The game of basketball was born under auspicious transits, as documented by the birth chart of the very first basketball game ever played. Almost overnight, the game made its fast break. It spread throughout the network of YMCAs and, soon after, was played all over the world.
The first basketball game was played just an hour before the winter solstice on December 21, 1891, during an 11:30 a.m. class at the School of Christian Workers in Springfield, Massachusetts. (1) The night before, James Naismith, a Scottish-Canadian who had recently joined the faculty, was busy devising the rules of the new game. Naismith had been instructed by the headmaster to come up with an indoor sport that would keep the students fit in the winter months — between fall football and spring baseball seasons.
The students, who were studying to become physical education instructors, grew bored with weight training and gymnastics, so Naismith’s challenge was to invent a game that would be challenging, engaging, and fun. When the students stepped into the school gym the next morning, they saw two peach baskets nailed to the balcony. Basketball was born and was instantly embraced by the students.
First Game of Basketball
December 21, 1891; 11:30 a.m. EST Springfield, MA (42°N06’, 72°W35’)
Placidus houses: Rodden Rating B
The birth chart of basketball contains a strong Aquarian–Uranus component with Mars conjunct Uranus in Scorpio and Venus in the eleventh house. The energy of basketball is quite distinct from baseball, which is ruled by Venus, and football, which is governed by Mars. (2) Before discovering basketball’s birth chart, I had considered the game as Aquarian and Uranian for the physical characteristics of its players, because they are tall and thin and resemble a race of Titans. Aquarius and Uranus also rule the ankles, which are vital for leaping toward the sky but frequently get injured when awkwardly returning to earth.
Aquarius is an air sign, and the dominant element in the game of basketball is, of course, air. The basketball itself is inflated with compressed air, unlike a baseball or golf ball, which are made of solid materials. The primary movement of the game is vertical as players leap upward into the air to make or block shots. The air element is also present when passing the ball. All this movement through the air is a manifestation of the muscular energy of Mars in close partnership with Uranus.
The game also displays deeper Aquarian manifestations. Aquarius is a sign of the bonds of humanity — the connections between individuals that exist across racial and ethnic differences. One manifestation of this bond is the ability of humans to work as a team. In basketball, it is necessary for five players on a team to share defensive and offensive roles and play in synch with each other. On blacktops and in gyms, this sport provides an Aquarian space where people of various races and ethnicities come together to play. In fact, the very first basketball game in Naismith’s class included Americans, several Canadians, a Frenchman, and a Japanese player. (3)
Aquarius and Uranus are steady champions for social causes, and basketball has served as a venue for civil rights. Because this sport’s equipment is relatively inexpensive, players can advance by merit rather than by wealth or family connections. Many African Americans have excelled with the game and have emerged as civil rights leaders, including Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The placement of Mars in the ninth degree of Taurus is highly resonant with African American achievements. Recent scholarship by Samuel Reynolds and Gina Piccalo published in The Mountain Astrologer reveals the significance of the polarity between the ninth degree of Taurus and the ninth degree of Scorpio. (4) Their article demonstrates how these zodiac degrees are present in the mundane charts of significant moments in African American history, including the killing of Crispus Attucks on March 5, 1770; the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863; and the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. (5)
Reynolds and Piccalo further explain how the African American experience mirrors a polarity within the signs of Taurus and Scorpio. One pole brought the greed and desire for pleasure and consumption within the sign of Taurus, which gave birth to the European slave trade in the 1300s and led to the commodification of African American bodies. The opposite pole threw enslaved Blacks in the United States into a Scorpionic life-and-death struggle yet gave them the sign’s capacity for resilience and transformation.
The Sabian symbol for the ninth degree of Taurus is “a dentist at work,” an image which does not obviously resonate with the subject of this study. But Dane Rudhyar explains that tooth decay is symbolic of society’s rot, while dental work represents an inventive ability to heal the damage done by society. (6) Truly, the invention of basketball continues to heal much of society’s damage from poverty and racism. Interestingly, dentists are considered under the rulership of Saturn, a planet that has an extraordinary presence in the birth chart of basketball.
In the basketball chart, the Sun is in a very tight square to Saturn. As Saturn rules time, this aspect reflects the fundamental importance of time within the game — which is tightly contained by the clock. Basketball operates within precisely measurable increments: a game is divided into four quarters of 12 minutes; a team has 10 seconds to cross the half court line and 24 seconds to attempt a shot. Time also generates much of the game’s excitement; our hearts beat faster as the minutes and seconds tick closer to the finish.
