All of this is pieced together from journals and rumors and testimony. What we know for certain is that the church ended up with a huge athletic program prominently featuring you guessed it basketball.
Most middle-age Mormon males today were steeped in round ball, thanks to church. Basketball was a primary feature of all extracurricular activities. Wards played one another, stakes vied for regional championships, and the winners were exalted above all others.
It was not, as you might expect from a Christian-based faith, basketball practiced in the spirit of full brotherly accord. It was "church ball," a highly competitive form of b-ball more closely associated with bar fights and park muggings.
This was basketball played without purse or script. Games lasted for time and all eternity, and we fully believed in the "laying on of elbows."
When I was a kid in Mutual, it was ugly. Timeouts were frequently called to look for an eyeball or to pray over someone being loaded into an ambulance. The morning after a game, it wasn't uncommon to see the bishop presiding over sacrament meeting with a fat lip.
We had refs in church ball, but they were every bit as effective as angels at keeping temporal order. You could have a dozen of them keeping track of the game and you'd still get killed.
Proof that the Lord's hand was in all of this is the fact that Zion was west of Nauvoo instead of north. If it had been hockey, Mormons would be famous for not having any teeth.
Today, the church's basketball program is a pale imitation of the old blood rite days. Sportsmanship is at least pondered if not actually practiced.
But the legacy lives on in the LDS infatuation with basketball today that, when not properly repressed, can lead to a forced choice between attending one's church and somebody else's playoffs.
Tomorrow, in LDS wards all along with the Wasatch Front, devout Mormons will be asking themselves the big gospel question: "How mad will Heavenly Father get if I watch the Jazz playoff game on the Sabbath?"
Short answer: If you're even wrestling with the question, you aren't going to the Celestial Kingdom anyway. Enjoy.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley, but you may not be high on his to-do list.