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Basketball
Chapter IV - Changes in the Game


THE two questions that I am most commonly asked when I am discussing basketball with persons whom I have just met are, “How did you come to think of it?” and “What changes have taken place in the game since its origin?” I have attempted in the earlier chapters of the book to answer that first question, and in this chapter I shall endeavor to answer the second one.

To describe each minute change that has taken place in the game would be uninteresting and monotonous. Rather than do this I have selected some of the more important factors and have noted the changes in them. In the years since basketball was started, the interest in the game has grown far beyond anything that we could have imagined when it was originated. It is very gratifying to me that, in spite of its spread and development, there have been no changes in the fundamental principles on which the game was founded.

Many of the plays and maneuvers that we often consider recent developments were really executed from the first. It is true that these plays are different today from what they were then, but that difference comes from the skill with which they are executed rather than from any change in principle.

In the process of planning the game, I decided that certain fundamental principles were necessary. These were fire in number:

1. There must be a ball; it should be large, light, and handled with the hands.

2. There shall be no running with the ball.

3. No man on either team shall be restricted from getting the ball at any time that it is in play.

4. Both teams are to occupy the same area, yet there is to be no personal contact.

5. The goal shall be horizontal and elevated.

These five principles are still the unchanging factors of basketball.

Several rules have been added and others modified to meet the new conditions that have arisen from time to time, until the original thii'teen rules are today embodied in some two hundred fifty-two statements.

It will be surprising to many to know how little the game has really changed throughout the years. People often believe that much of basketball is comparatively new, whereas in reality, the things that have been considered of recent development were embodied in the game almost from its conception.

When the question is asked, “What is the biggest change in basketball?” it is easy for me to answer. There is no doubt in my mind that it is in the skill of the players and the kind of plays that have been adopted. At first, anyone played the game, and it was entirely possible for some mature individual to begin and to play in match games. Today boys are brought up playing basketball, and it is little wonder that the degree of skill of the players is the outstanding change that has taken place in the game. Formerly, the players were trained and coached over a period of three or four years. Today that training may cover ten years, and frequently more.

Changes in the Plays

1. The Dribble. In discussing some of the specific changes that have taken place, it may be well to take up first one of the most spectacular and exciting maneuvers in basketball, the dribble. It is really as old as the game, and the changes that have tdken place are merely developments.

The dribble was originally a defensive measure. When a player had possession of the ball and was so closely guarded that he could not pass it to one of his team mates, the only thing that he could do was to lose possession of the ball voluntarily in such a way that he might possibly recover it. He did this by rolling or bouncing the ball on the floor. This rolling or bouncing was the start of our present-day dribble. It took only a short time for the players to realize that by bouncing the ball on the floor and catching it, they could control it to some extent. The rapidity of the spread and development of the dribble was astonishing. As early as 1896, one style of game was known as the dribble game. Yale was often referred to as playing this type of game.

Very early, the double dribble was recognized. It was not known by that name, but in 1898 a clause in the rules stated that, during the dribble, a player could not touch the ball with both hands more than once. There was no limitation on the number of timps that he might bounce it with one hand, however. The following year it was recognized that the dribbler could use alternate hands in bouncing the ball.

In 1901 there was a rule which stated that a player could not dribble the ball and then shoot for goal. This rule was in force in the collegiate rules until 1908, when the dribbler was again allowed to shoot for the basket.

Another type of dribble that has been little used in the game is the overhead dribble. At first there was no limitation as to the number of times that the ball could be batted in the air, and it was not uncommon to see a player running down the floor, juggling the ball a few inches above his hand. This so closely approached running with the ball that a rule was inserted saying that the ball must be batted higher than the player’ head. At the present time, a clause in the rules states that the ball may be batted in the air only once.

While the present-day dribble comes under the same restrictions that were early set down, there is a great difference in the execution of the play. To see a player take the ball and, while bouncing it on the floor, weave his way in and out through a group of players until, with a final dash, he rises high in the air and sinks the ball for a basket always thrills the crowd.

