Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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

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

Pro coaches eventually took the infinite loop that passed as basketball’s fourth quarters to extremes. While NBA teams possessed greater parity than many college teams, coaches of inferior teams usually wanted to reduce the number of possessions in any game rather than let the “law of large numbers” shrink their hopes of victory. The game that supposedly forced the NBA to implement its twenty-four-second rule occurred on November 23, 1950. The Fort Wayne Pistons decided to stall against the hometown Minneapolis Lakers, who were the defending champions. The Pistons’ stall tactics worked, as they snapped the Lakers’ streak of twenty-nine consecutive wins at home and won their first game of the young 1950-51 season. The final score, 19-18, though, was an embarrassment to the league. Readers should note, however, that the NBA’s twenty-four-second shot clock did not debut until the 1954-55 season. Red Holzman, New York Knicks coach, recalled a game with six overtimes played in 1951. He thought that was the game that helped instigate the shot clock. According to him, whoever got the ball at the start of an overtime period held it for the last shot. “It was usually us, and I held the ball while the fans booed the shit out of us. Finally we lost 75-73.”

The evil twin of stalling was a roughhouse fouling in hopes of getting possession as the game waned. Between stalling, fouling, and marching to free-throw lines, NBA action languished. The owners, aghast at their coaches’ antics, initially tried a “gentleman’s agreement” against stalling and fouling. Even a contributing writer to a team program excoriated the owners’ inability to curb their coaches’ tactics, writing: “[The owners] called it the Honor System and they were proud of the maneuver that was to drown the complaints of the paying customers who didn’t like their basketball dragged out. It seems to me that this solution lasted about two weeks before the hammering and howling started all over again.” The writer’s scorn was justified. An earlier article in the New York Times described the league’s action taken in January 1954: “The NBA board of governors decided last night that putting its coaches on an ‘honor system’ was the best way to reduce excessive fouling. . . . Unable to agree on any of the numerous suggestions advanced to curb deliberate trading of fouls in the closing minutes of games, the board put upon the coaches the burden of controlling the foul situation.” The reporter ended with the laconic observation, “It will be interesting to see if this works.”

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