Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kansas City Star: Basketball Man is "great"

March 18, 2007

'Basketball Man'
a great tribute
They were going to make honest partners of each other, Ian Naismith and Renee DiGiulio. Tie the knot this summer at the annual camp for underprivileged children in the Caribbean they’ve helped through the Naismith International Basketball Foundation.

This would be after they’d toured the country promoting “Basketball Man,” the DVD documentary about Ian’s grandfather, James, the game’s inventor.

“We had big plans,” Naismith said.

Until cancer claimed DiGiulio in late February.

So the wedding was pushed ahead. With Renee in her Chicago hospital bed, Ian took her hand and said “I do.” Eleven days later, she died Renee DiGiulio-Naismith.

“I couldn’t be a prouder husband,” Naismith said. “We were good for each other in so many ways. She was so much a part of everything I do.”

Including “Basketball Man,” a wonderful tribute to James Naismith. I missed the first half of Ohio State’s escape act of Xavier on Saturday watching the production, and that featured a wide range of basketball personalities, from Steve Nash to Pat Summitt to David Stern and Bob Cousy.

They all spoke from the heart about basketball, as did Red Auerbach, whose final interview was with “Basketball Man” producers.

John McLendon, whose list of firsts as a black basketball coach will soon be the subject of a biography by Kansas Citian Milton Katz, speaks about one of his lasts — he was among Naismith’s final students to pass through Kansas’ physical education program.

There’s John Wooden, Michael Jordan, Sonny Hill, Bill Self, Jerry Colangelo, Oscar Robertson, Carmelo Anthony telling their stories.

Ian Naismith narrates with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Wolff serving as something of a copilot, having traveled the world to report on Naismith’s invention.

Naismith’s final 41 years at Kansas are fully explored, from his friendship and conflict with legendary coach Phog Allen — Naismith said basketball was to be played not coached, and Allen insisted otherwise — to his days as a traveling preacher to rural churches.

“There’s so much story to tell, and it really has never been told, not completely,” Ian Naismith said.

The Kansas City flavor includes interviews with former Kings Scott Wedman and Sam Lacey, along with former KU great Bud Stallworth. Did you know former Royals pitcher Al Fitzmorris had pipes? He composed and performs the film’s theme song, “One in a Million.” KC guys Keith Zimmerman and Dee Pack are the executive producers.

“We’ve always said in our family that basketball was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but it was reared in Kansas,” Ian Naismith said.

The documentary, which made its debut at the NBA All-Star Game, took more than a year to make, but it’s been in the works for more than a decade. About then Ian Naismith called to get the word out. The Latrell Sprewell choking his coach incident turned his stomach, and Naismith could no longer tolerate the ugliness.

That’s when the foundation was started. In the early years, Naismith sponsored awards, recognized sportsmanship acts and traveled to deliver the message to whoever wanted to hear it. College teams shaking hands en masse after the national anthem has its roots in Naismith’s sportsmanship quest.

Two weeks ago, Naismith stopped in town to meet and greet friends and talk about the project. But Renee’s funeral was fresh in his heart. He dropped to his knees and talked to his wife. Only a couple of weeks earlier, they sat in the hospital room and watched “Basketball Man” together.

“I hope kids see this,” Ian Naismith said. “It’s about teammate, respect, dignity, all the things my grandfather stood for and wanted his game to be about.”

We chatted for a while. Naismith wanted to know about Texas sensation Kevin Durant, and smiled when told that his coach, Rick Barnes, said Durant’s best quality is his work ethic.

“My grandfather,” Naismith said, “would have liked that.”

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