The clocks have been modernized, taken to the top of the backboards, where players, coaches and fans can read them. The wires have been tactfully hidden. The timekeepers sometimes have more arguments with the home-team coaches than with the visitors. "I get 25 dollars per game," Atlanta clock operator Bruce Bell says, "and [Hawk coach] Mike Fratello's yelling, 'Remember where your check's coming from.' Like that's important to me."
There have been modifications around the basic rule—the latest one, established this year, eliminates the five-second reset when a ball goes out of bounds; if one second is left when a ball goes out without a change of possession, one second is all the inbounding team gets—but the heartbeat invented by Biasone remains.
"If a team is good offensively, the clock doesn't come into play much," says Sacramento Kings coach Jerry Reynolds. "But it's kind of a myth that you can get a shot anytime you want. With teams that aren't good offensively or don't have good one-on-one players, the 24-second clock is a factor. If you can get the ball to Michael Jordan with six seconds left, there isn't much worry about getting a shot. Get it to some of the players that we've had and you worry."
"I remember coaching in Phoenix and being behind Boston by 26 points at halftime," says Dallas Maverick coach John MacLeod. "We came back and won, but we'd never have done it without the 24-second clock. I've been up 20 and blown it too, but in this instance we trailed the whole game. Charlie Scott got the last shot and made it, and we won."
"Overall, it's been great," says swingman Robert Reid of the Portland Trail Blazers. "Especially in the playoffs, when each possession is more valuable. The shot clock makes the game wide open, gives the NBA a mystique."
Twenty-four seconds. The conveyor belt rolls. If reading this story has taken you three minutes, the clock has already forced at least seven shots and is clicking toward an eighth.
"When you sit up in the stands, it seems like just some guy pushing a button," says Barry Liebowitz, who became the clock operator for the Washington Bullets last year. "The first five games, I was so nervous. I was a wreck. I couldn't enjoy the game. I was going home with headaches because I was stiff and tense from watching the ball. The whole universe was focused in on that ball. I was so worried about making a mistake....