Naismith's Original Rules of Basketball on View at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City During March Madness

Feb. 23, 2011

Kansas City, Mo. – Nearly 120 years after James Naismith thumbtacked the freshly typed 13 rules to his new game, “Basket Ball,” to a gymnasium bulletin board, the original copy of those rules is coming to Kansas City. The document, purchased in December by KU alumnus David Booth and his wife Suzanne for $4.3 million, will be displayed in a temporary exhibit at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.

The exhibit, James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basket Ball, opens to the public Saturday, March 5, in Kirkwood Hall at the Museum. The rules will remain on view through May 29. Admission to the exhibit is free. Free timed tickets to the exhibition will be available through the Museum’s website,, at the Info Desk in Bloch Building, or by calling 816-751-1278.

The Nelson-Atkins will unveil the exhibition Fri., March 4, at a 2 p.m. press conference that will feature the Booths, who purchased the rules at a Sotheby’s auction Dec. 10. The selling price exceeded other exceptional items sold the same day, including Robert F. Kennedy’s copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, and a battle flag from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand.

“My family is very proud to bring this important treasure to the Nelson-Atkins, where the rules will be enjoyed by sports fans and museum-goers alike,” said Mr. Booth.

“The Booths understand the pride, the intensity and the traditions that people in the Midwest hold for their teams, and we are extremely grateful for their generosity in sharing this historic document with our visitors,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, the Director and CEO of the Museum. “The Nelson-Atkins is attuned to this part of our cultural fabric, and we all look forward to celebrating James Naismith’s entrepreneurship and world legacy.”

During the exhibition, the Kansas City region’s focus on basketball will be at its height. The Big 12 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships will be held March 9-12 in Kansas City, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) holds its basketball championships at Municipal Auditorium March 3-6, and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) will host its tournament from March 16-22.

The Booths and the University of Kansas are discussing a permanent home for the rules in Lawrence, where Naismith was KU’s first college basketball coach. Following the purchase by the Booth family, Kansas head coach Bill Self said, “We’re very happy and proud the Booths were able to pull this off, and certainly appreciative of what David and Suzanne and the rest of their family have done for this university. The pride in having these rules here in Lawrence will last far longer than any of us will. It will last for many generations.”

The 13 basic rules were typed on two sheets of paper, now yellowed with age, so that Naismith could introduce his new game to a group of young men at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass. He nailed two peach baskets to each end of the first basketball court, and within a matter of days, people were gathering to watch the popular new game.

“It’s really the genesis, the birth certificate of one of the world’s most popular sports,” said Selby Kifer, senior specialist in American history documents at Sotheby’s. “It’s a sport that has had an impact on everything from fashion, such as sneakers, to culture in a way that transcends sports.”

The Canadian-born Naismith studied physical education in Montreal before coming to the YMCA in Springfield, Mass., and he was intent on promoting strong moral character. While there, he was asked to develop an indoor game for the winter months that would not take up too much room, could help athletes stay in shape, would be fair for all players and not be too rough. He called his new game “Basket Ball,” and through the years took great pride in seeing the game develop.

Naismith joined the KU faculty in 1898. He died in 1939 and is buried in Lawrence. In the 120 years since he posted the rules to his new game, the document has been passed from one Naismith generation to the next, kept in desk drawers or safe deposit boxes at various locations, until being auctioned in December.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are Wed., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Thurs. and Fri., 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sun., noon -5 p.m. Admission to the Museum is free.