Thursday, December 22, 2005

Naismith family to sell original rules

Asking price is $10 million for basketball inventor's typewritten list from 1891


— The original rules of basketball, as drafted by the man who invented the game in 1891, are being put up for sale by his family.

The asking price is $10 million, or less under the right circumstances, according to Ian Naismith, grandson of the Dr. James Naismith, who came up with the idea for the game while he was a physical-education instructor at a YMCA training school in Springfield, Mass.

Naismith's boss had asked him for a new indoor activity to be used in his gym class, giving him two weeks to do it. On the last day, Dec. 21, 1891, he wrote down a list of 13 rules for the game that used peach baskets as goals through which a ball was to be thrown.

He gave the list to his secretary, who typed them up on two pages, which he put up on a bulletin board outside the gym. A student took the rules and hid them in his trunk, but Naismith got them back, and later they were published in the school newspaper.

The rules, and popularity of the game, spread. Naismith's original list came to Lawrence with Naismith in 1898, when he became the first basketball coach at Kansas University. It spent 30 years in a drawer of his desk at Robinson Gym.

After Naismith's death in 1939, the rules ended up in the possession of his youngest son, Jimmy - Ian's father - who lived in Corpus Christi, Texas. He kept them in the dining room and told his children never to tell anyone where they were.

"I remember when I was 7 or 8, Dad kept them in a secret drawer," Ian Naismith said. "I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew it was something special."

The family moved around, returning to Corpus Christi in the late 1950s, and the rules were placed in a safety deposit box. A private collector offered $1 million for the list in 1968, but instead they were loaned to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., where only a copy was put on display.

About a decade ago, Ian Naismith led a family effort to take back the papers, and he displayed them at various events in college and NBA cities.

The family's Naismith International Basketball Foundation owns the papers, but Ian Naismith has the contractual right to sell the list of rules, with proceeds going to the foundation. The foundation had an original mission of spreading the word about sportsmanship, later expanded to include humanitarian efforts to help children.

Naismith said his grandfather, who himself was orphaned at 9, "once said he felt like he started the 100-yard dash 10 yards behind."

"I like to think that he would approve of the money from his rules going to a foundation that helps children," Ian Naismith said. "It's not my money. It's his money because it's his creation."

Naismith hopes a corporation comes forward with a deal, which would include sponsorship of a two-year nationwide tour to display the rules in a 40-foot motor coach. Naismith hopes to collect signatures of basketball dignitaries and fans along the way, with ultimate goal being a permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"It's not an easy decision, but it's time," Naismith said of his plan to sell the list of rules.

"They've been pretty much unseen for 110 years," he said.


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