The Olden Rules

When James Naismith first committed to paper his 13 precepts of basketball in 1891, he could not have foreseen how well those commandments would hold up--or how fiercely the document itself would be coveted
When James Naismith first committed to paper his 13 precepts of basketball in 1891, he could not have foreseen how well those commandments would hold up--or how fiercely the document itself would be coveted
November 25, 2002

Of all the what-if exercises in sports, few are more delicious to contemplate than the question of what Dr. James Naismith--divinity-school graduate, muscular Christian, drum major for clean living--would have thought if he knew that the fate of his original 13 rules of basketball, the Magna Carta of his most far-reaching creation, rested, however briefly, with a Hooters waitress named Brooklyn. Naismith had set down the rules on two typewritten pages in December 1891, posting them in the gym at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Mass., shortly before the first game ever played. More than a century later one of the inventor's grandsons, Ian Alan Naismith, set down those same pages--pressed now between two pieces of plate glass inside a fireproof, combination-locked, golden metal briefcase--somewhere. He just wasn't sure where. He thought he had put them between the front seats of his Dodge conversion van upon leaving that Hooters, just off Interstate 435 in Kansas City, Kans. But now, more than an hour away in Lawrence, he wondered if he hadn't left them at his table. Or by the pay phone. Or in the men's room. All he knew for certain was that the rules were missing, his waitress had been Brooklyn, and he had better dial Hooters, fast.

Naismith, 63, has good reason to carry that briefcase now as if it were the nuclear football. In 1968 a private collector, surprised to learn that the rules weren't in the YMCA's archives, offered Ian's father, James Sherman (Jimmy) Naismith, $1 million for them. Five years later another collector bid $2 million. In 1997 Ian had the rules appraised at $5 million--though consultations with auction houses have persuaded him that they would fetch twice that if put up to bid. They're uninsured, because no company will write a policy unless they are to go into a vault. But even then the premium would be $25,000 a year, and besides, Ian Naismith reasons, what good would they do if no one could see them?

For nearly all the time that has passed since Naismith committed them to paper, the rules have languished in drawers and lockboxes, far from a public that Ian believes needs to be reminded of the inventor's original intent. For 27 years the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, had them on loan from the Naismith family yet never displayed them. When the Hall of Fame opened its new, $103 million quarters on Sept. 28, the rules were formally exhibited for the first time, in a stand-alone display case. But last weekend Ian reclaimed them for his own purposes, which are twofold: to use the rules as the centerpiece of his ongoing Naismith Sportsmanship Tour, through which he hopes to restore the spirit of the game as his grandfather intended it be played; and, ideally, to consummate the sale of the rules by his nonprofit Naismith International Basketball Foundation, which technically owns them, to the Smithsonian, which hopes to find a benefactor so that it might add the rules to its permanent collection. Naismith is asking $5 million, a sum that he says would help the foundation promote, through visits to schools and basketball events, such old-fashioned hoops values as mutual respect, teamwork and fair play. "That's not my money," he says. "It's Doc's money, and it needs to go back into the game. If we don't do something, if we don't take a stand, the game is going to implode."

This is Ian Naismith boilerplate, the Presbyterian moralism of the grandfather rendered in plainspoken Texan. Ian (pronounced yan) wears a pinky ring, gold as that briefcase, with diamond studs describing the letter N. He walks with the switching gait of an Old West sheriff. Bluff and broad-shouldered, he booms when he vows, "The Naismith family will not stand idly by and watch this great game be destroyed." He adds, "The family hasn't made a penny off the game. By today's standards I guess that makes us three generations of stupid." But no Naismith in any generation had been quite so stupid as to lose the rules.

Where baseball evolved from cricket and rounders, and football from rugby and soccer, basketball sprang whole, during a tortured all-nighter, from one man's mind. Thus the original rules are to hoops what the 95 Theses are to Protestantism--the source of it all. "From a historical perspective you could use the word iconic," says Allan Stypeck of Rockville, Md., the professional appraiser who came up with the $5 million figure. "I got goose bumps just handling them."

