J.J. Barea, generously listed at 6-foot, didn’t take long to shoot down the notion that it might be time for basketball to raise the rims from 10 feet.
“No,” Barea said, shaking his head.
He paused and then smiled.
“That’d be awful for me,” he said.
He isn’t alone in that sentiment. The rims have always been 10-feet high since James Naismith posted 13 rules for a game he called “Basket Ball” in a Springfield, Mass., YMCA gym in 1891.
The average height for men during that time, however, was 5-foot-6. Now, your average NBA player is 6-foot-7. But, over that same time period, the game has also evolved and the game above the rim is arguably the most exciting aspect.
Who doesn’t love an impressive dunk or alley-oop?
“I like it where it’s at, the slam dunk is still an exciting play,” TNT analyst and former NBA All-Star Grant Hill said. “It’s something that fans like, and it certainly gets your team going when it happens. You eliminate that to a degree when you raise the basket.”
Sure, that could be a consequence, but there are plenty of athletes in today’s game who could dunk with relative ease on an 11-foot rim, maybe even a 12-foot rim.
Zach LaVine won this year’s dunk contest with four spectacular slams with his head near rim level. Dwight Howard went effortlessly with a two-handed slam on a 12-foot goal in the 2009 contest.
Outside of the natural talents of the players nowadays, the biggest benefit would be returning to a more fundamentally sound game. SMU’s Larry Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, certainly didn’t dismiss the idea like some players.
Brown has seen the game change throughout the years, and not necessarily for the better. He’d like to see the fundamentals improve on every level and raising the rims could help in that area.
It’s an idea that has been discussed for years and proponents of it have included legendary coaches such as Phog Allen, John Wooden and Dean Smith. Should we include Brown on that list?
“I don’t know,” Brown said. “Alley oops and dunks are exciting, I love that part of the game. So I don’t take that lightly. There’s a skill to doing that stuff, but that’s something to think about.”
Pros for the change
The reason the basket is 10-feet high is because that’s how high the track above the gym was where Naismith invented the game and nailed peach baskets to it. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s one of the great historical stories of the game, of course, but that’s hardly a reason to keep it from changing. Nobody has objected to ignoring one of Naismith’s original rules that prohibited dribbling, after all.
Raising the rims, as stated, would have the No. 1 benefit of improving the fundamentals of the game.
NBA superstar Paul Pierce, in a 2009 Boston Globe blog, stated: “I would raise the rim three inches. Then, you have to learn the art of the jump shot. You’ll have to know how to play this game a little bit better then. Raising the rim, you’ll see increasing play. You’ll see increasing fundamentals. I’m telling you.”
That has been proven through experimental games with raised rims over the years.
The most recent such game came in 2007 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington in Seattle. Coach Tom Newell, the son of Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell, put the event together.
Outside of 11-foot rims, rules included no backcourt or 10-second violation with a 30-second shot clock. Also, 3-pointers were not counted until the fourth quarter.
The teams were comprised of former Division I, II and III players, and the results were favorable by all accounts from fans and media in attendance.
“The spacing was fantastic actually,” Newell said. “Players passed to the post, cut to the basket and, when they went one-on-one on read/react plays, their jump hooks and turnarounds were the best percentage shots.”
Newell feels it’s a necessary change for basketball to make, although he is strongly against having it at the high school level. Instead, he’d like to see the college and pro game play on the elevated rims with high school players continuing to play on 10-foot rims.
“This would force a large number of high school aspirants that wish to play someday in the NBA to go to college and learn the game,” Newell said. “And, perhaps staying more than eight months as they have to, they’ll listen to their coaches regarding offensive and defensive philosophy, get physically stronger, develop better overall fundamentals and of course get an education.”
One of Newell’s colleagues, former juco coach Ernie Woods, kept in-depth statistics throughout the experimental game. And he came to the same conclusion as Newell — it’s time to raise the rim.
“It’s ridiculous ... you have guys like Zach Lavine with his head at or above rim level during the dunk contest,” Woods said. “It’s time for it to change. One of the big things that’ll happen by doing it is forcing post players to learn to shoot baby hooks and skills like that instead of relying on just athleticism because there isn’t a good angle to the basket in the restraining circle.”
Similar results were found in 1994 when the NCAA staged a game before the Final Four in Charlotte featuring two ACC teams. The baskets were 11-feet with no other changes to the game, recalled Ed Bilik, a longtime NCAA administrator who served his last 14 years as men’s basketball secretary-rules editor.
The effects of that game were promising, as well. The shooting percentages were lower than normal, but that was expected with the altered height. The ball rebounded further from the rim on missed shots, which would increase the difficultly of tip-ins and eliminate congestion in the lane.
At that time, Bilik said, momentum was well in favor of increasing the rim height.