There is no doubt that the dribble as played today is wonderful to watch, but there is one objection that at the present time is serious. The officials are prone to favor the dribbler and to call fouls on anyone getting in his way. It is my opinion, and the rules plainly state it so, that the burden of personal contact comes on the dribbler. Unless this rule is enforced, there is little doubt that the dribble is due for some legislation.

2. The Pivot. Closely allied with the dribble is the pivot. In the early stages of the game it was not so fully developed as it is today, but a player could turn around while he was in possession of the ball as long as he did not advance. In 1893, the guide specifically stated that a man should not be considered as traveling if he turned around on the spot.

The pivot, as it is used today, has been greatly developed and is a valuable factor in the player’s keeping the ball. It forms the basis of a great many plays. A few years ago there was a style of basketball that was known as the pivot-pass game. In this game, great stress was placed on the low pivot driving style. Today it is one of the important factors in the pivot-post play.

3. The Out-of-Bounds Play. Although basketball was supposed to eliminate the roughness of football, there was in the early period of the game one play that sometimes closely approached football tactics. The early rules stated that when a ball went out of bounds, the player who first touched it was entitled to throw it in without interference. It is easy to imagine the results of such a rule when the winning of the game became the important aim. It was not uncommon to see a player who was anxious to secure the ball make a football dive for it, regardless of whether he went into the apparatus that was stored around the gym or into the spectators in the bleachers. Lloyd Ware, one of the boys who played on an early team of mine, takes great pleasure, when in a jovial mood, in exhibiting a scar that he got when he dived for the ball and came into contact with the sharp corner of a radiator.

One other incident that I remember distinctly was a game played in a gymnasium with a balcony. Early in the first half, the ball went into the gallery, and immediately the players from one team scrambled for the narrow stairway, crowding it so that they could make little speed. Two of the players on the other team boosted one of their mates up until he could catch the lower part of the balcony, swing himself up, and regain the out-of-bounds ball.

An early rule allowed the ball to be thrown in by the player first holding it. As the rule failed to designate just what was meant by holding, many of the players felt that if they could take the ball away from someone who already had it, they would be entitled to throw it in. During that year there were so many fights that the rules committee returned to the original wording of the rule: that the ball belonged to the player first touching it.

Not until 1913 was the rule changed to state that when the ball went out of bounds, an opponent of the player who caused it to go out should put it in play. This practice led to some delay, and the following year the rule was changed to give the ball to the nearest opponent. There is little doubt that the change made at that time eliminated one of the really rough spots of the game. Today there is little confusion when the ball goes out of bounds, and it is usually returned without delay.

The Penalties

Another phase of the game that is interesting is the change that has taken place in the number and kinds of penalties. More fouls are listed today than in earlier years. The increase may be explained by the fact that many players and coaches realized that anything not forbidden in the rules was permissible. Many attempted new practices in the hope that they could gain some advantage over the opposing team. To check this tendency, it has been necessary for the rules body to legislate from time to time against certain practices that were deemed detrimental to the game.

From the first there has been a distinction between the technical and the personal fouls, although they were not known by these terms. It was plainly stated in the first printed rules that a foul committed against another person carried a certain type of penalty, whereas all other fouls carried a different penalty. The personal foul has always been considered the more serious and has consequently carried the heavier penalty.

A history of the penalties is interesting and distinctly shows how the various difficulties have been met.

At first there were only two penalties. The first time a player committed a personal foul he was warned by the referee and the violation was marked against him. The second personal foul disqualified the man until the next basket had been made. As there were nine men on a side, this penalty was not so serious as it would be today. After a basket had been made, the penalized man could enter the game and was entitled to two more fouls before he again would be disqualified.

One clause was inserted in the rules in an effort to protect a clean team from another that used rough tactics. The clause read that if three fouls were committed by one team without the other team having committed a foul, the team that was fouled should receive one point. This was rather a serious penalty, as a field goal at that time only counted one point.

