SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/This Week's Issue

Auction of Naismith’s rules to fund foundation


James Naismith put down the rules
of “Basket Ball” on paper in 1891.

James Naismith used to tell his family, “You can’t charge for my baby.” The creator of basketball insisted that they be caretakers of the game, not profiteers.

Naismith’s grandson, Ian, has lived by those words for all of the time that he’s held the original rules of the game, type-written in 1891 on two pages of yellowed paper.

But in order to fund his drive to be a caretaker for the game, Ian Naismith finds himself at a place where he must sell what’s thought to be the most prized piece of sports memorabilia associated with the founding of basketball — the 13 original precepts of basketball, or “Basket Ball” as it’s written at the top of the first page.

Sotheby’s will auction off the documents on Dec. 10 and $2 million is expected to be the opening bid, Naismith said. He expects the bidding to go up to about $10 million, and he hopes more, but an appraisal Naismith paid for in 1997 put a value of $5 million on the rules.

Proceeds from the sale will go to the Naismith International Basketball Foundation, the charity created in 1989 to honor the founder and support the Naismith Museum in his hometown of Almonte, Ontario. Ian Naismith said the foundation has been hammered by the recession and donations have dropped by 90 to 95 percent.

“This is our chance to drive a stake in the ground and turn the tide of youth sports,” said Naismith, who has been harshly critical of those in charge of youth basketball. “But we’ve got to have funding to do it. My grandfather was an orphan at age 9 and the way we’ve looked at it, we’re always going to put his money back into programs that help kids. We need to advance the charity to the next level.”

The original rules are in the hands of Sotheby’s now. Naismith, who grew up as a Texas rancher and walks with limp after a stroke two years ago, no longer carries them around in a steel briefcase to keep them secure.

But he hopes to resume what he called the Sportsmanship Tour, where he visits schools and talks to youth groups, after the sale. “I’m not slowing down,” said Naismith, 72. “This is all to honor the legacy of Dr. Naismith.”

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