Tourism opportunity

Local officials should be taking a hard look at how the original rules of basketball might be used to anchor a major tourist attraction.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The prospect of bringing James Naismith’s original rules of basketball to Lawrence opens a window of opportunity for Kansas University and local tourism.

Last week, it was reported that Kansas Athletics Inc. was working with an architectural firm on plans to house the rules in Lawrence, perhaps in an addition to Allen Fieldhouse and the existing Booth Family Hall of Athletics. The fieldhouse is a logical choice for the display, but before this project moves forward, KU athletics officials should involve local tourist officials in discussions about exactly what their goals are for displaying the rules.

Any plan, of course, must gain the full approval of David Booth, the KU alumnus who paid $4.3 million for the two typewritten pages at auction last December. As Booth said after the purchase, the rules are “serious stuff” that must be displayed in a highly secure setting. The question, however, is whether the main goal of a rules display should be simply to preserve and protect the document or whether it might be used as a centerpiece for a broader attraction based on Lawrence’s important ties to the history of basketball.

Although Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891 in Springfield, Mass., he brought that game to KU in 1898 and lived here until his death in 1939. He coached at KU until he turned the reins over to Forrest C. “Phog” Allen in 1908. Naismith, who is known as the “father of basketball,” reportedly dubbed Allen, KU’s winningest coach of all time, as the “father of basketball coaching.” Both men are buried in Lawrence.

Across the last 113 years, KU’s basketball coaches, players and fans have provided a notable legacy. Any fan of basketball, and especially college basketball, would be a potential visitor to an exhibit that showcased that history — especially if that exhibit was anchored by the original basketball rules complete with Naismith’s handwritten notes. Working together, it seems KU and Lawrence officials could create a basketball-based attraction that would be a major tourist draw for the city, something that would put Lawrence on the map for basketball enthusiasts.

Maybe Allen Fieldhouse is the best place for such a display, but perhaps other locations that provide easier access and parking should be considered. Booth indicated last week that keeping costs for the exhibit at a reasonable level was a priority. It’s good to be frugal, but that shouldn’t keep university and city officials from thinking bigger about how to capitalize on the basketball rules to create a broader tourist attraction.

Next to its connections to Bleeding Kansas, Lawrence’s most unique and marketable story for tourism may be its basketball history. David Booth’s willingness to display the Naismith rules in Lawrence presents an important opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.