Every once in a long while, an idea comes along that completely revolutionizes the subject or environment it is placed in. Some examples in sports would be the forward pass in football, hitting for home runs in baseball, and the Fosbury Flop in the high jump event.
In basketball, it is the shot clock.
When James Naismith first invented the game of basket ball by nailing a peach basket to the rafter inside a local Y.M.C.A. building, it was a crudely simple game, intended merely as an indoor sporting option. In its initial stages, there were very few rules, no dribbling, and every successful basket had to be retrieved from the basket by a guy on a ladder!
Basketball has certainly come a long way, and over the course of more than a hundred years, has evolved into an international phenomenon, a multi-billion dollar industry, and among the world’s most popular sports. Its success is largely due to the advent of the shot clock.
Even when basketball was expanding into competitive leagues and popularizing across the U.S., it still had some notable flaws as a spectator sport. One of these problems was the hold strategy, where a team would gain a lead, then simply hold the ball, or pass it between teammates, rather than try to score. After all, why risk a missed shot that the opponent could retrieve, when all you had to do was hold the lead and win the game?
The result was long games with very low scores, more akin to sports such as baseball or soccer. Even when the National Basketball Associated began with professional teams, fans would buy tickets only to occasionally find the games to be absurdly boring as certain clubs adopted the hold tactic.
Then Danny Biasone, who owned the Syracuse Nationals at the time, started experimenting with a 24-second limit system in 1954 in conjunction with coach Howard Hobson. At first, they used the 24-second shot clock just for the benefit of their own team; in their drills, they would limit each practice squad team to 24-second possessions. They figured what good is it to hold full practice team sessions if even the practice squads are just going to hold the ball the whole time?
After discovering that the shot clock was remarkably effective in promoting a more efficient, productive, and exciting play session, he quickly convinced the NBA to officially adopt it for its next season. It did, and the rest of history: Games became more exciting, more fans packed the seats, and eventually the league was marketable on national television and expanded to unforeseen levels.
It is difficult to imagine the game of basketball persisting all of these years without the shot clock, but had it never been invented, we may still see the game as incredibly boring today. Fortunately, we now have an exciting game with lots of scoring open to almost everyone’s enjoyment.