- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

“There was no game at all. It would get into the second half, and the team that was ahead would just kill the ball, and then you’d have to foul. Then they’d foul you, and the game would deteriorate. The game stunk! Something had to be done.”

Dolph Schayes, Basketball Hall of Famer

And something was done. The idea sprang from the creative mind of Danny Biasone, owner of the NBA’s Syracuse Nationals …

The 24-second shot clock.

As the 1953-54 season ended, the eight-year-old league was in sad if not quite critical shape. There were just nine teams, and one of them, the Minneapolis Lakers, dominated the scene with George Mikan, the game’s first super big man. The Lakers had won five of the last six NBA championships, but they weren’t making money. Almost nobody was.

As Syracuse star Schayes indicated, pro basketball had become basically a march from one foul line to the other. Skilled ball-handlers like Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics could dribble the ball and kill the clock endlessly. No wonder paying customers were few and far between. The Washington Capitols folded in January 1951. The Baltimore Bullets did so in 1954.

“You need a shot clock,” Biasone told his fellow owners year after year — and they ignored his advice year after year. The offensive nadir was reached Nov. 22, 1950, when the Fort Wayne Pistons held the ball most of the game in a yawn-inducing 19-18 victory over the Lakers. And during the 1953-54 season, the nine teams averaged just 79.5 points a game.

Oddly perhaps, Biasone was neither a basketball expert nor a millionaire who owned a team for the fun of it. A short and balding Italian immigrant, he owned a bowling alley and restaurant in Syracuse. Somehow he had scraped together enough money to own a Syracuse franchise in the old National Basketball League, which merged with the Basketball Association of America to become the NBA. But most important, he was a fan — one who was bored to death with what passed for pro hoops in the early 1950s.

And today’s fans owe him a big, fat heap of thanks.

Biasone renewed his shot clock campaign during the league meetings in the spring of 1954, and this time his peers were ready to listen. On April 22, he proposed a 24-second shot clock — a number that worked so well it remains in effect 53 years later.

Why 24?

“I figured each team averaged about 60 shots a game,” Biasone explained to the New York Times 30 years later. “So if a team used the full 24 seconds before taking a shot, it would take about 60 a game. But the idea was just to speed up things. The exact number wasn’t important.”

Wrong, Danny boy: The 24-second clock was simply perfect and saved the NBA, for better or worse. The scoring average per team rose to 93.1 during the 1954-55 season. And fittingly enough, Biasone’s Nationals, coached by Al Cervi and starring Dolph Schayes, won their first championship.

The clock was introduced during a scrimmage between the Nationals and other players who lived in the Syracuse area at Biasone’s old high school, Blodgett Vocational, in August 1954. Renowned coaches Clair Bee and Red Auerbach were in the stands, and nearly everybody agreed that the oncourt product was much better.

Of course, the clock took some getting used to.

“Red Auerbach sat us down before our first game with the clock and said, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ ” Cousy told Sports Illustrated. ‘He said just to go out and play our game, and we did. I don’t think we were called two times during the season for not getting a shot off in 24 seconds.”

Obviously, shot clocks were not standard in arenas around the league, so NBA officials had to provide them.

“One night Minneapolis and Philadelphia played in Chicago, and I went down to run the clocks for them,” said Marty Blake, then an NBA publicity man. “I had two clocks and three bags of wires — they took up an entire cab. So I get there, and somebody forgot to bring the balls.”

Arnold Heft, later a part-owner of the Washington Bullets/Wizards, was one of two officials who worked the first regular-season game with the shot clock between the Celtics and Rochester Royals in Rochester, N.Y., on Oct. 30, 1954. Its effect was instantaneous: The Royals won 98-95.

“I don’t recall that there was much confusion, because there had been some exhibition games with it,” Heft said. “Heck, we had to do something. Who wants to see a bunch of guys standing around?”

Heft’s whistle and shirt from that game now are in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. So is Danny Biasone, who died in 2000, and rightly. He just might be the biggest NBA hero ever.

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