“It had a great deal of favorability,” Bilik said. “Then, just before we were going to take a vote, someone asked, ‘Well, what about the women?’ That was a problem. At that time, I don’t know if they could’ve changed and elevated the baskets from 10-feet to 11-feet easily. So, after that, it just never came back up.”
Still, Bilik still feels that it’s a change that is worth pursuing. He understands the challenges to it and it’s something that would have to be studied closely to determine the right height to raise the rim, whether it’s 10 1/2-feet, 11-feet, 12-feet or somewhere in between.
And the rim heights don’t necessarily have to be universal across the board. As Newell suggests, high schools could be lower than college and the NBA. The size of footballs used in high school to college to NFL increase in size at each level, for instance.
“We’ve got a wonderful game and I don’t think you change for the sake of changing,” Bilik said. “But there are times when you have to look at things. This is a drastic change, but it’s worth looking into. The physical characteristics of players change with time and we can not let our game of basketball become stagnate. We have to present to those players a challenge.
“Right now, I don’t think the players are as good offensively ... how many times do you see a layup from a set offense anymore? So, it’s definitely worth experimenting with and we’ve just got to make sure it doesn’t affect the effectiveness of our game.”
That is the delicate balance in this all and something Barea and Hill expressed concern over. They weren’t even in favor of experimenting with the idea during the All-Star Game such as football using the Pro Bowl to study longer extra-point attempts.
“It’d take some of the fun out of the game because then everything would be under the rim,” Barea said.
Added Hill: “I’m all for tweaking, changing and adapting the game and style of play and so forth, but certain things are kind of sacred and I like the idea of keeping the basket where it is — 10 feet. It’s been that way as far back as I can remember, and I don’t think the league should or will do that in coming years.”
Because raising the rim is such a drastic change, it’s hard to foresee it realistically happening. Instead, there have been other ideas floated around about how to improve the quality of play.
At the college level, for instance, there has been much talk of shortening the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30. In theory, that would increase the number of possessions throughout the game, thus increasing the offensive level of play.
But Brown is highly opposed to that notion.
“They want scoring to be up? Well, the way to get scoring up is to teach the kids how to play,” Brown said. “I worry about if you shorten the clock — one, I don’t think it’ll help the game; and two, I think it’ll keep teams that really don’t have the talent from having a chance to beat a more talented team and that troubles me.”
Brown went on to use the ABA days as an example of why scoring wouldn’t necessarily increase with a shortened shot clock. From the 1967-68 season through the 1974-75 season, the ABA had a 30-second shot clock while the NBA had its standard 24-second shot clock.
The ABA had a higher average score than the NBA in six of those eight seasons.
“Those extra six seconds allowed you to move the ball and get a better percentage shot,” Brown said. “We took less bad shots.”
Brown is all for improving the game in various ways and understands that raising the rim might help, however, also offered a more simple approach.
“Let’s figure out ways to teach the game better,” he said. “We’ve got to learn a little bit from the Europeans. They take kids of all sizes and don’t pigeonhole them and say, ‘You’re a center. You’re a guard.’
“Just teach them how to handle the ball, how to shoot the ball, how to pass the ball, how to guard. We have to do that.”
Woods couldn’t agree more. He and Newell, the two who put on the exhibition game with 11-foot rims in Seattle several years back, run several coaching camps overseas.
And it’s become clear that the international game has caught up with the United States.
Just look at the San Antonio Spurs, the reigning NBA champions who rely heavily on international players such as Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil) and Patrick Mills (Australia).
The NBA also had more than 100 foreign players on opening-day rosters this season, the most it’s ever had. That’s more than 25 percent of the NBA player population.
“What’s that tell you about our development?” Woods said. “All we do now is play games.”
Brown has the same issues with youth basketball, particularly the AAU and select scene. More emphasis is put on playing games and tournaments across the country than spending hours in a gym learning the fundamentals of the game.
Raising the rim or not, something must change to get back to the way basketball should be played in several old-school minds.
“I’d wish we’d focus more on teaching kids how to play before they play in the game,” Brown said. “We’ve also got to put more emphasis on high school coaches being students of the game. We have a lot of great ones, but I think too much emphasis is put on games instead of practice.
“So, again, we’ve just got to do a better job of teaching kids the basic fundamentals of how to be successful.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
NBA dunk leaders
Raising the rim from 10 feet to 11 feet might make the NBA dunk leaders an elite group. Here are the 2014-15 NBA dunk leaders through Sunday’s games:
1. DeAndre Jordan
2. Tyson Chandler
3. Andre Drummond
4. Anthony Davis
5. Timofey Mozgov
5. Mason Plumlee
7. Tristan Thompson
8. Nerlens Noel
9. Rudy Gobert
10. Derrick Favors