By Neil Beldock
(This is the 4th installment in a continuing series about the ABA.)
Retrospectively speaking, no single element of basketball has done more to change the way the game is currently played, change the current approach to the game, the structure of the game, and the fundamentals of the game than the 3-point shot.
And although the 3-point shot was utilized and tested in prior years, it was the ABA’s implementation of the 3-point shot which would ultimately insert the 3-point shot as a staple of major professional basketball.
For many, many years the basic fundamental concept and approach to basketball was to get the ball as close to the basket as possible from where the likelihood of a shot being made was greatest.
But as time went on and analytics began to play a bigger role in the structure of the game, the 3-point shot became the single most important element of the game. Nothing evidences this more than how today’s fast break is run.
When running a fast break it used to be common practice to get the ball to the middle of the court from where the ball would be dribbled to the foul line with two players “filling the lanes” to the left and right in order to receive a pass for a lay-up…….That was before the 3-point shot became the most important play in basketball.
Now, when a fast break is run players often run to a spot behind the 3-point line for an open 3-point shot; Basketball purists of the past spin in their graves at this.
But analytics basically proved that shooting 33% from the 3-point line and gaining an extra point is more valuable than shooting 50% on 2-point shots. Teams now live and die with the 3-point shot.
And it all began in the ABA. The ABA revolutionized the game and was ahead of it’s time in so many ways, but none more than adopting the 3-point shot as a staple of it’s game.
Said ABA founder Dennis Murphy: “Unlike the red, white and blue ball which was George Mikan’s idea and really came to the league late in the development process, the 3-point play was going to be a part of our league from the beginning. Everybody involved in putting together the ABA liked the idea. The 3-point shot was exactly what our league was supposed to be about; something a little wild, a little out of the ordinary basketball they played in the NBA.”.
The 3-point shot not only proved to be an exciting element of the ABA game, but revolutionized how the game was to be played and coached.
Said former NBA and ABA coach Alex Hannum: “In the NBA we just clogged up the middle and dared teams to shoot from the outside. But the 3-point play really did open up the middle. A guy starts hitting jumpers for 3 points instead of 2 and the coach has to change his thinking, and his defense. No other rule made the game more wide open and more fun to watch.”.
Said former NBA & ABA coach and current NBA broadcaster Hubie Brown: “All your life you’ve been trained that a basket is worth 2 points until the ABA made the 3-point shot popular. (As a coach) you have to tell your players to remember who the shooters are and when those guys are 25 feet from the basket, get in their jocks and guard them. Don’t give them the 25 footer, which is something players had been conditioned to do all their lives. And as a coach, if you have a shooter with range, you have to give him the freedom to take the 25-footer, which is a philosophy that goes against what you learned as a young coach, namely pound the ball inside. You have to adjust. The 3-point play forced ABA coaches to be more creative.”.
Said former ABA player Charlie Williams: “The 3-point shot helped make our league special.”.
Said Commissioner George Mikan: “We called it the home run because the 3-pointer was exactly that. It brought the fans out of their seats.”.
The players from the ABA who are the all-time 3-point leaders and helped revolutionize basketball by making the 3-point shot a part of their arsenal include Louie Dampier (who is the all-time ABA 3-point leader) and Darel Carrier from the Kentucky Colonels, Bill Keller and Roger Brown from the Indiana Pacers, Glen Combs, George Lehman, Warren Jabali, Chico Vaughn, Freddie Lewis and Stew Johnson who all played for numerous teams.
So, the new league had an unconventional and eye-catching new look with it’s red, white and blue ball, and an exciting new element to the game with the 3-point shot. But you can’t have a league without players……..
(Next in the series “Remembering the ABA: Volume 5 -Signing An NBA Superstar)