Nowadays, basketball is a quick game, run-and-gun is one of the most popular plays in the game and a lot of running and possession changes are not more than normal. Basketball is more popular than ever, thousands of people come to the arena’s and watch the games on TV. But back in the 50’s, just a couple of years after the NBA was founded, basketball had become a bit of a dull game.
There was no need for speed in the game, as the only time limited in the game was the game clock. If you had the lead, your team could pass the ball around for as long as you wanted (or till the clock ran out). Therefore, there was only one thing the opposing team could do: foul. The games became less and less interesting for the audience, as they mostly became shooting contests from the free-throw line.
A game between the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Minneapolis Lakers in 1950, ended in a low scoring record that still holds up today, 19-18. The Pistons were too afraid of George Mikan, the star of the Lakers, dominating the game that they decided to hold and pass the ball around for the entire game. In 1953, in a game between Boston and Syracuse, 106 fouls and therefore 128 free throws were shot. One player, Bob Cousy, even scored 30 points from the line that game. And in yet another game, Syracuse against New York, the amount of free throws made outnumbered the normal baskets.
Therefore, it was clear that something had to be done to revive the game of basketball in the NBA. Danny Biasone, the owner of the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76’ers), came up with a shot clock. This meant that a team was only allowed to have possession of the ball for 24 seconds before the ball had to have touched the ring, or a scored had been made. He decided on 24 seconds after a quick calculation: 48 minutes is 2880 seconds in total per game. He divided this by 120, which was the average of shots taken per game. The answer was 24 seconds, and therefore he decided on that number.
The rule was introduced in the 1954-1955 season together with a maximum amount of team fouls per quarter. And it turned out that those rules went together quite well. The first season, the point average went up from 79.5 to 93.1 points per game and the Boston Celtics were there first team to average above 100 points. Finally, Maurice Podoloff, the NBA President and Red Auerbach, the longtime coach of the Celtics, even called in the ‘most important rule change in the last 50 years”. This change might have been the salvation of pro basketball.