Realizing that this penalty was too severe, the value of a field goal was changed from one to three points, and each foul committed against a team counted one point. Whether these fouls were technical or personal, they carried the same penalty.

The next change allowed the team that had been fouled to try for the basket from a line twenty feet from the goal. If this try was successful, the goal counted the same as one made from the field. At this same time, any person who committed two personal fouls in the same game was disqualified for the remainder of that game. If this player was disqualified from two games, he was ineligible to play for the remainder of the season. In 1895, the free-, throw line was moved up to fifteen feet, and the goals from the free-throw line were counted the same as the goals from the field. In the following year, the points were changed to two for a field goal and one for a foul. The distance of the free-throw line and the value of the baskets have remained the same up to the present time.

A quotation from the rules for 1897 shows the extreme penalties meted out to the players in the early stages of the game.

The referee may for the first offense, and shall for the second, disqualify the offender for that game and for such further period as the committee in charge of that league shall determine; i except that disqualification for striking, hacking, or kicking shall be for one year without appeal.

Until 1908, the referee had the power to disqualify a man for repeated fouls. In that year, the rules stated that the player who committed five personal fouls should be disqualified for the remainder of that game. Two years later, the disqualifying number of fouls was reduced to four and has remained at that point ever since.

When the free throw was introduced, it was with the idea that many of the shots would be missed and the value of a foul would depend on the skill of the team at throwing goals; accordingly, some member of the team was designated to make the free throw. This player soon became so expert that he could throw the ball into the basket a large percentage of the time; this meant that a foul was practically as good as a goal, and led to the rule that the free throw should be made by the player against whom the foul had been made. This change was excellent, as each member of the team developed skill in this part of the game.

At the present time, there are three types of penalties: the violation that causes the violating team to lose the ball to their opponents at the nearest point on the side line; a technical foul, which allows a free throw but carries no disqualification; and the personal foul, four of which will disqualify a player for the remainder of the game.

There is considerable discussion at the present time as to the comparative value of a field goal and a foul goal. I have often overhead some spectator express the opinion that a game was won by free throws. I have always taken the attitude that the game was lost by fouls. Personally, I believe that any tendency toward lessening the penalty of a foul would be a serious mistake.

The Team

One question that seems to be of common interest to everyone is, “When was the number of players reduced to five?”

When the game was first started, it was with the idea that it should accommodate a number of people; it was the practice, especially when the game was used for recreation after a class, to divide the class into two groups, regardless of the number, and allow them to play.

Ed Hitchcock, Jr., the physical director at Cornell, had a class of about one hundred students. Following our idea, he divided this class into two teams and threw up the ball for a game. The result was that when the ball went to one end of the gym, all of the players would rush after it. Someone would get his hands on the ball and would return it to the other end of the gym, and back across the floor would dash those one hundred students. On the second day, Hitchcock decided that this plan would not do, as there was grave danger of serious damage to the building. He decided that fifty men on a side were too many for basketball.

In 1893, the first step toward setting a definite number of players was taken. It was agreed that when the game was played for sport, any number might take part, but for match games there should be a definite number of men. Five men were suggested for small gymnasiums, and nine men for the larger ones. In 1894, the rules set the number of men on a team at five when the playing space was less than eighteen hundred square feet, at seven when it was between eighteen hundred and thirty-six hundred square feet, and at nine when the floor was larger. In 1895, the number was fixed at five, unless otherwise mutually agreed upon. It was definitely settled in 1897 that a basketball team should consist of five men.

The Officials

From the beginning, the success of basketball has been largely dependent upon the officials, and today we are putting much stress on the selection and development of competent and efficient men for this work.

In the early days of the game, the officials were subjected to such indignities and abuse that it is hard for us to realize the conditions under which they worked. The crowds were so partial that they often resorted to violence in an effort to help their team.

