Naismith's sport resulted in 'basket ball fever'

The Capital-Journal

With a soccer ball clutched in his hands, Dr. James Naismith perched about seven feet from two stacked wooden peach baskets.

His goal was to develop a game combining the rules of football and baseball -- a game that required skill, rather than strength. The concept:

Using a ball and two baskets, the team that finished the game with the most goals was declared the winner.

As this new sport swept the Kansas City area, the University of Kansas caught "basket ball" fever. Naismith, the man credited with inventing the game, became the first person to coach the Jayhawks in 1898. He had developed the 13 original rules of basketball seven years earlier in Springfield, Mass.

For his efforts, he earned $1,300 a year as head coach.

The game quickly gained popularity. An 1896 article from the Lawrence Journal chronicled the game's humble beginnings on the east coast to its arrival at KU.

"There is talk of organizing a basket ball team at Kansas University and challenging teams in Kansas City and other places where the game has become popular. A great many of the members of the faculty and students of the university are playing the game now and it promises to become even more popular."

With Naismith at the helm, schedules often pitted the Jayhawks against area YMCA organizations. The team lost its first game to the Kansas City YMCA 5-16, but rebounded with a resounding 31-6 victory in its second competition versus the Topeka YMCA.

As the team stepped up the playing field, dropping the YMCA for the likes of Duke and North Carolina, few teams since have dominated the college basketball landscape like KU.

The Jayhawks are the third winningest program in college basketball and no other program has delivered more basketball Olympians or Hall of Fame members than KU.

Years of dominance has etched the team a distinct advantage on its home turf.

Hoch Auditorium became home to Jayhawk basketball when the team abandoned old Robinson Gymnasium. The Hawks faltered in the subsequent two seasons following their move in 1927, posting a 12-24 record. But the team quickly harnessed momentum in the new facility.

Beginning in 1930, KU earned the Big Six Conference championship title in 11 of 13 years. The Jayhawks were deemed a nearly unstoppable force, but in 1955, a facility opened that damaged the prospects of nearly any opponent leaving Lawrence with a victory.

Allen Fieldhouse was dedicated on March 1, 1955, when KU posted a 77-66 victory over Kansas State University. KU since has won 83 percent of its contests in the facility.

The fieldhouse is the Big 12's largest basketball facility and repeatedly is given the distinction as the best place in the country to watch college basketball. Since the 1964-65 season, more than 5 million KU faithful have heard the Rock Chalk chant roll through Allen Fieldhouse.

"Right in that building is the best place to play and coach college basketball," head coach Roy Williams has said. "I truly believe that."

Expansion of the facility in recent years has allowed more Jayhawk fans to witness the team's advantage in Lawrence. Capacity was 15,200 until the 1986-87 season, when 600 seats were added. Eight years later, another 500 seats brought the capacity to its current 16,300.

Interest in Jayhawk basketball roused KU officials to allow crowds greater than capacity to watch the team -- a practice that was banned in the mid-1980s. The largest crowd ever to witness the Hawks in action came when 17,228 fans saw KU defeat intra-state rival Kansas State during the dedication of Allen Fieldhouse.

Nineteen years later, 17,200 fans -- the facility's second largest crowd -- witnessed KU during another K-State defeat.

During 45 years of play, 12 KU teams have finished the season without posting a single loss in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks also have finished with more points on the board in 90 percent of their contests in the Roy Williams era.

Despite the success of the team's recent coaches, the man who invented the game remains the lone coach to post a losing record during his tenure at KU.

Naismith, who led the Jayhawks for nine years, died in 1939. He is buried in Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery, about two miles from the facility that houses one of the nation's toughest and winningest teams.

A team he helped create.