10 Things We Don’t Miss In Basketball
1. When Women's Hoops Was Considered Second-Class
ESPN aired nearly 150 women’s basketball games last year. Think about that for a second. We live in an age when women’s basketball is as readily available as many men’s sports. But that wasn’t always the case. For most of the 20th century, female players were treated as second-class citizens at high schools and universities. Athletic women were pushed toward cheerleading and other pursuits seemingly appropriate for the sexist times. The women’s game only became a five-player, full-court game in 1971. The next year Title IX (which forbids sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal money) was enacted and two years after that schools began offering athletic scholarships for women. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer recalled how there had been no organized basketball for girls when she was growing up in the Edenborn, Pa., in '50s. “Not that you weren’t able to [play basketball]. You weren’t allowed to,” she told writer Helen Wheelock in 2008. “I remember this one grandmother telling her daughter that girls would have knots in their legs if they played. That was a shame, because it made you ashamed to play.” The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women staged a national basketball tournament from 1972 until 1982, when the first NCAA women’s basketball championship took place in Norfolka, Va. In 1996, the WNBA was formed, and the sport continues to rise. Today ESPN airs every game of the NCAA’s women’s basketball tournament and programs such as UConn and Tennessee draw crowds that a major concert promoter would envy. As it should be. --Richard Deitsch
2. Four Corners
Blame Dean Smith. The two-time national title winner popularized the stalling technique -- which positioned one offensive player in each corner of the half-court sets and one ballhandler dribbling at the top -- to help his Tar Heels nurse big leads. What he did was drain life from the games. Fans and officials grew angry with the lack of action in the early '80s. The tipping point came in the 1982 ACC championship game when North Carolina sought to maintain a halftime lead over Virginia. The last 12 minutes were eaten up by Smith’s delay tactics. By the start of the next season, the ACC instituted an experimental shot clock. Four seasons later the NCAA added its shot clock. Smith would go on to win one more national title in 1993, but he had to speed things up to do so.
3. Short shorts
Too much thigh. That was the problem with the game’s most revealing fashion statement. From Dominique Wilkins to Bob Cousy, the look was embraced by the game’s legends but saw its demise in the 1990s as the shorts lengthened and copycats modeled their lengths after Michael Jordan’s baggy look. Utah Jazz guard John Stockton was the last holdout, wearing his shorts three or four inches above his knee until his retirement in 2003. “Styles are going to come and go,” Stockton once told reporters. “I think it’s easier to stay with what you’re comfortable with.” No matter how uncomfortable they look.
4. The Big East's six-foul rule
The Big East took its physicality one foul too far in 1989. Seeking a way to keep star players in the game longer and reduce the number of league games afflicted by foul outs, Georgetown coach John Thompson and five others voted in favor of the rule. Three dissenters said it only benefited teams with powerful post presences. Big East officials did not act alone. The Trans America Athletic Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a Division II league, experimented with the rule as well. By 1992, it was mercifully ejected from the game by the NCAA’s rules committee.
5. Ted Stepien
Good thing Stepien was not still owner when the Cleveland Cavaliers had the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. LeBron James may have never slipped on the baseball cap for his home state team. Stepien’s management missteps were legendary during the early '80s, when he once hired and fired four coaches during the same season. His biggest mistake -- trading first-round draft picks for mediocre players in consecutive seasons -- drew the wrath of then NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien. After the Cavs traded what became the No. 1 pick in ’82, O'Brien instituted a "Stepien Rule" declaring that a team cannot trade its first-round pick in back-to-back years. That pick, James Worthy, became a cornerstone of three Lakers championship teams.
6. LA Gear
Flash has always been a major component of sneaker marketing. LA Gear simply took the idea out of the boardroom and planted it in the heels of its actual product. Originally founded to promote roller-skate rentals on Venice Beach, the company signed Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon to endorsement deals in an attempt to gain a toehold on the NBA footwear landscape. Malone wore the Catapult -- the brand’s equivalent of Nike’s Air Jordan. Unable to keep up with the Reebok, Adidas and Swoosh war chests, the Gear eventually shrank its availability to high-end stores.
7. Lahaina Civic Center
This was the ultimate sweatbox before air conditioning blew through the ventilation system in 2002. Maui Invitational participants loaded up on salts, shakes, Gatorades and whatever other fluids they could find for hydration. In 2001, the cramp-crazy space claimed Duke guard Chris Duhon. “Severe cramps spread through his whole body," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. "His legs look like he did 800 leg presses.” The Hawaiian humidity also caused condensation to form on the hardwood floors, which resulted in players slipping and kept towel boys busy.
8. The 25-team NCAA tournament
Think it's tough to crack the modern-day field of 65? Then harken back to the seasons from 1953 to 1974, when the field was limited to 25 schools. So-called mid-majors had an even harder time qualifying, as only one team per conference was allowed entry. Expansion came shortly after the ACC and Pac 10 each saw teams with less than three losses snubbed from the dance. The number of invitees has more than doubled, to 65, since.
9. The NBA's Synthetic Ball
The NBA's decision to switch from leather balls to those made of microfiber composite materials in 2006 was supposed to provide a superior grip and allow for better ball handling. The players gave a different assessment. Gilbert Arenas deemed the balls too slippery. Steve Nash said they gave him small cuts on his hands. The definitive statement was made by Shaquille O’Neal: “It feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store." Commissioner David Stern listened to the league-wide disparagement of the ball and gave the players a New Year’s present when leather made its return on Jan. 1, 2007.
10. The Portland Jailblazers
Pick a transgression, any transgression. There was forward Gary Trent’s serial assaults, guard Isiah Rider’s gambling, Reuben Patterson’s status as a sex offender, Rod Strickland’s drunk driving and more offenses that polluted the once-pristine Portland image. Management allowed a culture of misdemeanors to manifest and fans responded by refusing to show support. The problem players have since been purged and clean-cut Brandon Roy and Greg Oden offer promise both on and off the court.
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