I remember talking to an official named Fields about these conditions. He told me that whenever he refereed a basketball game, he was very careful to see that the window in the room where he dressed was left unlatched, in order that immediately after the game he could, if necessary, grab his clothes and leave unnoticed. Today the officials mix freely not only with the crowd but also with the players.

At first there were two officials, a referee and an umpire. The referee had control of the ball and made all decisions in connection with this part of the play, but called no fouls. The umpire had control of the men and called all fouls. It was found that the umpire as well as the referee followed the ball and caught only the folds that were made around it. Under these conditions, the players in the back court could do as they pleased. A second umpire was introduced, whose duty it was to watch the backcourt, although he had the privilege of calling any fouls that he saw.

The next step was to return to the single umpire and to give the referee power to call those fouls that were committed near the ball. Under these conditions, the umpire had a much better opportunity to watch the backcourt. The power of calling fouls has been gradually extended so that the referee may call fouls in any part of the court.

It was found that the expense of two disinterested officials was sometimes burdensome, and it became a practice to import the referee and use a local man for the umpire. I have often seen the local umpire undo all the work of a competent referee.

After several years of experience, the schools found that there were few officials who could handle a game alone successfully; most institutions felt that it was better to pay two disinterested officials than it was to economize and sacrifice the game. There was some attempt during the depression to return to one official, but this met with little favor.

I have had many peculiar experiences in officiating. Some of them were more comic than serious. One incident that I have often laughed about occurred while I was visiting my son in Sioux City, Iowa. One morning I dropped into the Morning-side College gym and found a pick-up basketball game in progress. The boys were in need of a referee for the game, and one of the players glanced over and suggested that they get me to act in this capacity. Another of the boys looked at me and remarked,

“Huh! Come on! That old duffer never saw a game of basketball.”

That evening I spoke at a banquet, and among the group were three of the boys who had played that morning. When the banquet was finished, the big fellow who had made the remark came up and shook hands. He asked me if I had been in the gym that day, and I told him that I had. A red glow came over his face as he said:

“Well, after all, I guess you were refereeing basketball games before I was born.”

The Skill of the Players

In the early part of this chapter I made the statement that the greatest change in basketball has taken place in the skill with which the game is played. Beginning with no experiences of each generation that has played basket ballers passed on some new developments to the next. The technique and expertness with which-'the game is now played are indeed wonderful to me.

The scores will give some idea as to the development in skill. At first it was not uncommon to have a final score of three to four, and in several games the score was one to nothing. There were times when two teams would play an entire half without either team scoring. Today there are teams that, throughout the season, have scored a point for every minute of play.

Practice may be given much of the credit for the scores that we have at the present time, and it is not uncommon to see from one to ten boys shooting baskets from different positions on the floor. This basket shooting is not a game, but merely a series of attempts to throw the ball into the basket.

I remember walking across the gym floor one day and seeing a boy toss the ball toward the basket, recover it, and toss it again. An hour later, as I came back through the gym, the same boy was still at his play. For some time I had been trying to discover what there was about goal throwing that would keep a boy at it for an hour. I stopped and asked him why he was practicing so long. The boy answered that he did not know, but that he just liked to see if he could make a basket every time he threw the ball. .

It is little wonder that with practice of this kind, along with the other fundamentals that have been passed down, the players of today are much more expert than those who first played the game.

The Ten-Second Buie

I should like to discuss at some length one change that has been made in the rules. Before doing so, however, I should like to make it clear that I am interested in the game of basketball from the standpoint of the players and the spectators rather than from the standpoint of the highly specialized coaches.

In 1901 there was introduced into basketball a style of play called the five-man defense. This defense was a direct effort to meet a condition in which, all five men, on gaining possession of the ball, rushed down the floor to try to score. This type of offense was first played on the Pacific Coast. Before this time, the men had been more or less scattered, and the game was comparatively open. With the concentration of the offense, the defensive men opposed it by concentration near their own goal.

Under these conditions, both the defense and the offense became so specialized that a system of scoring plays and a set defense came into vogue. The development of these systems in the last few years has presented a vital problem in basketball.

