David Booth could just hang on to the original rules, authored by the game’s inventor James Naismith. They’d make a nice display in his Austin, Texas, home, and after all they are his after submitting the winning online bid of $3.8 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
But that is not Booth’s vision for sports’ greatest — and now most valuable — document.
“They should be displayed at Kansas,” Booth said.
In its own building, Booth believes, and not inside the Hall of Athletics adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse that bears his family’s name. The rules, typewritten on two pages, could be the centerpiece of a basketball history museum.
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That part would be up to the university.
“If Kansas comes up with a suitable venue and can convince us they’ll properly maintain the document, we’ll give it to them,” Booth said.
Whatever happens, the rules, which have been in the Naismith family’s hands for most of the 119 years since they were first displayed at the Springfield, Mass., YMCA, will remain in the possession of a person who was convinced they couldn’t end up with somebody who didn’t support the Jayhawks.
Booth, co-founder and CEO of Dimension Fund Advisors, grew up in a house on Naismith Drive, went to Lawrence High and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas.
He and his wife, Suzanne, had donated $5 million toward the Hall of Athletics, which houses multiple KU sports artifacts.
Initially, Booth wasn’t sure he’d get involved. But over the past week or so, and as late as a Friday evening meeting with KU basketball coach Bill Self, Booth was ready to bid.
“I was hoping to get them for a half-mil,” he joked.
No chance. The estimated price tag was $2 million when the bidding started at 1 p.m. Central. It was over in about 45 minutes. After a buyer’s premium, the total cost to the Booths is $4.3 million.
“I thought it could go for $5 million,” said Ian Naismith, James Naismith’s grandson, who has served as the rules’ caretaker since 1995. “But it’s in good hands. It’s where they need to be.”
James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891, arrived in Lawrence to teach at Kansas seven years later. He was the school’s first coach, although he was a stronger advocate of sportsmanship than coaching instruction.
Naismith died in Lawrence in 1939 and the rules were kept by his son Jimmy, Ian’s father.
Once they came into Ian’s possession, he received several offers for them and once contemplated displaying them in the Smithsonian.
The rules rarely left Naismith’s side. He’d carry them in a metal display case on sportsmanship tours and to events like the Final Four.
With a weakness for spicy chicken wings, Naismith once thought he left the rules behind at the Hooters in Overland Park, but was later told by the waitress she had seen him carry the briefcase out the door. The case had slid to the back of his van.
“There have been some adventures,” Naismith once said.
The whole thing came together quickly said Mark Allen, a Kansas City physician, grandson of legendary KU coach and building namesake Phog Allen and friend of the Booths.
“There really wasn’t enough time to put together a group and fund-raise,” Allen said. “It had to be one person.”
Allen met with David and Suzanne at their Texas home on Thursday and left convinced Booth would be that person.
“We talked about how there was no other place for the rules, and how (James) Naismith said that the three most important things in his life were God, his family and KU, and this is where he’d want them,” Allen said.
On Friday, Booth and Self had a phone conversation, and if wasn’t already convinced, Booth was assured he was doing the right thing after hanging up.
“Bill was fired up about this,” Booth said. “And it got me fired up.”
The pitch actually started earlier, when Josh Swade visited Booth in Las Vegas. Booth was on a company retreat, and met at a hotel. Swade, who grew up in Overland Park and attended Kansas, is an associate producer for New York-based Maggie Vision, which creates film and television productions.
When Swade heard about the rules’ uncertain future, he got in touch with Ian Naismith, and put together a documentary to help persuade potential bidders.
“You’ve got Larry Brown saying there’s no place like Kansas, and Roy Williams saying the rules belong there,” Swade said.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas also voiced his support.
Kansas is the process of hiring an athletic director and getting a group together to build a house for the rules may be an early task.
“I could see something in front of the fieldhouse,” Booth said, “a place for people to come and see a piece of history and have a great experience.”