Lowest Scoring & Longest Lasting NBA Games
To watch the high-scoring and clock controlled action
in the National Basketball Association today, it is hard to believe the
way things once were. But back in the early years of the league, games
were yawning affairs or stalling contests.
The 1950-1951 season saw the NBA go from an unwieldy
17-team league to 11 teams in a two-division setup. It was also a season
that included the lowest-scoring game in NBA history.
Back on November 22, 1950 - the yawner of all yawners
took place. The game pitted Fort Wayne against Minneapolis, and was
played on the home court of the Lakers, who enjoyed a great home
advantage. Their court was shorter and narrower than normal size. Their
team was big, bulky and slow - all of which were perfectly suited for a
In the game, the two teams combined for just 31 shots.
When it was over, Ft. Wayne had creaked out a 19-18 triumph in a painful
and boring example of how dull a stalling contest could be. The game
started serious talk throughout the NBA about ways to prevent those
kinds of contests from taking place.
Then on January 6, 1951, a very cold night in
Rochester, the Royals played against the Indianapolis Olympians in what
has gone down as the longest game in the annals of the NBA.
The game lasted a grand total of 78 minutes and
included six overtimes. Some of the loyal Rochester fans booed, and
hundreds of others walked out of the old Edgerton Park Arena. They just
couldn't abide the slow-down stalling tactics of both teams.
In the half-dozen overtimes, just 23 shots were taken.
At the start of each overtime, the team that earned the tip just held on
to the ball for one last shot. Players just stood around gaping and
staring at each other. One player dribbled or held the ball and looked
around hoping to make the smart pass for a high percentage shot.
Indianapolis finally won the game, 75-73.
The great Coach Red Holzman told me in the late 1980s
when I was writing his autobiography, "I played 76 of the 78 minutes in
that opus. And although I was in great shape, my tail was dragging when
the historic marathon was over". That game and the bore that was the
19-18 contest made players and coaches see the need and the urgency to
speed up the game. It was these two games, and others like them, that
set the stage for the creation of the 24-second clock - and the
salvation of the NBA.
The clock was first used in the 1954-1955 season, and
scoring jumped an average of 15 points a game as a result. The new NBA
era was underway.
As a post-script to all of this, Holzman told me that
back in 1951, after the 19-18 game, he got the idea for a shot clock and
told some of the owners about it. They dismissed him as "a young
squirt." But someone must have been listening.
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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