Back in the 1990s, Bulls teammates Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper often would gamble on long shots they’d attempt before and after practice. I and other observers never knew how much money the players had in the pot, but they acted like it was a lot.
One day I watched them fire away from everywhere, trash-talking all the while, at one point taking shots — in form, in rhythm — from the team bench area. Let’s say our guys were shooting from 30 to 35 feet.
Some shots went in, some missed. Jordan made one at a tense moment, hollered a bunch of garbage at Pippen and Harper about paying up and sashayed to the locker room.
The point here is not that these guys were lunatic gamblers (and cigar smokers), but that nearly a quarter-century ago, it was clear that skilled professional basketball players could make long-range shots that normal athletes could not. In fact, the 76ers now practice with a four-point line taped on their gym floor.
The NBA three-point line is 23 feet, nine inches from the center of the rim. This is a joke.
It didn’t start out that way, but as coaches and players realized a three is worth not just a little more than a two, but 50 percent more, the three-pointer has come to dominate the game.
Shoot a normal close-in basket? How pedestrian. How stupid, actually.
Jordan and his mates shot their regular, precise jumpers even from halfcourt. These were not heaves. These were shot attempts. Steph Curry, LeBron James, Klay Thompson can do the same. So can James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker and many others.
It’s time to change the game.
The concept of passing the ball far outside even — especially — after a drive to the basket is now the norm.
If this is exciting to players and the audience — and it seems to be — then we need a four-point line.
Remember, when the three came into the NBA in 1979-80, it was considered heresy by many. Now we can’t imagine basketball without it. The floor has opened up. Giants such as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can’t dominate. Human-sized speedboats such as Harden, Curry and Russell Westbrook have taken control. And we like that.
A four-point line — say an arc near halfcourt — would open up the game even more. And imagine the crazy comeback possibilities. A game would never be over until the final horn.
When you think about it, why even have an eight-second halfcourt rule? The violation is never called. Why not five seconds, to make pressing defense a real factor?
Indeed, why have a halfcourt line at all?
The 24-second shot clock takes care of offense. And with a four-point line, you’d better guard somebody like Harden all over the floor.
One other issue I have with the pro game is this: The rim is too low.
The dunk means nothing these days.
On some teams, every player can dunk. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo often duck to keep from hitting their heads on the backboard. Kevin Durant is 6-10, with a 7-4 wingspan, dribbles like a guard and can dip from three feet away from the rim.
The rim has been 10 feet high for all of basketball’s 126 years. It was an arbitrary height from the start because that’s where the peach baskets could be nailed to the running track above James Naismith’s gym floor in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Players were much smaller then. Players couldn’t reach the top of the basket, let alone cram the ball through a la Dwight Howard.
A 10-4 rim seems about right to me. But higher, lower? Doesn’t matter. Something needs to change.
Remember when the designated hitter came into baseball? When the bump-and-run all the way downfield was eliminated from football? When hockey did away with the two-line offside-pass rule? When fish-hooking, eye-gouging and hair-pulling were eliminated from mixed martial arts? When — praise the Lord! — lights were installed at Wrigley Field?
Athletes change, games evolve. We survive, even flourish.
The NBA needs some evolution.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their gritty, no-holds-barred takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.