SI Vault
Kent Hannon
November 28, 1977
Even in the precise terms used in physics, the endeavor seems so fraught with variables as to preclude any chance for consistent success. What we refer to here is the act of propelling a 22-ounce sphere 9.5 inches in diameter through a metal circle only 18 inches in diameter, located 10 feet off the ground and 20 feet away. A mathematician might go about solving the problem by using the following equation (written by Enoch J. Durbin, professor of aerospace and mechanical sciences at Princeton):
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November 28, 1977

An Idea That's Gotten Way Off The Ground

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"It just busted on us out of nowhere."

"Preacher Bill Flynt."

"In the Jewish Alps—around Grossinger's—in the early 1950s."

" John Cooper, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University."

Other intriguing nominees included Garland Pinholster of North Georgia College, Glenn (The Pound Pivoter) Roberts and two fair-to-middlin' players who became sportscasters—Curt Gowdy of Wyoming and Bud Palmer of Princeton. Everyone but Sir Alex Fleming got at least one vote.

With each curious response, it became clearer that it is impossible to establish who invented the jump shot. It is easy, however, to name the man who popularized it. That distinction goes to the late Joe Fulks, a little-known player at Murray State in 1943, who as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors after World War II became the first box-office attraction in the old BAA. a forerunner of the NBA.

Before the advent of the jump shot, the two-hand set ruled the day. It was impossible to get the set shot off in close quarters, so teams relied on intricate passing sequences—sometimes weaving 20 or 30 hand-offs into a single play—before someone got free long enough to face the basket; squat and let fly. The game was played exclusively on the floor. Even rebounders were usually content to congregate around the basket and wait for the ball to come to them.

Luisetti began a trend in December 1936 when he and his one-hand shot came to Madison Square Garden and helped Stanford beat LIU, which had won 43 straight games. The score, 45-31, was shockingly high for that era. Later Luisetti scored 50 points all by himself against Duquesne, and the college game was never the same.

The offensive man began to dictate the terms, which increased both scoring and attendance. Year by year, as the competitors grew taller and the need for shooting clearance increased, the point of release on players' shots crept higher. Kenny Sailors used a shot somewhat like the jumper when Wyoming won the 1943 NCAA title and he was named MVP. But by then, Fulks, a slender 6'5" forward, was already shooting the genuine overhead jump shot at Murray State. He subsequently used it while averaging an astounding 23.4 points in 1946 to lead the BAA in scoring. Fulks, however, was no purist. He had a wild assortment of shots, and he left it to his Warrior teammate Paul Arizin to refine the jumper, and to Bill Sharman of USC and the Celtics to perfect it.

The essentials of the shot these men devised have not changed; the elements that differentiate the jumper from its predecessors remain the vertical leap and the release of the ball from above the head. Only the height of the jump and the precise position of the ball when it is cocked overhead tend to vary much from player to player.

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