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Whoosh Goes the Gavel: Original Basketball Rules on Auction
October 30, 2010

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In what would seem to be a slam dunk, the family of the inventor of basketball hopes to get a lot of money from an auction of the original 13 rules of the game.

Ian Naismith, grandson of James Naismith (the game's inventor, left), has announced that the money raised by the sale of this bit of sporting history will go directly to the Naismith International Basketball Foundation, an organization that helps the world's underprivileged youth learn sports and sportsmanship. The two-page typed copy of the rules (with handwritten amendments) will be listed by Sotheby's, a representative of which estimates that the winning auction bid should exceed $2 million. The auction takes place on November 10.

James Naismith was a physical education teacher at a YMCA training facility in Springfield, Mass., when he came up with the idea for an athletic game that eventually became basketball. On December 21, 1891, he wrote down his 13 rules:

  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.
  3. A player can't 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, striking, pushing, 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 basket 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, violation of rules three and four and such described in rule five.
  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).
  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there (without falling), providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves 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 that side.
  10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify people according to Rule 5.
  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball 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 baskets, with any other duties that are usually performed by a scorekeeper.
  12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
  13. The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.

Some rules are no longer followed, others (such as no provision for dribbling) have been altered, and some can still be found verbatim in the rules of today.

The game itself started with a soccer ball and two peach baskets attached high up on the walls of a gymnasium. Naismith was trying to get his YMCA students to move about more during the cold months of winter in New England.

The name of the game was spelled as two words (Basket Ball) until 1921. By that time, Naismith had made quite a name for himself. His game caught on quickly round the country. Naismith became a coach, of a men's team at the University of Kansas (KU), in Lawrence, Kan. The current men's and women's basketball teams play on James Naismith Court, in Allen Field House (named for Naismith disciple Forrest "Phog" Allen, himself one of the giants of the game).

Oddly enough, Naismith is the only KU men's basketball coach with a losing record. Allen started a trend of winning that continues to this day.

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