Archive for Tuesday, January 2, 1996


January 2, 1996


Jim Naismith, the grandson of the creator of basketball, pays Allen Fieldhouse a visit.

For someone who's not a particularly avid basketball fan, Jim Naismith talks a lot about the sport.

He has no choice, really. Being the namesake grandson of the man who invented basketball guarantees plenty of roundball talk.

"When we were driving up here, we called the Ramada Inn in Emporia, and the first thing the lady said was, 'Do you have anything to do with Kansas basketball?'" said Naismith, who along with his family is visiting Lawrence this week.

As any Kansas University basketball fan knows, Naismith's grandfather, Dr. James A. Naismith, had everything to do with Kansas basketball. Dr. Naismith invented the sport in 1891 and later became Kansas' first basketball coach, ironically finishing his career as KU's only coach with a losing record.

Tonight, Naismith's memory will come alive when Jim Naismith and other family members are introduced at halftime of the KU-Cornell game.

If you think all of Mr. Basketball's offspring are dyed-in-the-wool Jayhawks, you're in for a surprise. The congenial Portland, Tex., engineer readily admits he's not a rabid fan of the sport, and -- get ready, Jayhawk fans -- he graduated from Cornell.

His allegiance to Cornell is one of the reasons he and his wife, Beverly, decided to visit, along with their daughter, Margaret Jonker, and her husband, Randy. The visit was arranged primarily by Margaret Jonker, who wanted to spend some time with her parents and learn more about her famous great-grandfather.

Jim Naismith was 3 years old when Dr. Naismith died in 1939. He has no personal memories of his grandfather and for years knew little about Dr. Naismith's celebrity status "because our family really said very little about it."

In 1961, that began to change. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Dr. Naismith on what would have been his 100th birthday.

"That caused a flurry of interest in the history of the game," Jim Naismith said. "And of course in 1991, there was a lot of activity then."

That year marked the 100th anniversary of the invention that made Dr. Naismith one of Lawrence's most prominent historical figures.

Jim Naismith, who has never lived in Lawrence but has visited several times, said he had never lost the fascination of seeing his family name on street signs, buildings and other public places in Lawrence.

"It's interesting, particularly when your name is not a common name and you're not used to seeing it at all," he said.

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