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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING COURT
Jack McCallum
November 03, 1986
In an era when the big man is ever more dominant—when seven-foot forwards and six-seven guards are not uncommon—some astute students of NBA basketball believe that the players have outgrown the game
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November 03, 1986

The Incredible Shrinking Court

In an era when the big man is ever more dominant—when seven-foot forwards and six-seven guards are not uncommon—some astute students of NBA basketball believe that the players have outgrown the game

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Conclusion: Institute the Nelson proposal as soon as possible.

PROPOSAL—WIDEN THE THREE-SECOND LANE OR ADOPT THE INTERNATIONAL LANE.

Premise: Most infighting goes on in the paint area as players try to post up close to the basket. A wider lane would push them farther out and ease the congestion.

Notable quotable: New Jersey's Darryl Dawkins says, "Leave the lane alone. If you widen it, that just means I'd have to jump further to get in and get out."

Double D's complaint notwithstanding, widening the lane is a suggestion entirely palatable to many NBA people, mainly because it has been done before. To varying degrees Nelson, Loughery, Daly, Indiana's Jack Ramsay, Buckwalter, Cavalier coach Wilkens and his general manager, Wayne Embry, and Karl and his assistant, Jack McMahon, among others, like the idea. Many players feel it's necessary, too, and not just the guards. "Let's give the offensive players a little more room to make some moves," says 6'9" Cavalier Ben Poquette. "That's what the fans want to see. Right now, everyone fights for post position, and that jams up the lane." Adds the 7-foot Lister, recently swapped to Seattle: "Even big guys get frustrated in there now because you can't maneuver at all." And so do skinny guys. "I'm an inside player and I'm skinny," says Phoenix's rail-thin Larry Nance. "A wide lane would allow me to go one-on-one with anybody, and I like that idea."

The league was only 10 years old in 1956 when it changed from a lane that was six feet wide (which had been fairly standard since the Naismith era) to a 12-foot lane. In 1964 the lane was widened to its current 16 feet. Now it may be time to change again.

"It would make the big men develop skills such as putting the ball on the floor," says McMahon. "Now, they have a one-dribble game." McMahon has more than a passing familiarity with radical changes in the rules and how they can work: As a member of the Rochester Royals in 1954, he played against Boston in one of the first NBA games in which the 24-second clock was used.

Several NBA people like the conically shaped international lane, which is wider—19'8"—at the baseline. But at the area where most big players post up, about halfway between the basket and the foul line, it's not much different from the current 16-foot lane. "I figure three inches," says Atlanta coach Mike Fratello, "and I don't want to change the game for three inches." Neither does Karl. "The big difference in the two lanes is below the box," says the Warriors' coach, "and coaches don't really want players to play down there very often."

The other problem with the international lane is aesthetic. It looks, well, international. It conjures up images of 40-year-old forwards named Yuri and dreary games between Romania and Uruguay. It's not the way to go.

Conclusion: Widen the lane by at least two and perhaps four feet. Also widen the court so that the playing space outside the paint isn't reduced.

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