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
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.
November 25, 2002
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
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,"
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."
"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
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
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
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  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
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
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
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
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 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
"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
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.
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.
An "Association foot ball" is a soccer ball. Soccer is a
nickname derived from the soc in Association.
"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.
Because it sanctions batting the ball as well as throwing it,
this rule allowed for the blocked shot.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
This is the germ of what we know as the bonus.
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
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
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.
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.
The five-second rule that we know today survives almost exactly
as written here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Naismith conferred on the dribble his blessing as "one of the
sweetest, prettiest plays in the whole
"This document is part of American history," says Ian, but if the
Smithsonian can't find a donor, he may auction it off.