STORY UPDATE: The Herkimer 9 Foundation has placed a new billboard along Route 5S facing the New York Thruway, further proclaiming that Herkimer is the true birthplace of basketball. Now, thousands of drivers will be able to learn about the legend of basketball in the area.

Check out this news package from WKTV on the addition of the billboard:

Scroll below to read our original story from April 2022.

Even the most hardcore basketball fan may not know where, and by whom, the sport was invented.

Popular belief states that the game was invented by James Naismith, a YMCA instructor working in Springfield, Massachusetts, who was charged by his boss to come up with a new game to entertain the kids who attended the facility.

Naismith found a ball, and hung a peach basket high above the floor, and in an instant, basketball was born. Naismith became the namesake for the National Basketball Hall of Fame, which, you guessed it, resides in Springfield, MA.

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Dr. James Naismith's rules of "Basket Ball" (Getty Images)

That being said, there's a bit of controversy involved in the legitimacy of Naismith's legacy. A group of people, who were profiled in a story by The Washington Post, claim that their Central New York town acted as the backdrop for the invention of the new game, instead.

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The Legend of Lambert Will, and Basketball in Herkimer, New York

Located just over an hour west of Albany, near Utica, sits the town/village of Herkimer, New York. Herkimer was settled in the 1700's, and had a population of just over 10,000 as of the 2010 census.

It's a rural town, with a great deal of history that sits in various states of preservation.

One landmark that no longer exists, but still lives on in history books, is the old Herkimer YMCA, located on Main Street in the center of the town. The YMCA burned down years ago, and the lot where it formerly stood is now a parking lot next to an M&T Bank.

If you weren't alive while it stood, or hadn't read about it, you'd never know it even existed.

Dr. James Naismith
Two boys stand on the first basketball court in the gymnasium of the School for Christian Workers, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1900s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Not only did it exist, however, it was the alleged birthplace of the fastest-growing sport in America: basketball.

The man that Herkimer natives champion as the inventor of basketball is Lambert Will, a Swedish immigrant who would toss cabbages into baskets for entertainment purposes, according to The Post. He was just 16 years old at the time, but as some claim, was an unintentional architect of history.

This controversy stems from two separate years in history: 1891 and 1892. The old Herkimer YMCA is alleged to have played host to a game between a YMCA team, and a group of locals, in 1891. Not only that, but there is a faded photograph of a YMCA-based team holding a ball, with "91-92" scratched into it, signifying the "1891-1892" season. If this is true, then the team that was captured in the photo would have started playing this game in 1891.

Naismith, meanwhile, is credited with inventing basketball in Springfield one year later, in 1892.

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The interior of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame / Getty Images

Unfortunately, records from this time period are extremely hard to find, so there are few pieces of evidence convincing enough to credit one person over the other for the invention of basketball. Lambert Will never submitted a patent for the sport, nor did he ever seek out credit for inventing it.

He is reportedly quoted as saying that he was not looking for any glory for what he created, but rather, was just happy to have given people pleasure by playing the game.

James Naismith is synonymous with basketball, and his role in the game's popularization will never be questioned. That said, there is some legitimate proof that the true origin of the sport can be traced back to the Empire State.

What do you believe?

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