There’s a memorable scene midway through “There’s No Place Like Home,” the new television documentary that chronicles one Kansas fan’s quest to bring James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball to Lawrence. The “30 for 30” series documentary debuts on ESPN, Channel 32, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The fan, a Kansas City-area native named Josh Swade, has arranged a meeting with KU donor David Booth, the same man whose last name hangs on the outside of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics at Allen Fieldhouse.
Swade has weaseled his way into the meeting by telling Booth, a Lawrence native, that he’s shooting a documentary about bringing the rules back to KU, and then he drops the hammer.
The rules belong in Lawrence, Swade says. They’re about to go up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York. We have to do this.
Booth sort of smiles and nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders.
“I’m good for a million,” he says, as if he just decided to buy a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
If you’re expecting this film to have the same riveting pull that has defined most of the “30 for 30” series, you may be disappointed. (To be fair, ESPN has set the bar pretty high.) If there’s drama here, it’s mostly lighthearted. But if you’re a fan or observer of KU basketball, you’ll probably enjoy the hour-length film, with much of it coming off as an emotional ode to the history and tradition of the Kansas basketball.
Swade is a super fan, and the entire film is told from this point of view. There’s been some criticism that the movie may not have much national, widespread appeal. And that’s probably fair. But if you’re a KU fan, it seems unlikely that this will detract from your viewing experience.
The crux of the film is simple. It’s late 2010, and Swade, who works for a production company in New York, reads a story about the rules going up for auction in the New York Times. He decides they need to be in Lawrence. And so he brings along a film crew as he traverses the country to try to convince some deep-pocketed KU donors that they should bid on the rules. (Cue awkward encounters with donors.)
There are a few things that are unclear. To secure the meetings with the donors, Swade tells them he is making a documentary about KU basketball. This is true, of course. But he mostly uses it as a guise to hit them up for money. (Presumably, the idea for what the documentary would become was at least present the whole time.)
You’ll recognize plenty of faces. Roy Williams, Larry Brown and Jay Bilas appear, making a case that the rules belong in Lawrence. KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger shows up. As do former Jayhawks Cole Aldrich and Drew Gooden.
If there’s a specific gripe here, it’s that there are too many scenes where Swade is traveling around the country and melodramatically saying something similar to “We have to pull this off!” But there’s also some elements of history that even a staunch KU fan might not be familiar with, including Naismith and Phog Allen’s role in making basketball an Olympic sport. That stuff is pretty good.
Finally, 47 minutes into the film, Bill Self makes an appearance. And coincidence or not, the film finishes strong. We’ll forego any spoilers, though you probably know how it ends. But you can be safe in assuming that there’s an auction scene, a few more words from Self, and lastly, Swade’s final trip back home, to the confines of Allen Fieldhouse and Naismith Court.