In December 2010, KU alumnus David Booth opened his wallet and spent $4.3 million to buy the two-page, typewritten document that contains James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball. It was a high-stakes auction at Sotheby’s in New York — and a historic moment for the game. Consider: Bobby Kennedy’s copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sold at the same auction for $3.7 million. So as you might expect, Booth, a longtime KU donor, had grand ideals.
He offered to donate the rules to the University of Kansas, but he added one special request: He wanted a special structure to be built in Lawrence to properly display Naismith’s creation.
On Wednesday, KU officials confirmed that Naismith’s Rules will soon have a permanent home on KU’s campus. After months of fund raising and planning, KU Endowment president Dale Seuferling said the university has preliminary plans to build a new building adjacent to the northeast corner of Allen Fieldhouse.
“It kind of builds on the traditions of Allen Fieldhouse,” Seuferling said, “by bringing the rules of basketball, which is a truly unique document in sports history, to the confines of Allen Fieldhouse.”
The new building, however, will not be just a home for the rules — ahough they’ll certainly be the focal point. Campus officials also hope to use the opportunity to address needs on that side of campus.
“(It’ll be) a place for students to gather,” Seuferling said. “A place for students and faculty to have lunch or meet between classes. Much like a student union would serve.”
Plans are still in the early stages, but Seuferling said KU hopes to find an architect for the project in the next month. The project, Seuferling said, will be privately funded by donations, and plans for the project could hinge on the final dollar figure. At this point, it’s expected that the building will be connected to Allen Fieldhouse.
“It will be a place where people who are coming to games will tell their friends, ‘You have to see this,’” Seuferling said. “You’re going to Allen Fieldhouse and seeing the rules of basketball.”
For now, KU officials would prefer not to speculate on a final cost for the project. But a similar project — the construction of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics in front of Allen Fieldhouse, a 26,000-square foot museum of KU sports history — was completed in 2006 at a cost of $8 million. David Booth and his wife, Suzanne, were also part of a group that donated $5 million to that project.
For now, there’s no consensus on when construction may begin. But there does seem to be a general consensus among KU officials: This is where the rules should be.
For years, the rules belonged to the family of Naismith, who taught and coached at KU and is buried in a cemetery in East Lawrence. Of course, it wasn’t always certain that the rules would end up in Lawrence. But when news of the auction appeared in The New York Times in late 2010, a Kansas City native and KU fan named Josh Swade saw the story and began to dream. Swade, a 1993 graduate of Blue Valley North, was working for a production company in New York, and he set off on a mission to convince KU’s most deep-pocketed boosters that the rules should be at home at KU. During that trip, Swade found Booth. And yes, he brought along a camera crew.
The documentary film based on Swade’s quest “There’s No Place Like Home” will appear on ESPN in October, and earlier this month, Swade was in Lawrence to interview KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and put some finishing touches on the film.
“The whole thing,” Swade said. “It’s like… it sounds cliché, but I really do have to pinch myself.”
While in Lawrence, Swade listened to Zenger explain where the rules would be housed, and he stopped for a visit to Zenger’s office. On the wall, Swade says, was Zenger’s own duplicated copy of Naismith’s Rules.
“This unbelievable structure they’re talking about,” Swade said. “It’s just like perfect. It’s unbelievable. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”