The Sun is poised in 29°34’ Sagittarius, a mere 26 minutes away from entering Capricorn. A luminary on this cusp reflects how the game exists in this liminal realm: Sagittarius aspirations are met with the anticipation of Capricorn hard knocks just minutes away. Sagittarius ambitions are anchored and contained from a tight square with Saturn in Virgo, bringing limitations, like gravity, which the Archer of Sagittarius attempts to defy when shooting an arrow toward a star. Similarly, the basketball player shoots the ball upward but neither the arrow nor the basketball can reach a star. The Archer’s aspirations inevitably fall to earth. Gravity, a function of Saturn, is an essential component of the game. It is necessary to sink a basket, and players, such as Michael Jordan, are characterized as having gravity-defying talent, but ultimately, they must return to the hardwood. Interestingly, the basketball hoop is shaped like a ring, another echo of Saturn.
Beyond Saturn, the outer planets have, perhaps, an even more profound influence on the game. A Neptune–Pluto conjunction is the focal point of a yod that includes the Mars–Uranus conjunction in Scorpio and Mercury in Capricorn. (7) Basketball was born during the Neptune–Pluto conjunction of the late 19th century. Occurring approximately every 500 years, it is among the rarest conjunctions between the known planets. Richard Tarnas credits this conjunction with major changes of the ages. In Cosmos and Psyche, he wrote: “Its synchronistic historical and cultural phenomena are in certain respects the most profound and consequential.” (8) Tarnas describes the most recent occurrence as “that end of an age and transformative threshold which was symbolized in the Nietzschean transvaluation of all values, the dying of the gods that had ruled the Western spirit for two millennia and more, the subterranean dissolution of conventional Christian belief and Enlightenment assumptions … and the emergence of a range of long-suppressed and long-developed cultural phenomena and archetypal impulses that led to the intensely dynamic world of the twentieth century.” (9)
A separation began away from the old order based on Christian values and Enlightenment assumptions. The old paradigm includes a premise that the spiritual realm is separate from the physical realm and that mental reason is superior to instinct and nature. The new order has yet to fully develop. But its 19th century emergence can be somewhat explained through the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche. Nietzsche valued biological instinct above reason, and the life-containing physical present over the distant metaphysical ideal of the Judeo-Christian world view. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche reclaimed the ecstatic rapture of the Greek god Dionysius. This rapture is present when one is consumed in activities such as intoxication and sexual ecstasy. Dionysius is the ancient Greek god of wine, but his rapture does not need alcohol or sex to exist. The Dionysian rapture is present in basketball: when players are completely focused — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — in the game they are playing, and when fans become completely focused — mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — in the game they are witnessing.
November 6, 1861, 10:42 a.m., LMT (rectified time, see footnote #10)
Almonte, Ontario (76°W12’ 45°N14’) Placidus houses
Basketball’s inventor James Naismith would be a transitional figure as the ages shifted as he had profound relationships with both the old Christian order and the emerging Dionysian one. (10) A Scottish-Canadian, Naismith was on a path to become a Presbyterian minister, but he felt a deeper calling toward physical education. This was not an easy change of paths for Naismith as his family considered sports to be the Devil’s playground; when he abandoned the ministry for sports, they nearly disowned him.
Like Nietzsche, Naismith was born with the Sun opposite Pluto. (11) This aspect gave both men unflinching abilities to look beyond conventional certainties. Naismith, with the Sun and Mercury in Scorpio, was tested at a young age. He had to confront the deaths of his younger brother and then his parents near his ninth birthday. With this Pluto opposition, one can imagine a young Naismith looking Death directly in the eye. Later, he might have looked the Devil in the eye — and the Devil probably flinched.
Naismith invented a game to bring back the rapture of Dionysius, but basketball remains strongly connected to the Christian heritage of its father. Naismith was part of a late 19th century movement called Muscular Christianity that found spiritual fulfillment within the physical body. (12) Unlike many Christian sects that consider the body as an unholy vessel, proponents of Muscular Christianity included the body within their trinity of spirit, mind, and body. Furthermore, basketball’s Christian heritage is present in the basic movement of the game. The vertical upward leap of the basketball player is a symbolic representation of the Judeo-Christian aspiration toward Heaven and spiritual union with a god who lives in the sky. By contrast, the game of baseball is an earth-centered sport with an origin to the fertility rituals of pagan tribes who worshipped the Earth rather than a god in the sky. (13)
Naismith’s ability to invent and manifest from his spirituality emerged from the placement of Neptune in his birth chart: Neptune in Pisces is part of a mutable Grand Cross. Within this cross, Neptune is complemented by Jupiter and Saturn in Virgo, Uranus in Gemini, and Venus in Sagittarius. Those born under a Jupiter–Saturn conjunction have an ability to take their Jupiterian ideas and manifest them through the clay of Saturn. Here, Saturn would serve to ground both the energy of Naismith’s Jupiter and Neptune. The square from Uranus in Gemini would provide the necessary spark of mental genius. Venus in Sagittarius would bring the required investment of a personal planet: the love and passion for the invention which was needed to sustain it and give it life. It also reflects the aspirational quality of the project he undertook.