The set defense became harder and harder to penetrate, and the offense became more and more reluctant to crash into those five closely grouped players. This reluctance was especially shown by teams that were in the lead and who already had the game won. After all, why should these men who had already shown their superiority attempt to increase their score when the other team was not interested enough to come out and attempt to get the ball? It was seldom that a team could score, unless it had possession of the ball.

Some time after the five-man defense was introduced to the game, the matter of stalling became one of grave concern. The crowds were not attending the games as they had, and the players were not sc enthusiastic as they had been. Something had to be done. At this point, a few men who were exponents of the five-man defense made a great cry about the harm of stalling. Through newspaper propaganda, the spectators were led to believe that the team in possession of the ball was doing the stalling, and for some time when the offensive team refused to enter a closely set defense, the crowd would boo and accuse them of stalling.

It is my contention, and that of many coaches with whom I have talked, that when this condition occurs, the blame should be placed on the team that does not attempt to get the ball.

In 1901, someone wrote to George T. Hepbron, editor of the guide for that year and still a member of the rules committee, and asked this question:

Is there any rule, stated or implied, against holding the ball for any length of time within bounds?

Hepbron’s answer follows:

There is no rule stated or implied against holding the ball for any length of time within bounds. The opponent of the man with the ball generally decides how long he shall hold it.

I cannot understand how any man can hold the ball for any length of time without another player interfering and attempting to get it. However, if there is such a case, rule 11, section 38, can be applied to it. [This rule has to do with intentional delay of the game. Naturally, the ball may not be held more than ten seconds in the backcourt.]

The slogan of basketball has always been “Play the ball and not the man,” and for many years it has been a common thing through certain sections of the country to hear E. C. Quigley blow his whistle and in a stentorian voice say, “You can’t do that! Play the ball, not the man.”

In the 1931 basketball guide there is an article entitled “For the Sake of the Game/’ written by Dr. F. C. Allen, one of the most successful basketball coaches in the country. In this article, Doctor Allen, speaking of his basketball team from the Haskell Institute, said:

Earlier in the year I had impressed upon the Indians the fact that they were playing with that ball. It was their ball—for them to get it. They had to get it to play with it.

These statements clearly indicate that in order to play the game of basketball, one must at least try to gain possession of the ball.

When the five-man defense introduced the stalling game in which one team refused to make an attempt to get the ball, the condition became so serious that it was agreed that something must be done. Some teams, when on the defense, had clustered around the basket and remained in this position for nineteen minutes, making no advance toward the ball. Under these conditions, the people were forced to sit in their seats and watch ten men on the floor doing nothing. A great many people did not care to pay to see two teams at opposite ends of the floor looking at each other.

At a meeting of the coaches in 1932, this subject was discussed. It was agreed by most of the coaches that they should eliminate this hazard to the popularity of the game. A number of suggestions was considered.

I was not present at this meeting, but I had been studying this objectionable feature for some time and had come to the conclusion that there were three ways in which the evil might be remedied. I made the following suggestions to the rules committee:

1. Any team that retreated under the basket and refused to make an attempt to get the ball for thirty seconds should be penalized by giving the other side a free throw. [This was simply putting into effect the statement that had been made by Hepbron and which for thirty years had been overlooked by the officials.]

2. Any basket that was shot from outside of the defensive players should count four points.

3. That not more than three defensive players be allowed in the defensive half of the court while the ball was in the other half.

All three of these suggestions clearly put the burden of stalling on the defensive team.

At the coaches’ meeting, after some discussion, it was decided to recommend a rule that would force the offensive team to take the ball to the defensive team, instead of getting them out of their close formation.

When this rule was first demonstrated, I was present at the exhibition game and was asked to make some comment on the rule. I told the men in charge that I disagreed with them, but they still insisted, When I was called on to speak, I said.

Electric Scotland Note: we are missing a couple of pages here.


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