It had not been a good winter for James Naismith.
He was the physical education instructor at a small school in Massachusetts in 1891, and it was another bitterly cold New England winter.
The boys were roughhousing in the halls, and Naismith’s boss needed them to burn off some steam. But rugby, football and soccer were not indoor games.
Naismith had tried a modified form of football, but the boys found it boring.
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So one day he nailed two wooden peach baskets on supports about 10 feet high, handed the boys a soccer ball and told them to throw it into the other team’s basket.
By putting the focus on attacking a raised basket, it might draw the attention away from tackling whoever had the ball and defending a goal line with their bodies.
The game was a miserable failure.
“The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches; they ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor,” Naismith said in the only known tape recording of his voice, which was discovered in December. “Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It certainly was murder.”
Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder.
James Naismith, inventor of basketball
Naismith decided to add one more rule: no traveling with the ball. He wanted the focus of the game adjusted away from contact and high-speed collisions.
“We didn’t have one casualty,” Naismith said. “We had a fine, clean sport. Ten years later, basketball was being played all over the country, and in 1936, I saw it played for the first time at the Olympic games.”
Still, when Naismith finally posted his 13 rules of “Basket Ball” at the YMCA gym that year, more than a third of the rules were variations on discouraging physical contact.
The prohibitions included “shouldering, holding, striking, pushing or tripping,” “striking the ball with the fists” and moving the basket to prevent the ball from going in. After only two infractions, a referee was empowered to suspend players.
Naismith’s original 13 rules of basketball, printed on two sheets of paper, have found a permanent home in the DeBruce Center at the University of Kansas, a new mostly glass and steel building named after the lead donation made by the DeBruce Foundation. The building connects directly to Allen Fieldhouse, where KU plays its home basketball games.
The two sheets, which cost a university booster more than $4 million – a record for sports memorabilia in 2010 – will be encased behind special glass that, with the touch of a button, will run electricity through it and reveal the founding documents.
The electromatic glass is a unique answer to the same challenges facing preservation of the “Mona Lisa” and the Declaration of Independence, according to the building’s designers.
As the button that illuminates the rules is pressed, Naismith’s nasally voice retells the story of basketball’s origin for what is estimated will be hundreds of thousands of people a year.
“I guess it just goes to show what you can do if you have to,” Naismith concludes at the end of the recording.
But when the building opens on April 25, the rules will not be in place.
Molding young men
The architectural design of the more than $21 million building that houses the documents is, like Naismith’s sport design, another attempt to shape the behavior of young men, and now women, to an elevated comportment.
At the time of basketball’s inception, many religious leaders were suspicious of athletics, according to Curtis Marsh, the director of the new DeBruce Center.
“Tool of the devil,” Marsh said.
Naismith was originally interested in theology, and when he moved to Kansas six years after inventing basketball, in addition to coaching at KU, he served as chaplain.
Basketball gave athletics the veneer of respectability. The game exploded quickly, in part because Naismith had trained YMCA missionaries on the rules before they traveled the globe, and the new building displays some of its missionary origins.
Originally, the architects at Gould Evans were envisioning a building much more tightly pressed against the basketball arena.
But when they studied the behavior and culture on campus, according to Kelly Dreyer, one of the architects, they realized the planned site for the DeBruce building was in a high-traffic area. It was an intersection between two of the main vehicle entrances and a nexus between the academic buildings to the northeast and the athletic facilities to the southwest.
“So we knew that we needed to have one hand always touching Allen Fieldhouse, but it immediately became apparent that we needed to extend this other hand to the corner,” Dreyer said.
So the architects extended the building from the field house all the way to where Naismith Drive starts to curl up toward the academic buildings along Jayhawk Boulevard. With so much other new construction on the west side of campus already underway, the center of gravity for the university is changing, Marsh said.
“We may be at a point where we are transitioning what is considered the center of campus,” Marsh said. “The amount of traffic between this part of campus and Jayhawk Boulevard is going to increase dramatically.”
And the new DeBruce Center will provide a bridge.
The mantra for the new building is its “dual purpose,” according to Marsh, as both a museum for the rules and a space for all students to meet, eat, work on projects and, in so doing, be immersed in the history and culture of basketball.
As visitors walk from the second floor of Allen Fieldhouse, 1651 Naismith Drive, where games are played, to the second floor of the DeBruce Center, 1647 Naismith, they will pass by inspirational quotes against the right wall. The rules themselves will be nestled into the middle of this slender passageway on the left.
As they first leave Allen Fieldhouse, they will see an homage to the university’s first great coach, Phog Allen, for whom the field house is named. They can then stop and see the rules themselves and, as they continue, see a tribute to Naismith, the inspiration for the new building.
They will pass by a gift shop, which was built out of maple, the same wood used in basketball floors, where they can purchase replicas of Naismith’s rules, commemorative coins and mugs.
They will progress through glass panels that illustrate key moments in Kansas’ connection to basketball history, past a stippled display of wheat lit from above that hides the parking garage next door and through a coffee shop on their way to class. Or they can meander downstairs, where they can eat a plate of mac and cheese or get a grilled chicken salad and sit on maple benches that evoke the famous athletic floor next door.
The building’s exterior is largely glass, so the rest of campus will be able to see its basketball core. It will typically fit about 300 people, although the main space for students to eat and work on the bottom floor will fit about 200. The top floor, which fits about 60 and will regularly be used for feeding the basketball teams, has to be reserved.
