The Game Has Changed

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As a long time basketball enthusiast, I can tell you the game has changed a whole lot since I was growing up.

I’m not talking about the length of the shorts, although that has certainly changed as well, but the way the game is played. It used to be an “outside-in,” game, and now it’s just the opposite.

When I was growing up the idea was to get the ball as close to the basket as possible to try and score. The bigger guys had a big advantage, and obviously they still do. However, with that in mind, the game has come around to the little guys with the advent of the three-point line.

And that reminds me of a funny line from Abe Lemons, the former NCAA basketball coach who gained fame at Pan American University and the University of Texas. He was a guest speaker at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club years ago and he was a funny guy. Here was his take on the little guy in college basketball.

“They say you should raise the basket to 12 feet to help the little guy,” said Lemons. “That won’t help, because the big guys will still be closer to the basket. If you want to help the little guy drill a hole in the floor and count three points for putting the ball in the hole. Then you’d have all these little Japanese guys driving around campus in big fancy cars.”

And one more Abe Lemons line from that night, on coaching at Pan Am, which was on the Mexican border. This still has meaning today.

“We didn’t always have a good basketball team at Pan Am but we always had a heck of a swim team,” he said. “Only problem was, our swimmers could only swim north.”

Getting back to putting the little guy in the game, there was never a bigger rule change for the little guys than when the three point line was instituted. Back in the ‘70s, the old American Basketball Association not only gave us Julius Erving and a variety of stars, it was somewhat instrumental in changing today’s game. The ABA had the first three point line I can remember and it was interesting to watch.

So interesting, in fact, that after the merger the NBA adopted a three-point line in 1979. They didn’t go for the red, white and blue ball, but they could see how the extra point for the long shot spread the floor and made it a more wide-open game.

Some college conferences put in the line in coming years, and in 1986 the NCAA universally implemented the three-point line. A year later it became a rule in high school spots.

I suspect many of our readers don’t even remember basketball before the three-point line. With that in mind, I can remember when it was illegal to dunk in a high school or college game, but that’s a story for a another day.

Today’s game is much different than the one I grew up with, when big men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would post up every time down the floor. Now, the big men post up and instead of shooting a sweet little sky hook, they first look for someone open on the perimeter to get that extra point.

When the three-point line first came into being, the game didn’t change drastically right away.  The long shot was still considered somewhat of a novelty, and a “bad shot” as opposed to something around the hoop.

However, as kids grew up watching their heroes and practicing the longer shots, it not only became more acceptable to coaches, but preferable. You math scholars figure it out. If you shoot 33 percent on threes it’s the same thing as shooting 50 percent on twos. Four-for-12 on threes is 12 points.  Six for 12 on twos. . .12 points.

Now, if teams don’t have some good three-point shooters, they’re not going to win. Teams like the Celtics, once the ultimate in passing until they got a “good” shot, are jacking up threes like crazy, and winning. It’s a different game.

And here’s something interesting to consider. The Harlem Globetrotters will be coming to the Berglund Center in Roanoke on March 23rd. This year, for the first time, they’ll be playing the game with a “four-point” line.

The NBA line is 23 feet, nine inches at the top of the key, slightly shorter in the corners. The Globetrotters “four-point” line will be 30 feet at the top of the key. Or course, you can’t shoot it from the corner because the court isn’t wide enough.

It’s a gimmick, indeed, but I can remember back in the ‘70s they were calling the old ABA three-point line a gimmick, like the red, white and blue ball. Unless you’re one of the Globetrotters a 30 foot shot, open or not, is just a “bad shot.”

At least for now.