James Naismith was a 30-year-old instructor at the YMCA training school when his boss, Dr. Luther Gulick, gave him two weeks to win over a restless class of future Y executive secretaries who were grudgingly fulfilling a wintertime phys-ed requirement. Naismith had tried indoor adaptations of soccer, lacrosse and football, but each led only to something being broken--windows, gymnastics apparatus, players' bones. The students' growing skepticism about each new activity had long since given way to cynicism.

At the end of that fortnight, with the class set to meet the next morning, Naismith sat hunched at his desk with pencil and notepad. A reformer who disdained the ruffianism rampant in football and rugby, he asked himself what it was about those sports that inspired such behavior. The answer: tackling. Why did those games entail tackling? Because players could run with the ball. Ban running, and you could ban tackling--and with it the source of roughness. Alone at his desk Naismith snapped his fingers and said, "I've got it!" If there's a cornerstone to basketball, it's the rule that would become No. 3: "A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it; allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed."

All else tumbled forth, one rule upon the next, over the next several hours. If a player couldn't run with the ball, what could he do with it? It would be laid out in Rules No. 1 and No. 2: He could throw it or bat it in any direction, but never--ruffians, begone!--with his fist.

At this point Naismith's idea had only "progressed to the point where it was 'keep-away,'" as he later put it. He needed an objective--a goal. Football, hockey, lacrosse, rugby and soccer all had earthbound goals or goal lines, but players would rush them to score, and those assaults, again, invited roughness.

Naismith thought back to his childhood in Almonte, Ont., to a game that he and his buddies had played at a waist-high boulder behind a blacksmith's shop. The game, called duck on a rock, involved trying to knock a stone off that boulder with smaller ones, each tossed by a player who, if he missed, had to retrieve his "duck" before the designated guardian of the rock could tag him. "Force, which made for roughness, would have no value," Naismith wrote. "Accuracy was more effective." To keep a defender from stationing himself on top of the goal, he called for the goals in his new game to be raised above the playing area.

Naismith now had a point to his game, at least in theory. The next morning he had tangible goals: peach baskets, fetched from a basement storeroom by Mr. Stebbins, the custodian.

"The first game," Naismith later said, "was played in my head the night before." So clearly had he envisioned it that he needed less than an hour that morning to write out the rules. Around 11 he turned his handwritten notes over to Miss Lyons, the departmental secretary, to type up. Class was set for 11:30.

In fact the person Naismith had to satisfy wasn't his boss so much as a burly student from North Carolina, a football tackle named Frank Mahan, who had led the class in rejecting every other attempt at an indoor game. Sell it to him, Naismith knew, and the others would fall in line.

That morning Mahan spotted the rules thumbtacked to the bulletin board. He noticed baskets fastened to both ends of the gymnasium balcony. He saw Naismith with a soccer ball wedged under one arm. "Harrumph," Mahan said. "Another new game."

Naismith's heart sank. Mahan's reaction sounded like "a death knell," he would recall. But that first game proved to be a hit, even if it featured 18 pinballing players, excessive fouling and only one field goal, by a player named William Chase. "The only difficulty I had was to drive them out when the hour closed," Naismith said.

He had no idea how thoroughly he had won over his greatest skeptic. Unbeknownst to the inventor, Mahan pilfered the rules from the bulletin board and hid them in a trunk in his room. Shortly after returning from Christmas break, Mahan approached Naismith before class. "You remember the rules that were put on the bulletin board?"

"Yes, I do."

"They disappeared."

"I know it."

"Well, I took them. I knew that this game is going to go, and I thought that they would be a good souvenir, but I think you ought to have them."

Several hours later Mahan returned the rules to the inventor in his office.

Mahan would figure in one more historical footnote. After Christmas break, with the game growing in popularity but still in search of a formal name, The Triangle, the school newspaper, printed the rules under the headline A NEW GAME. Mahan went to Naismith to insist that his divertissement needed a catchy handle. He proposed "Naismith ball."

Naismith laughed. "That name would kill any game," he said.

"Why not call it basket ball?" Mahan replied.

