Lacrosse, a relatively popular team sport in the Americas, may have created as early as 2000 BC, but since then has undergone many modifications. In the traditional Native Canadian version, each team had about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 meters to 3 kilometers long. These lacrosse games went from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight. These games were competed as part of ceremonial ritual to give thanks to the Creator. Today's Ojibwe verb "to play lacrosse" is baaga'adowe.
Lacrosse was a significant role in the community and religious life of tribes across the continent for many years. Early lacrosse was characterized by deep spiritual involvement, according to the spirit of combat in which it was undertaken. Those who took part did so in the role of warriors, with the goal of bestowing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes. The game was said to be competed "for the Creator" or was referred to as "The Creator's Game".
The French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf saw Iroquois tribesmen play it in 1637 and was the earliest European to write about the game. He called it la crosse ("the stick"). Some say the name came from the French term for field hockey, le jeu de la crosse. Others suggest that it was titled after the crosier, a staff carried by bishops.
In 1856, William George Beers, a Canadian dentist, started the Montreal Lacrosse Club. In 1867 he systematized the game, shortening the length of each game and reducing the number of players to twelve per team. The first game competed under Beers' rules was at Upper Canada College in 1867, with Upper Canada College losing to the Toronto Cricket Club by a score of 3–1. By the 20th century, high schools, colleges, and universities started playing the game. Lacrosse was competed as a demonstration sport in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. On each occasion, a playoff was played to determine the American representative to the Olympics and on each occasion the playoffs were won by the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays.
In the United States, lacrosse during the 1900s had centrally been a regional sport centered in and around the East Coast, more common in areas such as Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In the last half of the 20th century, the sport continued further growth west of this area in smaller areas, including the Midwest, such as Oklahoma and Texas as well as the West Coast, including Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In the past decade, the sport has still grown in large numbers nationwide. The tri-state region of Maryland, New York, and Virginia are the most popular areas in the United States for lacrosse. Lacrosse is at the moment the fastest growing sport in the Midwest. Lacrosse is popular all around Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the northern territory of Nunavut.
The sport has achieved increasing visibility in the media, with a growth of college, high school, and youth programs throughout the country. The NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship has very high attendance numbers compared to NCAA tourneys. The growth of lacrosse was also facilitated by the bringing forward of plastic stick heads in the 1970s by Baltimore-based STX. This invention reduced the weight and cost of the lacrosse stick. It also allowed for quicker passes and game play than traditional wooden sticks.
Up until the 1930s, all lacrosse was competed on large fields outdoors. The owners of Canadian hockey arenas created a reduced version of the game, called box lacrosse, as a means to make more profit from their arena investments. In a relatively short period of time, box lacrosse became the most popular form of the sport in Canada, in part due to the severe winter weather that limited outdoor play. More recently, field lacrosse has witnessed a revival in Canada as the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA) started operating a collegiate men's league in 1985. It now has 12 varsity teams. In 1994, Canada declared lacrosse its national summer sport with the passage of the National Sports Act (Bill C-212).
In 1987 a men's professional box lacrosse league was inaugurated, called the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. This league switched its name to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, then later to the National Lacrosse League and grew to encompass men's lacrosse clubs in 12 cities throughout the United States and Canada. In the summer of 2001, a men's professional field lacrosse league, known as Major League Lacrosse (MLL), was started. Initially beginning with three teams, the MLL has grown to a total of six clubs located in major metropolitan areas in the United States. On July 4, 2008, Major League Lacrosse set the professional lacrosse attendance record: 20,116 fans went to a game at Invesco Field in Denver, Colorado, USA.