Ian runs his foundation on these bake-sale crumbs. These aren't circumstances that please Ian, who on a good day is disappointed and on a bad day disgusted that so few of basketball's plutocrats, individual or institutional, have responded to his appeals for funds. (The NBA, the NCAA, FIBA and the University of Kansas are exceptions he's careful to note.) "I'm so tired of the tin-cup syndrome," he says. "I'm about ready to invest in a pair of those industrial knee pads, the ones Sheetrockers wear. Whip 'em out and strap 'em on when I go in asking for money."
During an adulthood dedicated mostly to the Lone Star commercial arts of construction, oil and ranching, Ian has been a millionaire. But he has also lost fortunes several times over, and he hasn't been flush since 1989, when a heart attack laid him up for several years. Today he lives in suburban Chicago with his fianc�e, Ren�e DiGiulio, and her father, in the home in which she grew up. She serves as president of the foundation, which shares a suite of offices with her travel agency. Together they make regular mercy missions to orphanages in the Caribbean, bringing basketballs and clothing. It's a cause to which Ian is particularly attached, for Doc Naismith himself had been orphaned at nine.
Doc Naismith also knew hard times. TIME once described the father of basketball as "shrewd enough to invent the game...[but] not shrewd enough to exploit it." In 1934 he and Maude had to move out of their house in Lawrence after a lender foreclosed on it, and two years later he went to Berlin, to see basketball's debut at the Olympics, only because the National Association of Basketball Coaches took up a collection at college and high school games nationwide to buy him transatlantic passage. "My pay has not been in dollars," Naismith wrote in the year of his death, "but in satisfaction of giving something to the world that is a benefit to masses of people."
If leveraging the rules for cash seems at odds with that statement, Ian submits that the game is in too sorry a state not to do so. "The money will go into safe investments to perpetuate our work," he says. "Sometimes I look at a picture of my grandfather and say, 'You know what, you got me into a world of s—-.' Why not sell the rules and go to Tahiti? Nobody's going to miss them. But then you think of a nine-year-old orphan and what he did for the world—we're talking the international ripple effect of basketball, down to the [revenue generated by] nachos sold in the arenas—and you realize it's your responsibility.
"I always talk about the family" Ian says. "But truthfully, it's just me."
Today the original rules look every bit their age: 111 years. Their two sheafs have turned a yellowish brown, the creases are soiled, and a tear in the upper lefthand corner of page 1 has been repaired with tape. Someone—probably Doc Naismith himself, upon realizing the omission Miss Lyons had made in haste—handwrote an addition to rule No. 8 above a caret: "into the basket" There's a felicity to the way those three words jump, in blue fountain pen, off the earth-tone page, for if the game were distilled to a single prepositional phrase, that would be it. "If I'm a collector of basketball memorabilia, this is the mother ship," says Stypeck.
Stypeck arrived at the $5 million figure by taking into account the document's promotional potential. "If I were David Stern or the owner of the New York Knicks, I'd buy it and tour it and take a tax deduction as a business expense." Stypeck imagines a "Play by the Rules" campaign to promote sportsmanship, in which the document visits each NBA arena, with a preliminary game, played under the original rules, featuring handlebar mustaches and peach baskets.
But last year Ian Naismith reached an agreement with the Smithsonian. If its fund-raisers could find someone to pony up $5 million, the rules would join such artifacts as the dress Billie Jean King wore when she defeated Bobby Riggs, and Muhammad Ali's gloves and robe from the Rumble in the Jungle. The Smithsonian is preparing a decadelong exhibit on American popular culture, and the rules would be a gemstone of such a show.
Alas, the efforts of John McDonagh, the Smithsonian fund-raiser who's trying to match the rules with a sugar daddy, have so far gone for naught. "You try to find someone with a soft spot for basketball," McDonagh says. "But in sports and entertainment, even with those galactic salaries, money is very closely managed and guarded."
The original understanding was for the Smithsonian to have six months to scare up the money, but after all fund-raising stalled in the wake of Sept. 11, Ian agreed to extend that period of exclusivity. "Here's an organization that has wanted the rules since the '30s," he says. "This document is part of American history. But if the Smithsonian can't find a donor, an auction may still happen, though we don't really want them in a private collection, like a set of antlers on the wall."