Naismith rather liked the sound of that, so with a fountain pen he wrote "Basket Ball" at the top of the first page of Miss Lyons's typescript. At the bottom of page 2 he added, "First draft of Basket Ball rules. Hung in the gym that the boys might learn the rules. Feb. 1892."

From the day he invented basket ball, Naismith would declare, 13 was no longer his unlucky number. The game spread instantly, as training-school graduates embarked on missions all over the world, copies of the rules packed with their Bibles. Naismith would eventually collect translations into almost 50 languages or dialects. But for most of the rest of his life the original two pages sat, folded, in a desk drawer in his office--first at the Denver YMCA, where he served as an instructor from 1895 to 1898 while attending medical school; then in Robinson Gym at the University of Kansas, where he taught until shortly before his death in 1939.

Sometime around 1926 Naismith mounted the rules with glue on two pieces of cardboard, with the intention of framing them for the wall of his office. Yet for some reason he never hung them. The rules went back into a drawer, mercifully safe from the sunlight that would have caused the typescript to fade. That mounting job also kept the edges from fraying further.

If Naismith at first didn't realize the historical significance of the rules, he surely did by the 1930s, when the Smithsonian and the British Museum expressed interest in acquiring them. (Though he eventually became a U.S. citizen, Naismith had come up with the game as a subject of the Queen.) But he showed no inclination to surrender the document until 1932, when he and his eldest son, Jack, took a road trip back East in Jack's Graham Paige sedan. The archives of the Hall of Fame contain a note that Jack dictated in 1979 to send to Hall of Fame executive director Lee Williams: "I took the car and went to YMCA College in Springfield, Mass. Dr. James Naismith was with me. He took original rules of basket ball. We went to the Y College and [Edward Hickox, the basketball coach at Springfield College, which had evolved from the YMCA training school], he didn't want the rules. Then we went to McGill University in Canada. McGill University didn't want the rules either. Dad laughed at them. I guess they are not good for anything."

It's not clear what or whom Jack or Jack's dad regarded as "not good for anything"--basketball's seminal document or the officials at Springfield and McGill who showed no interest in it. But there's a similar vagueness built into the rules themselves, which has lent the game a remarkable protean quality. Few sports have more nimbly changed with the times, adding shot clocks and three-point lines, discarding basket bottoms and center jumps, as players have become more capable, coaches have insisted on more influence, and fans have expected more entertainment.

The genius of the original rules lies almost as much in what isn't stipulated as in what is. For instance they make no mention of the dribble, but almost from the game's inception clever players figured out that while Rule No. 3 prohibited running with the ball, you could roll or drop it, move, then retrieve it. The dribble is really just a series of drops and retrievals, and as long as an offensive player didn't use it to charge wantonly into a defender, Naismith conferred on it his blessing as "one of the sweetest, prettiest plays in the whole bunch." By 1898 the dribble would be formally written into the rules.

In 1931 James's youngest son, Jimmy, had a hunch that the original rules might someday be worth something. He asked his dad to authenticate them with his signature. So, in ink at the bottom of the second page, Naismith added his name and the date: "62831." He also erased "Feb. 1892" and penned in "Dec. 1891," to make clear that these two pages constituted the document hung in the gym before the first game.

Of James and Maude Naismith's five children, none grew closer to his father than Jimmy. When his dad spent his dotage preaching on a circuit of churches in small towns in eastern Kansas, Jimmy would often drive him from congregation to congregation. Shortly before his death Doc Naismith turned the rules over to Jimmy with the charge that he be "caretaker of the game."

For the next few years Jimmy and his wife, Frances Pomeroy Naismith, kept the rules in the dining room of their home in Corpus Christi, in a secret drawer of a huge mahogany sideboard that Doc Naismith himself had roughed out with an ax. "I remember my parents pulling the rules out and showing them to us and telling us never to tell anyone where they were kept," says Frances Ann Boatright, Ian's sister. "Of course we didn't. We were very obedient children." After World War II broke out, Jimmy joined the Navy and served as commander of a munitions ship in the Pacific. With money tight and the occasional enemy submarine spotted in Corpus Christi's harbor, Frances shuttled their children--Jim, Frances Ann and Ian--from relative to relative in the Plains states. Every time the four of them moved, the rules went with them. To a farm in Holton, Kans.; to a house in the mining town of Gilman, Colo.; to a ranch in Westcliffe, Colo. After the war the Naismiths reunited in Corpus Christi, their heirloom still in tow. Ian remembers his dad mentioning around the breakfast table in the early 1950s that he had just put the rules in a safe-deposit box at a local bank.

