SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
December 15, 1975
Hank Luisetti shot the ball with one hand while he hung in midair. The Establishment smirked, but the sport has not been the same since HE CHANGED A GAME SINGLEHANDEDLY
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December 15, 1975

He Changed A Game Singlehandedly

Hank Luisetti shot the ball with one hand while he hung in midair. The Establishment smirked, but the sport has not been the same since HE CHANGED A GAME SINGLEHANDEDLY

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Despite its color and dash, Stanford may not have been the first modern basketball team, but there is no disputing that Luisetti was the first modern basketball player. What astonished Garden fans was not so much that he shot, rebounded, dribbled, passed and played defense better than anyone on the court, but that he performed almost all these things in unorthodox ways. He dribbled and passed behind his back, and he appeared to shoot without glancing at the basket. When he drove, he soared like a hawk, looking left and right before he released a mid-air shot.

"Hank could stay up so long he was like a ballet dancer," Turner says "He could fake while driving at a time when people just drove, period. Forty years ago he was making moves that still are considered exceptional today."

"It would be unfair to compare anyone who played then with the modern players," says Howie Dallmar, a former coach and player at Stanford. "But no one now—I mean no one—is as far ahead of his contemporaries as Hank was of his. He was at least 20 years ahead of his time. The guy revolutionized the game."

Luisetti is now 59 years old and his face has filled out, resulting in a startling resemblance to Jack Dempsey. He remains physically fit, although the only exercise he gets is walking. He has been a widower for the past three years, and between business trips he lives with either his 81-year-old mother in San Francisco or in the nearby homes of his son and daughter. His grandson Michael is a frequent companion.

Although unfailingly friendly, Luisetti is a private man. "Very few people ever got close to Hank," old teammate Calderwood says. "I hesitate to call him shy, but there is a reserve about him, a reserve that never showed on the basketball floor."

Luisetti has only recently begun going to basketball games again. He almost never watches Stanford but he has grown fond of the Golden State Warriors now that they are playing with championship verve.

"They can really shoot," says Luisetti. "It's a shooter's game today. When I was holding clinics, all I could interest the kids in was shooting. But look what's happened. If a team once shot 35% it was hot; now 50% seems average. And they're so big. At my height, I'd have to be a backcourt man today. I'd play about the way Jerry West did, moving the ball around, setting people up. That man played the game the way it should be played. Of course, it's harder to drive now—and I did a lot of that. The big men clutter up the area under the basket. It's worth your life to go in there. I think they're either going to have to widen the court or raise the basket."

When he attends Warrior games Luisetti often dresses in a red and black warmup jacket and gray slacks, quite a departure from the crisp suits he usually wears as president of the E. F. MacDonald travel company's West Coast region. Sitting among the fans in the arena he is neither business executive nor old hero. No one in the place seems to have the slightest idea who he is.

Angelo (Hank) Luisetti was born in San Francisco. His family lived on the northern slope of Russian Hill, a neighborhood of narrow wooden and stucco houses. From the top of the hill, the Bay can be seen blue-gray below, and in the distance are the orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is the quintessential San Francisco neighborhood, heavily Chinese now, but in Luisetti's time mostly Irish and Italian. His parents were of no-nonsense old-country stock, their children aggressively New World. Sports became part of their generation gap.

Luisetti's father immigrated to San Francisco from northern Italy a few months after the great earthquake of 1906. It was not a bad time to arrive in the city because of the opportunities awaiting those willing to rebuild a fallen city. Steven Luisetti learned to cook. He became a popular chef and he eventually bought his own restaurants, Louis' Fashion and the Sutter Grill.

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