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How Basketballs Three-Pointer was started from Morningside Heights.

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By Shawn Fury |Spring 2017

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It has become a matter of poetry: Stephen Curry, guardian of the Golden State Warriors, dribbles across the court, casually stops outside the three-point line, gets up from the floor, lifts the basketball near his head, moves his wrist and leaves the ball twenty two feet or more above the place where it whispers through the net: swish .

Curry, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, is the greatest practitioner of the three-point shot, and his coach Steve Kerr, who played on championship teams for the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, holds the record for the highest career three-point shot Percentage. But every time fans marvel at Curry or others who excel at the three-pointer game - perhaps the most important game in basketball - they unknowingly pay tribute to an innovator who used the Columbia gym as his laboratory.

Howard Hobson’s 45TC was best known as a groundbreaking college coach. He won 495 games as a coach and led the University of Oregon to the first-ever NCAA tournament championship in 1939. But its greatest contribution to basketball may have been made on February 7, 1945, during a game between Fordham and Columbia. That night, in front of about a thousand people on Columbia campus, the Lions and Rams played the first college game with a three-point line, an experimental rule devised by Hobson.

Hobson was forty-one at the time and was on a sabbatical from Oregon to get his PhD in education. He had spent thirteen years analyzing 460 basketball games. He should summarize these observations in his Columbia paper, which he translated into the book in 1949 Scientific basketball . Few remember Hobson's basketball Bible today, but the ideas he put into practice in the 1945 Columbia game and outlined in Chapter 10 of his book are accepted wisdom. The three-point shot in particular changed the game forever. Like the home run in baseball, Hobson wrote that the long field goal is the most spectacular game in basketball.

The three-point shot, unlike the usual two-point shot, promised not only to be exciting for the spectators, but also to lessen the advantage of taller players who could easily throw the ball into the bucket at close range. In a preview of the historic matchup in 1945 New York Times wrote: In an effort to make basketball a more interesting and open game, the Columbia-Fordham competition will be held under new rules tonight at the Morningside Heights gym.

When the game started, players loved the new long-range shot, even if it sometimes confused them. Officials called several players about travel violations when they forgot to dribble and simply ran with the ball to the three-point line.

Columbia won 73-58 to hit eleven threes while Fordham made nine. Columbia's John Profant hit four of the long shots and teammate Norm Skinner’s 50CC hit three of them for twenty-six points. Some fans have completed surveys about the changes. The closing balance came with 148 for the three, 105 against.

The new rule certainly reinforced Columbia's offensive. Those 73 points set a school record for Lions. In no other game this season Columbia even reached sixty points. By doing New York Herald Grandstand , wrote Irving T. Marsh, For that observer, the new rules have definitely brought a game with more action and a lot more suspense, but when it gets really wild and woolly, there's no telling what can happen.

Other reporters saw a harsher opinion. The spectator complained of confusion, and an Associated Press writer asked, What's wrong with the old game? New York Times Clerk Louis Effrat noted: The experts' impression was that subordinating the lay-up shot by awarding an additional point for a long basket would minimize the value of team play. The experiment was therefore anything but a howling success. Effrat ended his story by predicting that the three-pointer would die of natural causes.

And for many years, Howard Hobson's favorite recording seemed destined to perish. But then the short-lived American Basketball League used the three-pointer for the 1961-62 season, and the longer-lived American Basketball Association introduced the shot in 1967. The NBA didn't use it until 1979, and the NCAA made it a statewide rule in 1986. Today, the three-pointer, a ubiquitous basketball weapon that allows teams to build bigger leads or overcome bigger deficits in less time, is there more and more teams shoot more shots from the city center, as the announcer says.

Hobson, who died in 1991 at the age of eighty-seven, was a lifelong advocate of the three-dot concept, believing that the piece he unleashed in 1945 was the shot of the future. He did it modestly, however. in the Scientific basketball , Hobson wrote that coaches should try the three-point shot and see if the results seem helpful for the game. Warriors coach Kerr would probably say yes.

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