Monday, March 26, 2012

Ian Naismith, grandson of basketball inventor, dies at 73


There was no such thing as a casual conversation with Ian Naismith, at least in volume.

When the grandson of basketball inventor James Naismith wanted to discuss something about the game that bothered him, usually sportsmanship related, Ian would dig in his heels, his voice rising as he spoke.

"I'm no wallflower," Naismith would say. "I'm going to tell you what I think."

Last week, the most vocal link to basketball's origin died while riding a train from Massachusetts to New York. Ian Naismith was found unconscious as the train pulled into Penn Station, according to The Republican of Springfield, Mass., which first reported his death. He was 73.

Naismith maintained a connection to Kansas that his grandfather started when he was hired by KU in 1898.

Proof of the bond could one day reside in Lawrence.

Naismith had been the family caretaker of his grandfather's 13 original rules, a two-page typewritten document that had been in the possession of the Naismiths or the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

In a December 2010 auction, the rules were sold to Kansas alumnus David Booth for $4.3 million, and his desire is to have structure built at Allen Fieldhouse to house the documents. Associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said the school is developing plans for such a building.

In August, Marchiony conducted a taped interview with Naismith for posterity.

"We wanted to record his thoughts about his grandfather," Marchiony said. "What I remember about it was he was fierce in his loyalty to his grandfather's ideals."

Sportsmanship was Ian Naismith's crusade. He operated the Naismith International Basketball Foundation from his Chicago-area home, a charity to promote basketball and sportsmanship to underprivileged children and mostly operated out of the spotlight.

Until Dennis Rodman brought his game and antics, like head-butting a referee, to the Chicago Bulls. Naismith started to sound the alarm about the game's image.

"It's the reverse of what my grandfather stood for," Naismith said in a 2002 interview in The Star. "He's rolling over in his grave, and we're fighting it the best we can."

Naismith did that by taking the rules on tour. He rigged up a touring van and took the rules to schools, where he lectured about how his grandfather never commercially profited from his from his invention.

The rules and a display of James Naismith hit the Final Four, the NBA All-Star game, banquets and other functions.

About a decade ago, Naismith started putting out feelers for the rules' values, and was told they could be worth as much as $10 million. He once believed he had a deal to have them displayed in the Smithsonian, but it never materialized.

The rules had never left Naismith's sight, and when they weren't on display, Naismith carried them in a gold metal brief case.

He received a scare about a decade ago when he thought he had left the briefcase in the Hooters near 103rd Street and Metcalf in Overland Park. He left after lunch and returned in a panic only to be assured by a waitress that he had indeed walked out with the rules.

It turned out that the rules had slid to the back of the van as Naismith swerved to avoid hitting a truck while merging onto Interstate 435.

Naismith also started a series of sportsmanship awards. He presented the first one to basketball icon Michael Jordan, and a later gave an award to Steve Nash.

In one of his final public celebrations of basketball, Naismith honored Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith and former North Carolina State women's coach Kay Yow at a sportsmanship ceremony last June in Raleigh, N.C.

Naismith could be a bull in a china shop. He battled the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to gain possession of the rules, which had been loaned there, in 1994.

At times, he quarreled with the NCAA, the NBA, the Naismith Award, or any group that he believed wasn't being true to his grandfather's ideals.

But Naismith was happy when the rules ended up with Booth.

"It's in good hands," Naismith said in 2010. "It's where they need to be."


Chris Bailey 8 years, 2 months ago

RIP Mr. Naismith! Very glad that the rules will be at home at KU! Thank you Mr. Booth! Rock Chalk! Let's bring home the title as a send off for the family name!

Kyle Rohde 8 years, 2 months ago

I love the memorial to Dr. Naismith at the cemetery in East Lawrence, but it is in need of some work and I wish KU Athletics would help with it. All the words etched in the stones in the memorial were not etched very deeply and are now almost completely illegible, which seems to be a common issue with memorials like this. It's about time Roy was added to the coaches area too, since I swear Larry Brown is already there (could be wrong about that one).

Uwe_Blab 8 years, 2 months ago

Can't believe Jordan was awarded a sportsmanship award. That's unfortunate. One of the biggest trash talkers and whiners in the game.

RockChalkDoc 8 years, 2 months ago

Good point. Even worse is honoring Mike Krzyewski, who continually whines to the refs and gets angry when his team only gets 80 percent of the calls.

Tony Bandle 8 years, 2 months ago

To Ian..thank you, to the Booth family....thank you [by the way, your candy is delicious], to Dr.Naismith...thank you.

And to think the rules almost ended up at DUKE!!!!!!! :(

KUFan90 8 years, 2 months ago

Who is he survived by? Wonder if Ian had a son that will carry on the fight to ensure compliance with Dr. Naismith's vision for the game.

jaybate 8 years, 2 months ago

Sometimes it takes a man of will and stubbornness and vision to guard the grail. I never met him, but I know I would have liked him. I was raised by a bull in a China shop. Most of the times its the bulls that save what is really important. Smedley Butler, Winston Churchill, Bull Halsey, George Patton, and Norman Schwarzkopf come to mind. They often inherit tasks the career smoothies don't want until a winning outcome is assured. They often speak with bluster and don't give a damn what others think, once they know their mission and believe in it. Some times they drink, or sometimes they aren't drinkers, just blustery. I believe Ian understood the virtue of the game and the venality and corruption of many of the forces aligned against it. He understood how some of those closest to the game were integral to its prostitution. But he also believed, like all heroes do, that if he persevered long enough a door would open leading to where the rules, if not the game itself, belonged, a door he could not foresee until it opened. He protected the grail. It was probably not the role he wanted. It was the role he was destined to play. All who love the game owe this man and an enormous debt of gratitude, no matter how eccentric or cantankerous he may sometimes have been. He knew what needed to be done and he acted. And he got it done.

JayHawkFanToo 8 years, 2 months ago

Churchill famously said:

"Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war."

Seems like Mr. Naismith was one that could have won a war.

Michael Pannacciulli 8 years, 2 months ago

Seems like he was a the Hooters bit. Any next of kin?

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