These aspects in Naismith’s chart set the stage (or arranged the gym) for the morning of December 21, 1891. His natal Neptune at 29° Pisces was perfectly positioned to absorb the transiting squares from Saturn at 29° Virgo and the Sun at 29° Sagittarius. The Sun provided the life force and Saturn supplied the clay of manifestation. The transiting Sun was also conjunct his natal Venus at 27° Sagittarius and his Ascendant at 1° Capricorn. Naismith must have been glowing that morning!
His chart also contains a very strong Saturn and Capricorn energy: not only does he have the Jupiter–Saturn conjunction but also a Capricorn Ascendant, Moon, and North Node in the first house. These placements reflect Naismith’s persona as an old school coach, but also as a kind, wise, and nurturing father figure for young athletes. He was a mentor and confidant to countless young people while teaching at the University of Kansas. The Moon in Capricorn reflects his Scottish stoicism and emotional steeliness to see through life’s hardships, and in the first house, reflects the deep influence that his mother had on his character. Her memory served as a moral compass throughout his lifetime. (14)
Thus concludes my humble article on the overwhelming subject of basketball. There is much more to be written about, including basketball at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the rise of the NBA, wheelchair basketball, and women’s basketball. Thank you, gentle reader. Thank you, TMA staff for the opportunity to write this article, an experience that felt like a heart-stopping triple overtime game.
Photo: Danny Lines via Unsplash
Footnotes and References:
(1) Bernice Webb, James Naismith, the Basketball Man, University of Kansas Press, 1973, pp. 64-5.
(2) Editor’s note: Inquiring on a source for Venus likened to baseball and Mars to football, the author’s response: “I haven’t written extensively about football yet but I feel the game’s energy to be about war and conquest so I don’t have a real source. Regarding baseball and Venus, in my book, I write about baseball’s origins as a fertility ritual and it’s ruling sign to be Taurus.” Cesar Love, Baseball: An Astrological Sightline p. 13-14.
(3) Genzaburo Ishikawa is also credited with making the original diagram of the game: Wikipedia.
(4) Samuel F. Reynolds and Gina Piccalo, “Exploring Race and Astrology along the Taurus-Scorpio Axis,” The Mountain Astrologer, March–May 2023.
(5) Crispus Attucks murder: March 5, 1770, Uranus at 8°33’ Taurus; Emancipation Proclamation: January 1, 1863, Pluto 9°30’ Taurus; George Floyd death : May 25, 2020, Uranus 8°13’ Taurus.
(6) Dane Rudhyar, An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformation and Its 360 Symbolic Phases, Vintage Books, 1973, p. 197.
(7) The orb for yods is generally 3°, which would exclude the quincunx involving Mercury at 14° Capricorn; but I am permitting it since Mercury is stationary retrograde and applying to a tighter quincunx with Neptune and Pluto.
(8) Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, Penguin Group, 2006, p. 418.
(9) ibid, p.417–18.
(10) James Naismith, born November 6,1861, Altmonte, Ontario (Rodden rating A for date of birth: XX for rectification). Rectification note: Mars progressed by solar arc would be conjunct a Midheaven of 29° Libra and opposite an IC of 29° Libra at age nine, the year that Naismith’s parents died. An Ascendant of 0° Capricorn progressed by solar arc would be conjunct the Moon at 9° Capricorn at age nine, the year that Naismith’s mother died.
(12) Andrew Maraniss, Game of Deception: the True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, Philomel Books, 2019, p. 23-4.
(13) Cesar Love, Baseball: An Astrological Sightline,Twenty-Third Street Books, 2019. Chapter One “Archeology”
(14) Rob Rains, James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball, Temple University Press, 2009, p. 11.
César Love is an astrologer and poet based in Northern California. His book, Baseball: An Astrological Sightline, is the result of decades of research and observations. It charts the astrological history of every Major League baseball team and presents methods for observing the effects of astrological transits in every baseball game. His astrological writing has appeared in Dell Horoscope and the NCGR Memberletter. He regularly attends NORWAC and has delivered presentations on the astrology of baseball teams for various astrological organizations. His website: Baseball Astrology. César can be reached at email@example.com
Along with Andrea Mallis, César Love produces a podcast titled Love Sports Astrology that explores the astrology within our current sports.