In 1961, the centennial of James Naismith's birth, Springfield College broke ground on a building to house the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Early that year Jimmy passed through Springfield to meet with the same Edward Hickox who had shown no interest in the rules almost 30 years earlier. Now, as executive secretary of the committee charged with establishing basketball's first shrine, he had apparently changed his attitude. "I am discussing the disposition of the Rules with my children," Jimmy wrote Hickox in a follow-up letter, "and will let you know when we have reached an agreement."

For seven years Hickox's committee scrounged for money to fill what had become known around town as the Hole of Fame. By the time the Hall finally opened in 1968, in an unlovely two-story brick building, Hickox and Jimmy had struck a deal to lend the rules to the Hall. The one-page loan agreement stipulated that the rules "are the property of the Party of the First Part [James Sherman Naismith] and shall so remain." But the agreement said nothing about displaying or not displaying the rules--only that "the Party of the Second Part [the Hall of Fame] shall use reasonable care in guarding and preserving said Rules."

Eleven years later, after Jack Naismith sent the Hall of Fame those recollections of the 1932 road trip that he, his dad and the rules had taken, Williams wrote back: "Your special memory regarding the original rules was interesting for, as you know, we do now have them in our possession and proudly display them."

Only this wasn't strictly true. While a framed replica hung in the main lobby, the original never left the safe in Williams's office, according to several surviving Hall of Fame employees of that era, including Florence Vickers, Williams's longtime secretary.

Why would the Hall have the original rules for almost three decades and never display them? "The buildings weren't the most secure, and a display would have been prohibitively expensive," says Joe O'Brien, who succeeded Williams as executive director in 1985, when the Hall moved into new quarters.

Ian Naismith is still furious that the rules were never displayed. "[The Hall] told us if we wanted to donate a display case, it would cost $7,300," Ian says. "I don't think so."

The Hall's failure to exhibit the rules had made its way onto a lengthening list of family grievances. Near the top was the absence of "Naismith Memorial" on the facade of the building when the shrine moved into its new digs, hard by Interstate 91 in downtown Springfield. In the mid-1990s Ian told O'Brien that if the signage on the still newer building O'Brien was planning failed to include the inventor's name, Ian would remedy the oversight himself, with orange spray paint.

Michael Brooslin, the Hall of Fame's curator since 1987, suggests the dispute over the display of the rules was all a big misunderstanding. "I understood the loan agreement to call for the original to be maintained in the safe," he says. In fact the loan agreement includes nothing about a safe--only the injunction about using "reasonable care in guarding and preserving." Ian says he specifically remembers his father and Williams agreeing that the rules were on loan for display.

With the death of Jimmy Naismith, the original Party of the First Part, ownership fell to his heirs. The family's decision to take back the rules, and Ian's to establish his foundation, dates from a phone conversation in September 1994 between Ian and Frances Ann. She and her husband had recently passed through Springfield and asked to see the document, only to be told that it wouldn't be possible. Says Ian, "My sister asked me what I thought of the game of basketball. I said, 'I think it's beginning to suck, frankly.' She said, 'What do you think of the Hall of Fame?' I said it had become a social club for wealthy people in the Springfield area. So she and I met with our brother, Jim. I told him that I'd be taking over everything related to basketball. He said, 'I'm glad.'"

In December 1994 Jimmy's direct heir, Ian's stepmother, Katharine Holmes Naismith, wrote to the Hall, asking it to release the rules to Ian. O'Brien, Ian says, balked. "He was pissed," recalls Ian. "Not frustrated. Pissed. He said nobody denied that we owned the rules but that they'd never leave the Hall of Fame. Well, the Clampetts had just come to Springfield, and he done beat on Jethro."

