of those peach baskets were cut to let the ball fall loose.

“Naismith then drew up the 13 original rules, which described, among other facets, the method of moving the ball and what constituted a foul. A referee was appointed. The game would be divided into two, 15-minute halves with a five-minute resting period in between. Naismith’s secretary typed up the rules and tacked them on the bulletin board. A short time later, the gym class met, and the teams were chosen with three centers, three forwards, and three guards per side. Two of the centers met at mid-court, Naismith tossed the ball, and the game of ‘basket ball’ was born.”

According to Canada’s Other Game: Basketball from Naismith to Nash, Archibald also played football at Springfield.

That text notes that he left the school in 1892 “and headed home” to New Brunswick.

He was there for two years and spent an additional four as a director at an Ontario YMCA before he first came to Warren, according to information from the college, which indicates he served as Physical Director at the Warren YMCA from 1899-1902 and then as Boys’ secretary from 1902-1903.

He returned to YMCAs in Canada for the next 15 years, before returning as physical director of the YMCA in Warren from 1917-1920.

His obituary — published in the November 12, 1947 edition of the Warren Times-Mirror — tells the rest of the story.

“Less than a year ago, on December 12, Mr. Archibald was honored before a crowd of 18,000 in Madison Square Garden, New York City. The occasion was the celebration of the 55th anniversary of basketball… He alone of the original team was able to attend… At the time of the golden jubilee in 1941, he was honored at the celebration which launched the Naismith Memorial and the Hall of Fame planned to commemorate the origin of the game.

He also operated a fox farm with his son.

“Over 10,000 have been raised on this pioneer ranch in Warren and have been placed in the different markets of the world. Mr. Archibald was also instrumental in starting a great number of ranches in other parts of the United States.”

It’s his son Gerry who would carry on his father’s basketball legacy in Warren.

This is the first in a series of article about ties to professional basketball in Warren.


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