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.
BASEBALL July 13, 2010 The NL beat the AL 3-1 in the All-Stars exhibition game. Held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, the game was preceded with a short memorial honoring George Steinbrenner who had died early that morning. The AL fielded the likes of Derek Jeter (SS-Yankees), Ichiro Suzuki (OF-Mariners) and Mariano Rivera (P-Yankees), while the AL brought out David Wright (3B-Mets), Albert Pujols (1B-Cardinals) and Roy Halladay (P-Phillies).
SOCCER July 2, 2000 France defeats Italy 2-1 at the UEFA European Championship. It was their 2nd title at the quadrennial extravaganza, which has been held since 1960 to determine the continent’s best national team; Germany and Spain are tied at the top with 3 wins each. One of the most exciting finals in tournament history, France equalized a goal in the closing minute of official time to send the game into overtime and then land a ‘golden goal’ in sudden death.
TENNIS July 7, 1990 Martina Navratilova claims a record 9th Wimbledon singles title after defeating her American opponent, Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1. It was Navratilova’s last career grand slam singles after compiling 17 victories since her first one at Wimbledon in 1978. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in the game, the Czech-born and U.S.-naturalized tennis star was ranked No. 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, and No. 1 in doubles for a total 237 weeks.
BOXING July 7, 1980 Larry Holmes knocks out Scott LeDoux in the 7th round to retain his WBC Heavyweight title. It was the 35th professional and undefeated bout for the Georgia native who swung one of the fiercest left jabs in boxing history. Holmes battled the greatest heavyweights of his era and he would defeat Muhammad Ali in the 10th round just 3 months after his encounter with LeDoux. The “Easton Assassin” retired in 2002 after posting a career record of 75-69-6.