Basketball is one of the most interesting and storied games in American history. There are plenty of sports throughout the country, but few have the history or intrigue that basketball does. In fact, there are plenty of things even seasoned fans and players don’t know.
To expand on that, and take a deep dive into some of the more interesting aspects of the sport, the following list covers some of the most interesting basketball facts around.
1. Foreign MVP’s
While the NBA is an America-centric league, it has rapidly cast a much wider net over the past few decades. Where all the big name players were once born in the states, there have been numerous all stars who have come from foreign countries.
Over the NBA’s history there have been six international players to take home the MVP award. They are Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands), Steve Nash (Canada), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), and Nikola Jokic (Serbia).
2. A Record Setting Night
The NBA has had long games, games with unique records, as well as ones with special circumstances that will never happen again. However, few games have had multiple records broken at once. That’s what occurred on December 13, 1983.
On that night, the Detroit Pistons visited the Denver Nuggets and set three records that are still untouched to this day. First, the two teams managed to combine for the most total points ever scored in an NBA game. The contest ended 186 to 184 after three long overtimes.
The other aspect that made the game special is that those two figures are both the most and second most points any team has scored during a single contest.
3. A Different Ball
Everyone in the world can quickly and easily recognize a basketball, but the grooved sphere wasn’t always what it is now. In fact, during the early days of the game, it was played with a soccer ball painted orange as opposed to the leather one used today.
4. The Game Used to Be Tougher
Basketball is a contact sport, but new medicine and an emphasis on player safety have come together to create a less hostile environment for all players. However, the game wasn’t always that way. In fact, it used to be much, much rougher.
In the early days of the game, referees would toss the ball back onto the court during an inbound and both teams would fight for it. The first person to get their hands on the ball would gain possession. Though that was fun to watch, it led to a lot of contacts, falls, and injuries.
This rule change only lasted a few decades, and was done away with once and for all in 1923.
5. The Creation of the Three Point Line
The three point line may dominate modern basketball, but it’s actually a late addition to the game. Where two pointers have been around since the sport’s inception, the three point line didn’t come about until the 1979-1980 season.
That means plenty of great players, including Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West, all played without it. There’s no telling what some great shooters of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s would have done with the ability to get an extra point on every deep shot.
6. The Origin of the Slam Dunk
Everyone who watches basketball loves a good slam dunk. The move is one of the most iconic in the game, and it’s electrifying in the right context. Though players have been using the move since they could reach the rim, the name came much, much later.
The origin of the phrase is attributed to well-known announcer Chick Hearn. In 1972, while watching the Los Angeles Lakers, he used the move to describe a powerful slam. It almost instantly caught on, and has been in wide use ever since.
7. Establishing Smaller Squads
Basketball is a game played with five-on-five. That wasn’t always the way. When the game first came about teams were allowed to have as many players as they could find. That led to some organizations having 50 or more players, even if they could only play nine at a time.
That, of course, wasn’t feasible and didn’t last for long. In 1897, the five-on-five rule came about and changed the game forever.
8. Dribbling Used to be Banned
Dribbling is one of the core aspects of modern basketball, which is why it’s so surprising that it wasn’t a part of the original game. Rather than bouncing the ball off the floor as they moved around, players were only allowed to advance it by passing it to their teammates.
Those without the ball could move as usual, but those who had or caught the ball could only throw it to another player. In 1897, dribbling first came about because teams could bounce the ball once before going into a pass. Regular dribbling came into existence four years later.
9. The First NBA-TV Contract
Basketball is one of the most watched sports in both America and the world. It gets millions of viewers, and brings in huge crowds for the playoffs and Finals. However, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the game didn’t have a huge following up until the 1950’s.
There were several reasons for that shift, but the biggest was that the NBA got its first contract during the 1953-1954 season. That was an incredibly significant move that completely changed the way fans interacted with the league. It paved the way for other televised sports as well.
10. Recording Steals and Blocks
In today’s basketball steals and blocks are two of the five core statistics alongside points, assists, and rebounds. It wasn’t always that way. Though the three offensively focused stats were first recorded during the start of the NBA, the defensive ones took time to catch on.
The league didn’t officially record either of the stats until the 1973-1974 season. That may seem incredibly late, but basketball has always been an offensive game. It makes sense that defense would take a back seat.
11. A Quicker Game
One of the reasons basketball is so popular is its fast-paced nature. The game is lighting quick, with possessions going by in a blink of an eye. As with all aspects, however, that’s something that came about during the game’s evolution. Specifically, in 1954.
It was during that season when, bored by slow play and low-scoring games, Syracuse Nationals Owner Danny Biasone and his general manager Leo Ferris came up with the 24 second shot clock. That sped up the game in a big way and allowed offenses to up their scoring potential.
12. Michael Jordan’s Fine
The Jordan shoe brand is incredibly popular. So much so that it might well be the most recognized sneaker on Earth. Even so, his shoes weren’t always breaking sales records. First, he had to wear them out on the court. And to do so, he had to pay a price.
When Jordan first wanted to wear them during his rise during the late 80’s/early 90’s, they were against the official NBA dress code. Rather than obeying the league’s orders, Jordan stubbornly wore them and took the fine. He did it again and again until the NBA allowed them to be worn.
13. Referees Used Watches
Unlike today’s NBA, where every job is split up between different individuals, early basketball games had people pulling double time. Most notably were the referees, who both had to call the fouls and keep track of the clock.
To do that, they wore watches. That allowed them to keep an eye on the clock as they moved around the court. That may seem counterintuitive, especially because it made it hard for the players to see how much time was left, but it kept things simple until the early 1950’s.
14. The Legendary 1979 NCAA Tournament
There have been many great basketball games that would one day leave their mark on history. Though there are plenty of individual contests, few kicked off an era like the 1979 NCAA Tournament when Michigan State took on Indiana State.
The contest was one of the best-rated games in NCAA history, and for good reason. It was the first time Magic Johnson faced off against Larry Bird. The game would mark the turning point of them moving into the NBA, and act as the start of their long and storied rivalry.
15. Basketball’s Invention
All of the above facts and interesting tidbits would not be possible without a simple man with a dream and idea all the way back in 1891. That character, James Naismith, is credited with creating the sport that so many know and love today.
Using a peach basket nailed to the balcony as a hoop, the International YMCA Physical Education teacher brought about the game as a way to keep students fit and busy indoors during the cold winter months.
It has gone through plenty of shifts and evolutions since that time, but there would be no basketball without Naismith’s first idea over one hundred years ago.
It doesn’t matter how much someone watches or plays basketball, there are still parts of the sport they don’t know. It’s one of the oldest professional games in the world, and with that comes a long history not everyone fully knows or understands.
The above facts aren’t just unique, they show how much more depth there is to the game than many people believe. It’s fun, fast paced, and extremely complex. That gives it an extra layer, and makes it even more interesting.