Five ... he dribbles. Four ... he sees an open lane. Three ... he spots up. Two ... he shoots. One ... he scores. Whether we're shooting baskets in an empty gymnasium against an...
Five … he dribbles.
Four … he sees an open lane.
Three … he spots up.
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Two … he shoots.
One … he scores.
Whether we’re shooting baskets in an empty gymnasium against an imaginary defender or watching a game at home or in a crowded arena, we’ve all done it at one time or another.
We’ve rushed to beat the clock and sink the winning shot as the clock ticked toward zero or watched in amazement as others accomplished the buzzer-beating feat.
We’ve all felt the increased excitement created by a countdown. The palms get sweaty. A nervous sense of electricity shoots through your body. And the heart races.
There’s something about a deadline, especially in sports, that often pushes a person into greatness never before imagined.
Danny Biasone knew this, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
The 24-second shot clock, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this season, was his creation and his lasting gift, which makes us always mindful that time is ticking away.
Biasone, a founding member of the NBA, Hall of Famer and owner of the Syracuse Nationals, saved the NBA from itself and in doing so, he gave us a game where big men like George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal could dominate.
He created a time-restricted confine that forced coaches and players to become offensively creative and led to the pinball-like scores of the 1970s and the brilliance of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan.
Imagine a game in which players had no impetus to score, where teams could hold the ball for as long as they wanted, and you would be looking at the NBA of the late 1940s and early ’50s.
A game built for speed, and one that later defied gravity, had turned stagnant and stale until Biasone came along.
Before the triangle offense, there was the four-corners offense, a gimmicky stall-ball ploy used late in games by teams that held the lead. They would position a player in each corner of the court and instruct their point guard to dribble endlessly until the clock ran down.
The opposing team’s only real option was to foul to prolong the game, which turned an up-and-down affair into a set-shot shooting contest.
In the days before the shot clock, the Fort Wayne Pistons defeated the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18 in the lowest-scoring game in league history. The teams combined for four fourth-quarter points.
Remember those grainy archived images of Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy dribbling and dribbling and dribbling at the end of many of those Celtics victories?
All you really need to know about the style of play back then is that Cousy once scored 50 points in a 1953 playoff game against the Nationals. Thirty came from the free-throw line.
That was the old NBA, where it became increasingly difficult to market free throws to a skeptical fan base.
Professional basketball, which was still in its infancy, was creeping toward a slow death. Most games were decided in the third quarter. A fourth-quarter comeback was as a rare as a 100-point game.
But after years of lobbying, Biasone convinced a group of team owners and the governing board of the fledgling league to sit in the bleachers at Vocational High School in downtown Syracuse and watch a 20-minute exhibition that featured the 24-second clock.
The owners and board members liked what they saw on that day, Aug. 10, 1954, and the professional game has never been the same.
“There wasn’t really a clock,” Dolph Schayes told The Associated Press on the golden anniversary of that legendary scrimmage. “There was a guy on the sideline keeping it with his watch and yelling out the time. Twenty. Ten. Five, four, three.”
The 76-year-old Hall of Fame center played in the historic scrimmage that was witnessed by Red Auerbach, Ned Irish, Eddie Gottlieb and Clair Bee.
“None of us at the time realized the significance of it,” Schayes said. “Arguably, it can be said it’s been the most important rule change in the history of the game.”
During the 1954-55 season, the 24-second shot clock made its NBA debut. According to league records, scoring increased that first year from 79.5 points per game to 93.1.
Several years later, college basketball adopted a shot clock, using a 35-second version.
The professional game became more marketable because of the increased scoring, and since Biasone’s invention, someone always has seemed to have a plan in which they can make the game better.
A tweak here. A little tinkering there.
Twenty-five years ago, the league introduced the three-point line, and much like the shot clock, the three-ball added excitement.
The NBA has no plans this season to mark either anniversary, which is a mistake.
Still, the league can pay homage to its past by remembering those revolutionary inventions at a time when the game’s architects are once again trying to figure out how to increase scoring and raise the excitement level.
They’ve chosen more tweaking and instructed officials to emphasize the hand-checking rule on the perimeter. They’re considering using the three-pointer only in the final minutes of each half, and that, too, would be a mistake.
Tinkering with the rules is one thing. A bold new initiative is quite another.
Say for instance, abolishing illegal defenses altogether.
Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown argued the point best when he said: “I really liked the game the way it was played years ago. Allow any defense you want. If we got all the great players in the world and you want to double-team a great player, that will open up shots.
“They can walk Barry Bonds and they can double-team Randy Moss. I don’t know why it’s a problem in our league that we’re afraid of star players being double-teamed. Star players will find a way to make their teammates better.”
But will the league find a way to make the game better like it did 50 years ago?
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org