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Tony Kornheiser
October 29, 1984
As Dr. J proved in the 1980 NBA finals, leaping is something lots of guys can do, but hang time is the stuff of dreams
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October 29, 1984

They've Got The Hang Of It

As Dr. J proved in the 1980 NBA finals, leaping is something lots of guys can do, but hang time is the stuff of dreams

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As in, chumped you.

For a working definition of hang time, we turn to someone who spends so much time watching basketball that his eyes have started sprouting seams, CBS college analyst Billy Packer. "Hang time occurs when a guy goes to score and leaves his feet unconcerned about what the defense is doing," Packer says, "because he knows that there is going to come a point when the defense just evaporates. It goes down, and he's still up there. Most players have to see the opening before they go up. A hanger doesn't care if the opening is already there, because he knows he'll have time to create one."

For a historical definition we turn to someone who couldn't jump, who certainly couldn't dunk, and who says that the only hang time he knew of while growing up was "hanging around the house on Sunday, waiting for my mother's sauce to simmer," North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano. "Hang time is a direct result of evolution. Is that incredible? No question," says the V. "Look, Hy Gotkin was one of the great players at St. John's. He was 5'6", and he had a two-handed set shot. Did he have hang time? Who knows? In those days the only hanging players did was around the gym waiting for the dance to start after the game. But then the jump shot came along, and suddenly all the offensive players were jumping. Being the geniuses that we are, coaches thought the defenders might want to jump also. So now the game starts getting athletic, and we started getting these superathletes who jumped way above the rim. When the shooters got there, they found that all the defenders were way above the rim, too. To get their shots off they had to do something creative in the air. That was the beginning of hang time. And the first guy to ever do it, the guy who invented it, the Wright brother of hang time, was Elgin Baylor."

Ah, Elgin, the 6'5", 225-pound Laker forward who from 1958 to '72 combined strength and grace as well as any ballet dancer you can name.

Always moving left to right, twitching, pumping, clutching—"Occupying several planes of space en route to the basket," is how Erving describes Baylor—kissing the ball in off the glass like a 9 ball off the side cushion.

Hey, Elgin, tell us how you were able to stay in the air longer than everyone else.

"That's the craziest thing I ever heard."

Come on, Elg. Don't play games. Tell us why Connie Hawkins said, "Nobody played like Elgin, nobody." Tell us why Rick Barry said, " Elgin was so far ahead of his time it was unbelievable." Tell us why Gene Shue said, "It was impossible to guard Elgin. He didn't get up that high, but he stayed up longer than you did."

But Baylor won't give in. "It's an illusion. There's no way," he says. "If you both jump together, and you both go up 30 inches, you'll both come down together. One guy can't stay up any longer."

But you did, Elgin. We saw it.

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