Basketball thrives and the 13 original rules survive

Rare sports relic on public display at KU's DeBruce Center

Story and photos by leigh Elmore


Long before there was a term called "March Madness", which sports fans the world over recognize as the nickname for the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, there was a world that lived without our favorite late winter sport. It hardly seems possible in retrospect that basketball, today the most democratic of sports, was the invention of one man, James Naismith.

Artifacts of Kansas University basketball glory on display at the DeBruce Center.

The influence of basketball in American culture is pervasive. There's hardly a public park or schoolyard in the entire country that doesn't sport at least one basketball goal and court. All you need is a ball and some friends and all of a sudden there's a hot pick-up game in progress. What child has not spelled H-O-R-S-E by shooting a basketball? In the 1950s high school students took off their shoes to dance on gymnasium floors at school dances so that the basketball court would not get scuffed up; and we got the term "sock hop" as a result.

And every February and March partisans of the 68 colleges and universities that make the cut for "The Big Dance" dream big that their team can reach the Final Four and even a National Championship. Productivity in offices throughout the land suffers as employees focus on their "brackets", trying to predict the tournament's outcome. Of course, professional basketball players have driven shoe sales for the last three decades; nearly everybody today knows what "Jordans" are.

At the YMCA

Considering how the popularity of the sport has blossomed during the 20th century, it's worth taking a time out and looking back to just how basketball got its start at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA in 1891. That beginning created a connection leads directly to Lawrence, KS and the University of Kansas, which has built one of the leading collegiate basketball programs in the country and consistently vies for national prominence, last winning the NCAA National Championship in 2008 against Memphis.

The statue of James Naismith outside Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas.

In Springfield, Naismith, a Canadian-born athletic director was faced with the problem of finding a sport that was suitable for play inside at the School for Christian Workers. At that time, Naismith wanted to keep his class of 18 young men occupied during an especially bitter New England winter. He knew he would have to keep the group from tackling each other, as they did in football and rugby, and he would have to keep them from throwing or hitting the ball as hard as they could, as they did in baseball and cricket. Naismith wanted to create a game of skill for the students instead of one that relied solely on strength.

The original typewritten pages of The Rules of Basketball, the text of which is shown below.

He typed 13 rules that laid out a game that worked within the confines of a small gymnasium. The first game was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets used as goals.

The rules made clear that the game would not be played with clenched fist, nor would harming an opponent be tolerated, according to information posted on the KU website. There was no mention of dribbling, although it became a part of the game just a few years later. Many of the original rules remain a part of the spirit of the game today. And there is no other major sport in the world that boasts an initiating document like the original rules of "Basket Ball."

James Naismith's 13 Rules of Basket Ball:

1) The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
2) The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
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 good speed.
4) The ball must be held in or between the hands, the arms or body must not be
used for holding it.
5) No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of
an opponent shall be allowed. The first infringement of this rule by any person
shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made,
or if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no
6) A foul is striking the ball with the fist, violation of rules 3 and 4, and such as
described in rule 5.
7) If either side makes three consecutive fouls it shall count a goal for opponents.
8) A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from grounds into the
basket and stays there. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponent moves the
basket it shall count as a goal.
9) When the ball goes out of bounds it shall be thrown into the field and played by
the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight
into the field. The "thrower-in" is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer it
shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire
shall call a foul on them.
10) The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls, and notify the
referee when three consecutive fouls have been made.
11) The referee shall be the judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in
play, in-bounds, and to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall
decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the goals with any other
duties that are usually performed by a referee.
12) The time shall be fifteen-minute halves, with five-minute rests between.
13) The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In the
case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until
another goal is made.

The rules come to KU

The 13 original rules of "Basket Ball" are a piece of sports history that are intertwined with the University of Kansas and its tradition of basketball excellence. Naismith became KU's first basketball coach and started what would become one of the most successful basketball programs in the nation. Winning seasons would come with subsequent coaches, like Naismith's protégé, Forrest C. "Phog" Allen.

Legendary KU coach "Phog" Allen

David Booth, of Austin, TX, donated the original document of Naismith's "Rules of Basket Ball" to the university. He bought the rules in a celebrated public auction at Sotheby's in New York City. A graduate of Lawrence High School, Booth earned two KU degrees: a bachelor's in economics in 1968 and a master's in 1969.

Booth's motivation for bringing the rules back to Lawrence was that "they're incredibly important and should be at KU. Naismith invented basketball and was there for 40 years. And Coach Phog Allen was one of the key figures in making it so popular," Booth said.

He spoke with KU Men's Basketball Coach Bill Self after making the winning bid for the rules. "He was a factor in making this gift, just his enthusiasm and the way he's made me feel over the years. It's amazing how he can make people feel great," Booth said.

"Phog" Allen's Sports Stories on display at the DeBruce Center at KU.

Those visiting the DeBruce Center can view Naismith's Original Rules in the Rules Gallery, in a public corridor at the south end of the building. The rules rest in a case that is built to keep the document secure and well preserved. At the push of a button, the case is lighted, the glass front be-comes transparent, and you hear a 1939 recording of Naismith explaining how he came to invent the game of basketball.

The DeBruce Center, which abuts Allen Fieldhouse, is a treasure-trove of KU basketball lore, filled with trophies, game balls and artifacts from great KU teams and players of the past. And outside on a park bench sits the statue of Dr. James Naismith, whose kindly face peers back through glasses as he holds a peach basket reminding all of the game's humble beginnings.

An actual gameball from the 2016 NCAA National Championship game, won my Villnova. (photos courtesy National Association of Basketball Coaches)


As hoops thrive, so does the collecting

Whether your favorite basketball team is affiliated with a college or university or your tastes run to the National Basketball League, there is no shortage of collectible memorabilia available. Basketball has become one of the most important sports in the world and its popularity continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

The game's global and mass appeal makes memorabilia associated with many of the game's biggest stars among the most sought-after items in all of sports collecting. Probably the world's most loved living athlete today remains Michael Jordan, the basketball player who first made his mark playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels and later climbed to international stardom playing for the Chicago Bulls.

One of the reason basketball thrives is the fierce rivalries that emerge, especially at the college level, such as Kansas-Kansas State in the Midwest and North Carolina-Duke in the East. Some collectors specialize in items highlighting their teams' rivalries.

You can find a regulation basketball autographed by Jordan going for $500 online on Kovels Antique and Collectibles Price Guide ( At the same site there's a Larry Bird autographed jersey listing for $300.

On a pair of Shaquille O'Neal's signed Reebok Shaq Attaq shoes were listing at $1,195 on a recent check.

Folks with a mind for history can look back to NBA stars of yesterday for items relating to Bob Cousey, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West or Bob Petit. The list goes ever on.

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at

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