A conversation with the co-director of There’s No Place Like Home.
by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
Sometimes there are those rare occurrences where life imitates art. The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark featured Indiana Jones on a quest to procure the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis, as Hitler believed it would make his army invincible. In There’s No Place Like Home, obsessive Kansas University fan Josh Swade’s mission is to acquire Dr. James Naismith’s original rules of basketball, which are up for auction at Sotheby’s. His goal? To bring the rules “home” to Lawrence, Kansas, where Naismith coached and taught for more than 40 years. Swade faces two obstacles: raising the $2 million minimum the rules will go for, and outbidding alumni from Duke University, who are rumored to have a similar plan to bring the rules to Durham, NC. But Swade isn’t an archaeologist armed with a whip, just a fan with a camera and his unbridled love for KU hoops.
The ESPN 30 For 30 film follows him on his quest, albeit a short one, to obtain the most important historical document in sports history, as he only has 26 days to accomplish it. Along the way he speaks with former KU basketball coaches Larry Brown and Roy Williams, as well as current head coach Bill Self, who reaffirm the significance of his mission. The film also provides a number of glimpses of how intense the Kansas native’s craziness is for KU. Coach Self nails it appropriately, saying, “Nobody gets anything done, unless they’re a little nutty, unless they have great energy and great enthusiasm.” The film climaxes with the Sotheby’s auction, a high stakes, nerve-racking scene that determines the destination of these seminal American artifacts.
SLAM: When you started this? Were there doubts—did you really think you could do this?
Josh Swade: You have to be crazy enough to think you can do it or else why would you do it? You’re talking about not a lot of time and a lot of money. When you look at it in the real world, it seems pretty hard and it seems like a dream. It definitely felt like, Hey, if we can pull this off it would be a miracle. But at the same time if I knew I could get someone with certainly more money than me, but felt the same way about Kansas that I felt, then we’d have a fighting chance. So I left on that journey at least thinking there was a chance.
SLAM: What made you want to make a film out of this journey?
JS: I’m a producer at a company called Maggievision Productions, which is a TV production company. We produce the ESPY’s, the NFL Honors award show, various commercials and we started some documentaries as well. The film is kind of a by-product of what I do. I work in a production company and my boss Maura Mandt says, “If you leave for a month, to try and do this you have to try and capture this somehow.”
SLAM: How did this become a 30 for 30 film?
JS: I think that when you look at some of their other films, this was maybe a chance instead of focusing on a team or a player or a coach, to look at a fan. I don’t think that’s really been done, at least this way. I think that made our film stand out. To be honest with you, I’m not sure on their end what made it a 30 For 30. When I found that out, it was like “Wow, this thing has gotten so out of control, this is crazy!”
SLAM: Speaking of crazy, being able to sit back and watch yourself, do you see how some people could perceive you as a crazed KU fan?
JS: Oh yeah, I really am. It’s certainly authentic. If you live somewhere and you lived there for a while, you treasure certain things about where you come from. For me, the thing I treasure is Kansas Basketball, almost more cause I’m not there anymore. You know our dads, or our friends or families and these teams, these programs, its just your identity is wrapped up in it. For me, I’m so proud of KU Basketball and the tradition of Kansas Basketball, so I tend to get a little carried away because it’s almost like I’m rooting for more than just basketball team, its like I’m rooting for my roots.
SLAM: If you’re the biggest KU fan, who is the second biggest?
JS: When Maura was telling Rob Riggle (2012 ESPY’s host) about the story, she said “There’s a guy who works for me that’s the biggest KU fan you’ve ever met.” Rob said, “No way, nobody is a bigger KU fan than me.” And now that I’ve got to know him, he’s a huge fan, but as far as in my inner circle? My brother Micah, him and I are sort of mano y mano.
SLAM: What’s the inspiration for the name of the film There’s No Place Like Home? Knowing that some could argue Springfield, Massachusetts could be the home for Naismith’s rules?
JS: To me, Springfield was like “the other place.” If you’re going to look at where the rules make sense its Springfield or Kansas. I think a lot of people, probably more than 50 percent would say Springfield, but here’s my reasoning. Springfield obviously is where Naismith invented the game, but he was only there for close to four years. Naismith came to Kansas and mentored Phog Allen and basketball really took shape there. Naismith is buried in Lawrence, he spent 41 years in Lawrence, Kansas. A lot of people refer to Kansas as the home of college basketball, I think that’s very appropriate. When you think about how long James Naismith was in Kansas, what Kansas means to basketball, what Allen Fieldhouse on Naismith drive means to basketball. To me Kansas makes a lot more sense and obviously that’s a biased opinion
SLAM: What was it like in that room when the auction was taking place?
JS: Bill Bradley, (basketball Hall of Famer and former politician) was in the room with us because he’s a friend of David Booth. So you’re talking about some pretty heavy hitters there and then you got me. Most people would think, “Josh try and compose yourself, you should probably sit down, considering your company, try and act normal.” I could not sit down, my heart… I thought it would just burst out of my chest.
There’s No Place Like Home airs on ESPN on October 16th.