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Basketball 'bible' auction sets sports memorabilia record

By Richard Roth and Whitney Hurst , CNN
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Original hoop rules on auction block
  • NEW: Winning bidders want to donate document to University of Kansas
  • Naismith coached at Kansas and is buried there
  • Winner pays more than $4 million for original rules of basketball
  • There initially were just 13 rules for the game

New York (CNN) -- The first 13 rules of basketball sold Friday for more than $4 million, setting a record for the highest sales price for sports memorabilia, according to Sotheby's, which conducted the auction.

The auction house had estimated that Dr. James Naismith's two-page "Founding Rules of Basketball" would bring less than half the $4,338,500 that David and Suzanne Booth bid for the 119-year-old document.

"This is the birth certificate. It started here," said Selby Kiffer, Sotheby's vice president for manuscripts and books department.

Naismith, a Canadian physical education instructor working at a New England YMCA, created the game of "Basket Ball" so students could play a sport indoors in winter. Naismith had no idea his invention would catch on so rapidly after the YMCA movement introduced it on an international level.

But the game has changed considerably since Naismith's days.

Naismith wanted the game to have no physical contact between players and to encourage sportsmanship. How far it's come: After a recent pickup game, President Barack Obama received 12 stitches on his lip, proving that the contemporary game of basketball is tougher than it was in 1891.

The first game was played with nine players on each team and a soccer ball they lobbed into peach baskets secured about 10 feet off the floor on either end of a gymnasium. Players could only pass the ball, no dribbling. A foul was called for carrying the ball, holding it against the body or hitting it with a fist or for any physical contact with an opposing player. And contact with an opposing player with "evident intent to injure the person" resulted in the offending player being "disqualified" for the rest of the game, with no substitution.

The Booths hope to bring Naismith's rules to the University of Kansas, inspired, they said, by lifelong Jayhawk basketball fan Josh Swade and his campaign to return the rules the university, where Naismith spent the last 41 years of his life and is buried.

Original hoop rules on auction block

David Booth, a billionaire who is chairman and co-CEO of a Texas mutual fund company, said the purchase is a "challenge to the University of Kansas."

"As soon as they create a venue to house it and persuade us that they will maintain it, we will give them the papers," said Booth, who has an undergraduate degree from the school. "In the meantime, we will keep them in a vault."

Booth, who said college basketball is his favorite sport, said the $4 million-plus he is spending for the rules is "absolutely worth it."

"It is an incredibly important document," he said. "I am donating it because it is the right thing to do."

Naismith "invented the game, and so these papers should be there," he said. "I hope there is enough support at KU that they really want it."

Naismith came to Kansas in 1898 after earning a medical degree in Colorado. He coached the first Kansas basketball teams and later became the school's athletic director. He coached the legendary Forrest "Phog" Allen, who succeeded Naismith as Kansas coach in 1920, remaining at the helm through 36 years and three national championships. At Kansas, Allen, in turn, coached other legendary basketballers: Dean Smith, head coach at the University of North Carolina for 36 years, and Adolph Rupp, head coach at the University of Kentucky for 42 years.

Ironically, Naismith is the only Kansas basketball coach to compile a losing record.

After Naismith's death in 1939, the family held onto the 13 rules of the game in a safe deposit box at various locations. In that time, basketball has become one of the biggest businesses in sports. Players earn millions of dollars in salaries.

"The greed factor is getting quite strong. People are making an awful lot of money in the game and have a tendency to lose, in our opinion, the values," said Ian Naismith, the founder's youngest grandson.

The family has always been involved in the game of basketball, but after many offers, it is "time to move forward," said Naismith, now living outside Chicago.

CNN invited Sotheby's to bring the rules Thursday to New York's Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks were preparing to take on the Charlotte Bobcats.

"They're cool," exclaimed Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.

"It's a game that's been awfully good to me and a lot of other people. So the rules are special," said former Knicks coach Larry Brown, now with the Bobcats.

The proceeds from the auction will go to the James Naismith International Basketball Foundation. The humanitarian foundation promotes Naismith's legacy of encouraging good sportsmanship, positive role models, higher education and services for underprivileged children.

CNN's Lejla Radoncic contributed to this report.