Watching NBA high flyers, three point shooters, is a
bit like watching pinball machine action in a game controlled by a
And all of this is a far cry from the way things once
were. Back in the early years of the league, many 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 the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (who became
the Detroit Pistons) against the Minneapolis Lakers (who became the Los
Angeles Lakers). The game was played on the home court of the Lakers,
who enjoyed a great home field 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 slowdown game.
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, New York, the Royals played against the Indianapolis
Olympians in what has gone down as the longest game in the annals of the
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. But let’s give credit now
where credit is due.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER: Nominated for the Pen Center Awards
in the literary sports writing category, Harvey
Frommer’s WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME: REMEMBERING THE
FIRST SUPER BOWL tells the fascinating story of the
ground-breaking AFL–NFL World Championship Football game
January 15, 1967: Packers vs. Chiefs. Book features oral
history from many who were there and archival
photographs & drawings. (Bookings in progress)
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
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,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Other Frommer sports related articles can be
Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth
College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage
in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
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