Tuesday, February 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (David George Surdam's The Rise of the National Basketball Association, excerpt nine)

from The Rise of the National Basketball Association by David George Surdam:

The owners voted to widen the free-throw lane for the 1951-52 season. Observers attributed the change to a “stop Mikan” sentiment. Mikan responded, “It’s the best thing that’s happened to basketball since the elimination of the center jump.” Though Mikan professed to be pleased with the wider free-throw lane, his statistics fell between 1950-51 and 1951-52. In the latter season he scored 4.6 fewer points per game and hit only 38.5 percent of his shots compared with 42.8 percent the season before. He also grabbed fewer rebounds. Whether his statistical deterioration was a result of the rule change is unclear. His 1950-51 season may have simply been his peak. Fellow centers Ed Macauley and George Ratkovicz saw some declines in their statistics, too, although Nat Clifton, Larry Foust, and Don Otten had improvements. In any event, Mikan’s Lakers regained the league championship with the rule change.

Some people advocated neutralizing the taller players’ advantage by raising the baskets, a somewhat illogical suggestion. There was one official NBA game played with twelve-foot baskets; the Minneapolis Lakers and Milwaukee Hawks battled to a 65-63 score on March 7, 1954. The Lakers reportedly had difficulty hitting the basket, and layups were an adventure. Center Clyde Lovellette laconically noted, “He [the tall player] was still closer to the basket than the six-foot guy.” This game also featured an experiment whereby free throws in the first and third quarters were shot at the end of those quarters.

The NBA was not unique in grappling with the issue of dominant big men. Some international basketball officials called for an informal agreement to limit players to a maximum height of 6’5”. The international basketball community naturally failed to enact such an agreement. Longtime pro player Al Cervi suggested a quota on “big men.” Each team could have two men 6’6” or taller on the court. “There’d be a lot more action, because the little man is faster, you’ll have a faster game, and there’d be more play-making.” One can only imagine Cervi’s chagrin when giant Wilt Chamberlain would rewrite the record books. Thus, while fans may have professed to dislike big men’s dominance, the league did little to stop them.

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