At first, neither party could locate the loan agreement. Ian's brother finally found a copy in his father's safe-deposit box. There wasn't much ambiguity: "The Party of the Second Part shall return said Rules to the Party of the First Part, or his legal representative, within thirty [30] days upon demand." On Sept. 8, 1995, Ian took possession of the original rules.

"Joe O'Brien cost me $11,000 [in legal and travel fees], two trips to Springfield and untold aggravation," Ian says.

O'Brien retired in 2000. Upon learning that Ian and his siblings hope to sell the rules to the Smithsonian, he said, "I always knew that underlying their concern for the rules not being displayed was a monetary concern."

Building a firebreak--that's the metaphor Ian Naismith likes to use for his Naismith Sportsmanship Tour. It's an image from his ranching days, when he'd fight a brushfire by bulldozing a swath just wide enough to keep the flames from jumping. "We're trying to stop the deterioration of the game," he says.

Recently, as he's taken the rules on tour for a dozen or so stops each year, Ian has heard Moses Malone say, "If it weren't for your granddaddy, I'd be cleaning giraffe ears." Or people--at basketball camps and banquets, or at the interactive fan fests at the NCAA Final Four or NBA All-Star Weekend--testify how the game has allowed them to become doctors and lawyers. Or NBA commissioner David Stern suggests that "you're a loose cannon," then quickly adds, "But you've got the cannon."

"At the Hall you might get a couple hundred people a day to see the rules," says Ian, who lines up a local sponsor to underwrite each stop. "With the tour I get thousands exposed to our concerns [about the deterioration of the game]."

Ian typically sets up at a table, flipping open that gold briefcase when someone comes by. While he's happy to pose with the rules, he won't permit the document to be photographed at close range with flashbulbs, lest they cause damage. After he discovered someone in Florida selling copies on eBay, he went into Jethro mode to get him to cease, then had the rules copyrighted. Now he sells color photostatic reproductions for $25, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling, MasterCard and Visa accepted, at tour stops and by mail order. Doc Naismith's grandson will sign them on request.

Ian runs his foundation on these bake-sale crumbs. These aren't circumstances that please Ian, who on a good day is disappointed and on a bad day disgusted that so few of basketball's plutocrats, individual or institutional, have responded to his appeals for funds. (The NBA, the NCAA, FIBA and the University of Kansas are exceptions he's careful to note.) "I'm so tired of the tin-cup syndrome," he says. "I'm about ready to invest in a pair of those industrial knee pads, the ones Sheetrockers wear. Whip 'em out and strap 'em on when I go in asking for money."

During an adulthood dedicated mostly to the Lone Star commercial arts of construction, oil and ranching, Ian has been a millionaire. But he has also lost fortunes several times over, and he hasn't been flush since 1989, when a heart attack laid him up for several years. Today he lives in suburban Chicago with his fiancee, Renee DiGiulio, and her father, in the home in which she grew up. She serves as president of the foundation, which shares a suite of offices with her travel agency. Together they make regular mercy missions to orphanages in the Caribbean, bringing basketballs and clothing. It's a cause to which Ian is particularly attached, for Doc Naismith himself had been orphaned at nine.

Doc Naismith also knew hard times. TIME once described the father of basketball as "shrewd enough to invent the game...[but] not shrewd enough to exploit it." In 1934 he and Maude had to move out of their house in Lawrence after a lender foreclosed on it, and two years later he went to Berlin, to see basketball's debut at the Olympics, only because the National Association of Basketball Coaches took up a collection at college and high school games nationwide to buy him transatlantic passage. "My pay has not been in dollars," Naismith wrote in the year of his death, "but in satisfaction of giving something to the world that is a benefit to masses of people."

If leveraging the rules for cash seems at odds with that statement, Ian submits that the game is in too sorry a state not to do so. "The money will go into safe investments to perpetuate our work," he says. "Sometimes I look at a picture of my grandfather and say, 'You know what, you got me into a world of s---.' Why not sell the rules and go to Tahiti? Nobody's going to miss them. But then you think of a nine-year-old orphan and what he did for the world--we're talking the international ripple effect of basketball, down to the [revenue generated by] nachos sold in the arenas--and you realize it's your responsibility.