For the 20 days of the year when there is a home men’s basketball game, the building’s function will become even more integral to campus life.
The school’s top donors will be able to sip drinks and eat hors d’oeuvres from a full bar on the top mezzanine level, which hangs from the ceiling by thin metal bars rather than supported below by chunky columns. From that spot, they will be able to see many of the tallest, most important buildings to the north and east.
The opaque metal railings were created in part so the donors can lean over and soak in the energy of the hundreds of people passing through to the arena below, or step back and feel the intimacy of an exclusive gathering above, according to one of the architects.
Below, the DeBruce Center may play a role in helping funnel the many students who line up for days before a game to land the best seats.
“The question remains how do we set up this building to assist in the student accumulation before game day and help with endowment to provide a space for donors before a game,” Marsh said. “It’s going to be electric, to blend those two.”
During the game, the school will have to manage another rush of traffic.
“I’m almost nervous about 1,000 of them wanting to be in this facility at halftime,” Marsh said.
But on the outside, the passageway to the new building is covered in metal etchings of some of the many thousands of rules that have evolved for college basketball – a long way from its original two pages and 400-some words.
Origin of the origin
Naismith lived most of his life in Lawrence, so many people thought it was a logical place for the rules documents to find a home. But until about three weeks before they were to be auctioned, there was little effort by KU to obtain them, let alone build a $21 million facility for “the crown jewels” to reside in.
That’s in part because the university didn’t have an athletic director in December 2010, when the rules went on sale, and in part because the rules were expected to fetch millions of dollars.
But a fervent alumnus of the school, Josh Swade, decided to make a documentary of his last-ditch attempt to bring the rules to Kansas. The film, which eventually aired on ESPN in 2012, showed him as he wheedled his way into the homes of top Kansas donors and the offices of KU’s famous coaches, trying to create a coalition that would bring the rules to Lawrence.
Eventually he got a $1 million commitment from David Booth, an alumnus who a couple of years earlier had donated $300 million to the University of Chicago and who grew up on the same street in Lawrence where the rules would reside.
Booth was reluctant to pay for the rules, but after some cajoling from coaches and the grandchildren of coaches, the film shows, he finally agreed to bid for the rules.
As the cost of the rules kept going up during the auction, in $100,000 increments, there were a couple of moments where it looked as if Booth might back out. But with the support of his wife, he eventually outbid what turned out to be an alumnus of Duke University, a KU rival, who said he was planning on putting the rules in a Duke trophy case.
“We have a big, beautiful facility to enshrine this priceless element of sports history,” Marsh said. “And we have a pretty sweet trophy case, too, but we did a little more than putting it in a case.”
KU is the top-ranked men’s basketball program when it comes to the number of seasons with a winning record and number of conference championships, according to a KU stats website. Those records draw on the program’s long history of success, starting at the beginning of the 20th century, when Naismith arrived in Lawrence.
So the rules give the university a chance to solidify its spot as what Marsh called “the strongest historical basketball program in the country.”
“Why are you opening the building while the rules aren’t in place?” Marsh said he has been asked. “And the reason is there is no rushing the testing of the case that is going to hold the documents that need to last another 300 to 400 years.”
Another reason is that a nearby student center, which was feeding the football and basketball players, was demolished before spring break. The DeBruce Center was supposed to be open for athletes to eat in after break, but construction delays pushed the opening back.
So the kitchen of the new building has been sealed off from the construction as it prepares the special meals that are being sent to athletes in a temporary location.
When the building is open to the public on April 25, basketball players will be able to walk directly from the basketball court at Allen Fieldhouse, where they will pass by the rules on their way to dinner.
A lot of programs slap a banner or rub a statue. This is frankly 100 times cooler than that. It’s walking past the origination of their sport.
Curtis Marsh, director of the new $21 million DeBruce Center
“A lot of programs slap a banner or rub a statue,” Marsh said. “This is frankly 100 times cooler than that. It’s walking past the origination of their sport.”
The building will close to regular students at 6 p.m., but football and basketball players will get special access and special food after hours.
“Depending on how long the practices run,” Marsh said. “That’s an element of flexibility the space needs to manage. We can’t always expect them to finish practice at one exact time.”
The building also may help lure top athletes.
On a recent tour of the new facility, Howard Graham, who teaches an elective course on sports for freshmen at KU, referred to a recent article in The Nation that praised KU for so seamlessly meshing academics and athletics.
“We care about our sports, and we care about basketball,” Graham said. “So we are always looking for places that meet and intertwine and talk to each other.”
During game days, the rules will remain permanently lit, so people don’t always have to push a button that lights them up and so Naismith’s voice, which Marsh said will normally evoke the time period in which the rules were created, isn’t haunting the hallways while students, donors and fans celebrate another victory – or brush off the rare home defeat.
“If you have a historically strong program,” Marsh said, “it does not mean that a loss lessens your connection to the legacy.”
James Naismith’s 13 rules of basketball
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, but never with the fist.
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 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, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. 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 substitution shall be allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 4 and such as described in Rule 5.
7. If either side make three consecutive fouls, it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
8. Goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponents move 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 first person touching it. In case of 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 judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have the power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.
11. The referee shall be the judge of the ball and decide when it is in play in bounds, 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 two 15-minute halves with five minutes’ rest between.
13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners.