More than a Game:
Basketball and Community Spirit
From its introduction, basketball has had a significant influence in our community, shaping attitudes, education, and identity. Brought to the University of Kansas by James Naismith in 1898, basketball gained tremendous popularity both on campus and off. Along with KU’s well-known program, basketball thrived at Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Eudora and Lawrence High Schools, Lawrence Business College, Quincy School, and Y.M.C.A programs across the county.
James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, and Forrest "Phog" Allen, the "father of basketball coaching," differed in their views of basketball. To Naismith, basketball was primarily a form of exercise and a test of athletic skill. Allen promoted the development of rules and coaching techniques that created the competitive sport we now know and established a new Jayhawk cause—victory for KU. Support for the team brought the community together and created a sense of identity. Today, Lawrence’s Jayhawk spirit is embodied in basketball.
While influenced by practices of segregation and racial discrimination in the early 1900s, basketball also created an occasion to break down racial barriers. African American student athlete John McClendon, excluded from KU’s all-white varsity basketball team in the 1930s, successfully challenged the university to change policies of racial separation. Following the desegregation of KU basketball in 1950, the presence of renowned player Wilt Chamberlain on the team and in the community fostered racial tolerance. The community’s love of basketball and support for their team began to temper prejudices.
For over a century, basketball has helped shape life in Douglas County. A source of pride and a force for social change, our favorite hometown sport is more than just a game.
This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation
Additional support provided by:
Members of the Douglas County Historical Society