Podcast: E047 – How Dr. James Naismith Created a Game & Kansas Basketball

Wilt. Magic. Bird. Jordan. LeBron.

They’re some of the legends of basketball; names that define the sport. But there’s one name that means even more: Naismith.

Without Dr. James Naismith—a teacher and chaplain by trade—none of those other names would mean anything. There’s a reason his name is on the Basketball Hall of Fame – because without Naismith, there is no basketball.

In December of 1891, under the guidance and rules of Naismith, the first game of basketball was played in Springfield, Massachusetts. A few years later in 1898, he brought the sport to Kansas and founded the Jayhawks’ storied program.

From there, as Naismith’s invention became a phenomenon, so, too, did Kansas Basketball.

This week as KU celebrates the 10-year anniversary of David Booth’s acquisition and eventual placement of Naismith’s original rules in Lawrence, The Jayhawker Podcast tells Naismith’s life story with the help of his only living grandson, Jim Naismith.

Jim Naismith covers his grandfather’s childhood through his invention of the game, as well as his impact on the University of Kansas. He even spotlights the heart of this amazing innovator, educator and humanitarian.

Orphaned at the age of nine when his parents died of typhoid fever, James Naismith learned how to persevere.

“I think grandad was one of those people that says, ‘Life is what it is, I take it the way it comes and I’m just going to deal with it,’” described Jim Naismith. “I think that’s a good statement to what sort of person he was because he was able to take very difficult situations and work his way out of it.”

Jim Naismith says his grandfather also valued people and relationships above all things.

“He spent his life working with absolutely the most valuable thing you could ever spend your life working with and that’s people – not money,” said Naismith. “It’s just a matter of value and his values were where I think they ought to be.”

The younger Naismith shares why his family was so excited that Booth brought the rules back to Kansas and how their current display is exactly what his grandfather would have wanted.

“The family wanted them protected, but available to the public,” said Naismith. “The way it turned out; I can’t imagine a better setting than the University of Kansas. The fact that they are where they are, protected as they are and so forth is precisely what my grandad wanted… There just couldn’t have been a better ending to that.”

Springfield may be the birthplace of basketball, but Kansas is its home. Find out on The Jayhawker Podcast how Dr. James Naismith created a sport and its most iconic program.