"I always talk about the family," Ian says. "But truthfully, it's just me."

Today the original rules look every bit their age: 111 years. Their two sheafs have turned a yellowish brown, the creases are soiled, and a tear in the upper lefthand corner of page 1 has been repaired with tape. Someone--probably Doc Naismith himself, upon realizing the omission Miss Lyons had made in haste--handwrote an addition to rule No. 8 above a caret: "into the basket." There's a felicity to the way those three words jump, in blue fountain pen, off the earth-tone page, for if the game were distilled to a single prepositional phrase, that would be it. "If I'm a collector of basketball memorabilia, this is the mother ship," says Stypeck.

Stypeck arrived at the $5 million figure by taking into account the document's promotional potential. "If I were David Stern or the owner of the New York Knicks, I'd buy it and tour it and take a tax deduction as a business expense." Stypeck imagines a "Play by the Rules" campaign to promote sportsmanship, in which the document visits each NBA arena, with a preliminary game, played under the original rules, featuring handlebar mustaches and peach baskets.

But last year Ian Naismith reached an agreement with the Smithsonian. If its fund-raisers could find someone to pony up $5 million, the rules would join such artifacts as the dress Billie Jean King wore when she defeated Bobby Riggs, and Muhammad Ali's gloves and robe from the Rumble in the Jungle. The Smithsonian is preparing a decadelong exhibit on American popular culture, and the rules would be a gemstone of such a show.

Alas, the efforts of John McDonagh, the Smithsonian fund-raiser who's trying to match the rules with a sugar daddy, have so far gone for naught. "You try to find someone with a soft spot for basketball," McDonagh says. "But in sports and entertainment, even with those galactic salaries, money is very closely managed and guarded."

The original understanding was for the Smithsonian to have six months to scare up the money, but after all fund-raising stalled in the wake of Sept. 11, Ian agreed to extend that period of exclusivity. "Here's an organization that has wanted the rules since the '30s," he says. "This document is part of American history. But if the Smithsonian can't find a donor, an auction may still happen, though we don't really want them in a private collection, like a set of antlers on the wall."

In the meantime the breach between the Hall of Fame and Ian and his siblings has been repaired. The Naismith name is on the new Hall, in six-foot-high letters, unmistakable from Interstate 91. Ian himself now sits on the board. But now the original rules are gone, replaced again by a replica. "I'd love to see them here," says Brooslin, the Hall's curator. "They really belong here." Not that the Hall could afford them: It needed millions in loan guarantees to finish its new building. But at least the rules were on display in Springfield for the first time since Doc Naismith posted them on that bulletin board.

"We've finally got the Hall and the family pulling together," Ian says.

Says Brooslin, "Three or four years ago Ian and I basically called each other assholes, and we've been friends ever since."

Brooklyn had come up empty.

"I'm the type who doesn't get scared," Ian says. "I'll fight the Chinese marine corps. But this scared the hell out of me. This was more than a personal loss. I was telling myself I'd just lost something that could help millions of kids."

That's when Brooklyn passed the phone to one of her associates, a waitress named Star, and Star turned out to be as emphatic as Brooklyn was clueless. "Sir," she told Ian, his ear still pressed against the receiver, "you left here with that gold briefcase. I'm 100 percent positive. I saw you walk out with it."

Ian returned to his van. He lay his spreading midsection on the floor and groped. And there, toward the back, way over to one side and beneath a seat, he felt the cool reassurance of fireproof metal.

"Going up the 435 on-ramp at rush hour, this semi just closing on me, I'd hammered the throttle, then swerved to avoid it," he says. "The rules wound up sliding to the back."

From Miss Lyons, to Frances Pomeroy Naismith, to Star, the original 13 rules have had their handmaidens. In Doc Naismith's grandson they have their valet and chauffeur--allowance to be made for a man driving at a good speed.

Next time through Kansas City, Ian Naismith swung by Hooters and left Star a $20 tip.

The Annotated Naismith Here are his rules and how they've played out

A) Until 1921 the game went by two words. We should be grateful for the inventor's modesty: James Naismith scoffed at a suggestion that it be called Naismith ball.

