The 3 Point Shot- Novelty Turned Strategy
Basketball’s long-range shooting stars owe their celebrity status to a sports team entrepreneur they never met and a defunct league they never played in.
Though the three-point shot was adopted by the NBA in 1979, it was first introduced in 1961 by Abe Saperstein, commissioner of the American Basketball League (ABL), a rival to the NBA in the early days.
Founder of the Harlem Globetrotters, Saperstein formed the ABL in 1961 after being denied a coveted west coast franchise by the NBA. Undeterred, the hard-charging basketball visionary assembled eight professional teams in a new league, which also included future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as an investor in one of the clubs, the Cleveland Pipers.
Ever mindful of fan entertainment through his Globetrotters, Saperstein instituted the three-point field goal, stretching out the play geography, providing an equalizing platform for smaller players, and enhancing spectators’ experience.
While the ABL only lasted a single season and folded at the close of 1962, the next serious league to challenge the NBA picked up on the same innovative concept.
The American Basketball Association (ABA) was created in 1967 and ran a flashier game than its established counterpart. It used a colorful red, white and blue ball, employed the three-point rule around an arc, and pioneered the slam dunk contest at an all-star game.
The ABA merged into the NBA in 1976 but the point-rewarding throw would only be implemented a few seasons later, mostly as a marketing decision to address falling TV ratings.
The downtown toss was still regarded by skeptics as a gimmick and novelty, used primarily in “Hail Mary” game situations.
The first NBA player to net a three-pointer was Boston Celtics Chris Ford on October 12, 1979 against the Houston Rockets (official scorer's card shown above).
The use of Saperstein’s old rule as a strategic offensive weapon didn’t take off until the mid-1980’s. The NCAA also absorbed the rule universally in 1986.
Celtics Danny Ainge was one of the first to exploit it as a specialty, scoring a season record of 148-point 3’s in 1987/88. Knicks John Starks was the first to clear 200, netting 217 in 1994/95. Supersonics Ray Allen and all-time career holder of the long-distance throw came in at 269 in 2005/6.
Recently, the game's point system was practically rewritten by Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry who landed 402 in 2015/16.
More than just strategy today, the three-pointer has evolved into a risk/reward calculated science, a long road traveled from its original marketing roots.
BASKETBALL February 20, 2010 Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls breaks a franchise record, scoring his 771st three-point field goal and clearing the 770 mark set by Ben Gordon. Coming out of the University of Kansas, Hinrich put in stints with the Bulls, Wizards and Hawks during his NBA career from 2003-2016. He was a member of Team USA when they won bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
HOCKEY February 15, 2000 NJ Devils’ Martin Brodeur becomes the first ever NHL goalie to receive credit for a game-winning goal. Facing the Flyers, he was the last Devil to touch the puck before it went into the opponent’s net when one of the Flyers’ own players accidentally scored his own goal. Considered one of the best goalies of all time, Brodeur won 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals representing Canada.
MOTOR RACING February 18, 1990 Derrike Cope wins the 32nd edition of the Daytona 500 stock car race. Driving a Chevrolet for the Whitcomb Racing team and winning his first NASCAR chase, Cope beat out runner-up Terry Labonte and third place finisher Bill Elliott. Dale Earnhardt led the pack for 155 laps, or ¾ of the race and came short towards the end when his car ran over a piece of metal on the track, shredding his right rear tire.
OLYMPICS February 15, 1980 American Eric Heiden wins the 500 meter speed skating race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Wisconsin native wrapped up the tournament with a total of 5 gold medals, including the 500, 1000, 1500, 5000, and 10000 meter chases. Heiden broke 4 Olympic records and 1 world record in the competitions and is considered the best overall athlete- sprint and long- in the sport’s history.