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The Surprising Impact of the Shot Clock On Basketball

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 12, 2014    •    1197 Views

This 60-foot shot is amazing.

The game was between Shakopee and Hopkins, 2 Minneapolis-St. Paul area high school basketball teams. Playing a semifinal playoff, in quadruple overtime, Hopkins won 49-46 with the 60-foot shot.

Hopkins’s strategy? They stalled with the ball, sometimes more than 3 minutes. Waiting for the end of each overtime, they hoped for a “buzzer beater.” Their strategy was possible because Minnesota high school basketball has no shot clock.

61 years ago, basketball had a big problem because no one had the shot clock. Hoping to make that “buzzer beater” or just waiting for the perfect shot, teams could take what seemed like forever to shoot. The game was so boring that, in 1953, NBC decided not to air the NBA championships.

You can imagine that the team owners were not pleased. But the owner of the Syracuse Nationals thought he had a solution that he explained to one of his players, basketball superstar, Dolph Schayes. In the average game, the number of shots was 120 and the length of a game was 48 minutes or 2880 seconds. Dividing 2880 by 120, he got 24, and the 24-second rule was born. When a team has the ball, it has to shoot within 24 seconds or lose possession.

Used during the 1955 NBA finals, the 24-second shot clock made players felt pressured, rushed, and they made many more mistakes. However, the owners were happy, the officials approved, and the fans loved the drama. Scoring increased by 30 points while attendance was up 40%. My podcasts said they had saved basketball.

Our bottom line: As with any other business, a technological innovation has “spillover” when its impact spreads. Because of the shot clock, players had to be stronger and faster, the fans got a speedy, high scoring game, and the owners had a more valuable franchise.

As for Minnesota high school teams, they do not have a shot clock because it is too expensive. Described by thesportseconomist, the marginal (extra) $5,000 cost of buying and installing the baskets that have the shot clocks and hiring the officials that know how to use them would exceed the marginal revenue they would generate.

Sources and resources: One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible was the source of the shot clock story. I also periodically check the sportseconomist.com, saw the 60-foot shot video, and then went to the St.Paul-Minneapolis papers to see the whole story. The match between the podcast and the story was perfect.

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