How the N.B.A. 3-Point Shot Went From Gimmick to Game Changer

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were rookies. Bill Walton’s move to the Clippers — the San Diego Clippers — was making headlines. Some N.B.A.finals games were still being broadcast on tape delay. And the league tried something new: a 3-point shot.

Its debut, in the 1979-80 season, was inauspicious. The New York Times’sseason preview called the shot a “gimmick” in its headline and twice in the first two paragraphs. “It may change our game at the end of the quarters,” Phoenix Suns Coach John MacLeod told The Times. “But I’m not going to set up plays for guys to bomb from 23 feet. I think that’s very boring basketball.”

The Boston Celtics’ president, Red Auerbach, told The Times earlier that year: “We don’t need it. I say leave our game alone.” He theorized that the reason behind creating the shot was that “TV panicked over the bad ratings.”

Oddly enough, a Celtic, Chris Ford, is credited with making the first officialN.B.A. 3, on opening night against the Houston Rockets. Each team wound up with one in the game.


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