Amazing, Historic, Lowest Scoring NBA Game & the Birth
of the 24-Second Clock
To watch the high-scoring 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.
It happened November 22, 1950 - the yawner of all
yawners. The game pitted the Fort Wayne Piston (who became the Deroiters)
against the Minneapolis Lakers (who became the Show Time bunch), 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 (who one day would evolve into the Sacramento
Kings) played against the Indianapolis Olympians (evolved from the 1948
basketball Gold Medal winners) 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.
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
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.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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