The third new rule can best be explained by describing a recent incident at Madison Square Garden. Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals made a desperate attempt to block an opponent's shot. Schayes thought he had succeeded in legitimately deflecting the ball. Referee Sid Borgia thought differently. He blew his whistle, called a hacking penalty on Schayes.
Livid, Schayes whirled on Borgia. "What the____" Schayes began. But he broke off in mid-bellow. Like a medieval cabalist, Referee Borgia had brought his right arm up to a vertical position and crossed it at the top with his left palm. It was professional basketball's new—and respected—"sign of the T," i.e., a technical foul for arguing with the referee. Its cost to Schayes's team: another free shot for the opponent and control of the ball. Its cost to Schayes: a $25 fine.
The disappearance of the time-honored privilege of arguing with an official may seem to be a lamentable loss of free speech to many but this harsh rule, harshly applied this year, has ended those awful debates which would have tried the patience of a U.N. parliamentarian.
The rule changes made the brand of basketball played today the best in the history of the NBA, but the metamorphosis of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons is a more complicated story.
When the season ended last year, Fred Zollner, who can truly be classified as a millionaire sportsman, decided he needed a new coach. Zollner recalled a conversation he had three years ago with a top NBA referee Charley Eckman. An official since the age of 17, Eckman had told Zollner that he would like to coach pro ball some day.
Pro basketball differs from the college game in that every player is an all-star. Every man can drive, play the pivot, make jump shots, set shots and lay-ups—maybe not all equally well but sufficiently so as to be a threat at all times and to be able to exchange roles with teammates instantaneously. Coaches in the NBA do not teach their men specific offensive plays aimed at setting up shots for the one or two top players as in college. Pro ball is a matter of patterns rather than clearly defined plays as in college.
For both offense and defense the important thing to know is how the opposition plays, and Charley Eckman, an NBA referee for seven years, gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the players in the league. Zollner hired him. Says Eckman: "I'm no coaching genius. Basketball is mainly the matching of personnel. I've been around and I know how the other guys play."
The 33-year-old Eckman's expert knowledge has paid off: when to substitute, who to play against whom (the zone defense is outlawed by the pros), how to capitalize on shifts in patterns.
The Pistons under Eckman play deliberate ball, shooting when they have a good shot instead of at the first opening. Under this style, Center Larry Foust, 6 feet 9 inches, has registered the best field-goal percentage in the league. Playmaker Andy Phillip works the ball down court deliberately while the Piston forwards jockey for position. "You can't win this game unless you have a good defense, and you can't defend if you just run and shoot, run and shoot. Our style is to pick and pop," Eckman says in his throaty voice. The pick-off play is a Fort Wayne favorite. Phillip will pass to his forward, George Yardley; break between Yardley and brush block the man guarding George, thus enabling Yardley to drive in behind the screen for a shot, or pass off to his opposite number, Mel Hutchins.