B) Naismith used thumbtacks to fasten the rules to the bulletin board in the YMCA training school gym in Springfield, Mass. He eventually repaired this corner with tape.

C) An "Association foot ball" is a soccer ball. Soccer is a nickname derived from the soc in Association.

D) "In any direction" wasn't to be taken for granted. In 1891 the legal forward pass in football was still 15 years away. With the exception of the backcourt violation, this rule still applies.

E) Because it sanctions batting the ball as well as throwing it, this rule allowed for the blocked shot.

F) With his ban on running with the ball, Naismith unwittingly encouraged the development of two hallmarks of the modern game: dribbling and movement without the ball.

G) For their first 35 years Naismith kept the original rules folded in thirds in the drawer of his desk, and today these creases are soiled and frayed. "Condition is almost always a consideration when you're valuing an object," says Leila Dunbar, director of collectibles at Sotheby's and its sports specialist. "But this being the first and only extant copy balances that out."

H) This rule may seem puzzling until you remember how determined Naismith was to develop something different from football or rugby. He didn't want a player to tuck the ball into the crook of his elbow and run--which is why, sizing up a football and a soccer ball on the floor of his office several hours before the first game, he chose the soccer ball.

I) The inventor's determination to prevent ruffianism is apparent throughout the rules. This is the first of six specific edicts aimed at eliminating roughness, either by defining what constitutes a foul or by specifying how the game should be policed.

J) The original rules lumped fouls with violations such as traveling. Within three years a free throw, worth one point, would be awarded upon any infraction.

K) This is the germ of what we know as the bonus.

L) For the game's first few years the ball did indeed stay in the basket after a successful shot, and someone had to climb a ladder or reach over a gymnasium balcony to retrieve it. Not until 1906 did the rules committee call for the removal of the bottom of the basket.

M) This is the original goaltending rule. The backboard would be introduced three years later, to protect spectators in balconies from the ball and to keep them from knocking the ball away from the basket.

N) In 1926 Naismith used adhesive, visible here, to mount the rules on cardboard with the intention of framing them for the wall of his office. But for some reason he never hung them, thereby keeping sunlight from damaging the document.

O) Naismith admitted he blew it with this rule, which touched off free-for-alls by granting possession to the first player to reach the ball after it went out-of-bounds. "One of the boys who played on an early team of mine takes great pleasure in exhibiting a scar that he got when he dived for the ball and came into contact with the sharp corner of a radiator," he once wrote. Not until 1902 would possession be awarded to the opponent of the last team to touch the ball inbounds. In the meantime, to deal with the mayhem spilling beyond the sidelines, gyms installed chicken wire around the court--which led to players being called cagers.

P) The five-second rule that we know today survives almost exactly as written here.

Q) Naismith originally called for a strict division of labor between the game officials, with an umpire calling fouls and a referee tracking the ball. But this meant that guards, who usually played far from the umpire's station under the basket, could commit fouls with relative impunity. So the rules committee would gradually abolish distinctions between the officials.

R) Naismith often officiated; during his visit to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, late in life, several students roped him into refereeing their pickup game without knowing who he was. "That old duffer never saw a game of basketball," one of them muttered. That night, at a banquet, this very player blushed deeply when he was introduced to the keynote speaker.

S) Today basketball has long since split into several branches--for high schools, colleges, men, women, pros and internationals--and length helps distinguish one set of rules from another: An NBA game lasts 48 minutes, a college or international game 40 and a high school game 32.

T) Naismith granted authority to the captains because he didn't foresee coaches in his new game. Basketball was invented to further the moral development of those who played it, and Naismith believed that the more decision making was left to the players, the better off they would be.

U) No one is sure why Naismith scratched out these faint calculations, but he may have been trying to figure out the dimensions of the playing area.

V) In 1931 Naismith's youngest child, Jimmy, asked his dad to sign the rules. In doing so the inventor replaced "Feb. 1892" with "Dec. 1891." Naismith himself played the game only twice, and not well. "I guess my early training in wrestling, boxing and football was too much for me," he said. "My reflexes made me hold my opponents." --A.W.