James Naismith's Original 1891 Basketball Rules



2015-06-26 10:42:51

James Naismith's Original 1891 Basketball Rules is a unique item of sports memorabilia. Written by James Naismith, the Original Basketball Rules were sold in December 2010 for $4,338,500. The author

James Naismith (1861-1939) was a Canadian sports coach. He created the game of basketball on 21st December 1891 at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Naismith created the sport in order to circumvent the problem of cold Massachusetts winters, which forced students inside during the winter months.

Naismith also devised the game in order to shift focus away from strength to skill. The first game was played “with a soccer ball and two peach baskets used as goals.”

The rules

The 13 original rules of basketball are written on two pages of paper, 10 by 8 inches. The rules amount to 46 lines of script. The first page is “very lightly soiled”; both pages are “a tiny bit faded, a few stains from careless transparent tape and other adhesive repairs attempted by Naismith himself”.

Both are mounted on “slightly larger pieces of mat board, again by Naismith, in anticipation of the rules being framed (which he never did).”

The document is signed "James Naismith 6-28-31”.


The rules are a one-of-a-kind item, symbolising the birth of “one of the world's most popular sports.”

It has been commented that “the survival of the original two typed pages of rules” is “remarkable”. The rules are “to hoops what the 95 Theses are to Protestantism—the source of it all."

They were “a prized possession of Naismith for the remainder of his life”. After his death they passed to “his youngest son, Jimmy, and in turn to Jimmy's son Ian, who transferred ownership to the Naismith International Basketball

On 10th December 2010, the rules sold for $4,338,500, at Sotheby’s, New York. This doubled the estimate of around $2m.

The rules were bought by David and Suzanne Booth “who hope to bring the rules to the University of Kansas”, where Naismith served as an academic.


On February 28th 2011 it was announced the Original Basketball Rules are to be exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City from March 5th 2011.

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