Hoops, with history, now Massachusetts' sport

Updated: August 9, 2006, 8:16 AM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law a bill making basketball the official state sport of Massachusetts.

In an era when the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots battle for the area's sports supremacy, it's easy to forget there was a day when the Boston Celtics were king and the hardwood was the stage most sought by aspiring athletes.

The Celtics have won 16 world championships -- 11 more than the Red Sox and 13 more than the Patriots. Basketball was invented in Springfield in 1891 by James Naismith, an educator who wanted an indoor activity for kids at the local YMCA during the winter.

Today, visitors from around the world flock to Springfield to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The designation, the brainchild of fourth-grade students at the Joseph P. Mulready School, created the 52nd "emblem of the commonwealth," joining the cranberry as the official berry and Theodor Geisel, "Dr. Seuss," as the official children's author.

"I'm a big Red Sox fan, and I have season tickets. I hope this doesn't affect the quality of my season ticket placement," Romney said. "We love the Sox, we love the Patriots and all our professional teams, but this was the game that was invented here, and our linkage to history is what makes this appropriate for this to be the state's official sport."

Former Celtic greats Bob Cousy and JoJo White, who played on some of Boston's championship teams, smiled broadly as Romney signed the legislation and paid tribute to what for many is an avocation, but for them was their vocation.

"I still take great, great pride at having played a small role in those six championships I was around for," Cousy said.

Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck said he is not only dedicated to restoring the Celtics to their former glory, but also expanding the sport's influence through programs aimed at troubled youth.

"We intend to continue using basketball as a force for bringing goodwill and brotherhood worldwide, starting here in Massachusetts," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press