The three-point line has become such a integral part of basketball that it’s difficult to fathom the game was ever played without the ability to shoot from afar for an extra point.
However taking a quick look over the history of the three-point line; the three-pointer has only been around for roughly 40 years – with it first being popularized by the ABA. Even with the ABA’s mainstream use in the 1970s, the idea of the three-point line has been around for as long at 75-years, depending on whom you believe and how you define the invention.
The Inventor(s) of the Three-Point Line
We can all agree that it wasn’t in Naismith’s original game plan when he invented basketball back in 1891. So then, who came up with the idea of a basketball three-point line?
This is where the facts get a little hazy.
Checking over the information on the web, Wikipedia refers to the possibility that the three-pointer was first created in 1933.
Herman Sayger, a high-school basketball phenom cum coach in the midwest, came up with the idea of a three-point shot in a scoring system that rewarded distance of the shot being made; shots made within 15 feet of the basket were worth one point, shots between 15-25 feet were worth two points, and shots from 25 feet (!) and beyond were worth 3 points.
Despite Saygar’s stature (he set the Indiana state record for points in a game with 113) his suggestion was never put into practice.
According to a couple articles, Howard Hobson was the innovator I was looking for. Back in 1945, Hobson was the head coach of the University of Oregon and was also part of the Rules Committee. And as a Rules Committee member, Hobson lobbied for the “bonus shot” designed to limit the effectiveness of a taller players and eliminate zone defenses. The three point line, as well as other rule changes, were tested in a game between Columbia and Fordham on February 07, 1945.
Another source says that Al Grenert, former basketball All-American and coach, introduced the line back in the 1950s as a competitive advantage for smaller players in a time where giants were dominating and changing the face of the game. I wasn’t able to find any of other sources for this one.
Some give credit to the ABL, a professional men’s basketball league that started play in 1961, when they made the arc an official part of their league.
And some insist that the inventor of the three-pointer is Puerto Rico’s Eddie Rios Mellado, who created the line for a childrens’ league and later implemented the line in an official international tournament held in 1962. And Tuto Marchand, FIBA’s honorary secretary, is lobbying the international organization to recognize Mellado as the inventor. Check out the following article:
Inventor of “Arms Raised”
By Lester Jiménez, Primera Hora, May 31, 2008
Puerto Rican teacher Eddie Ríos Mellado is known as the inventor of basketball’s three-point line – it is time that the rest of the world knows it.
The honorary secretary of the Federación Internacional de Baloncesto en América (FIBA Americas), Jenaro “Tuto” Marchand is on a mission to prove in the highest levels of international basketball that Puerto Rico, in 1962, invented, regulated and patented the famous rule that revolutionized the sport of hoops.
Marchand said yesterday that last week he sent all the documentation to prove that Ríos Mellado was the first to use the three-point line rule in an official tournament to various international organizations, including the FIBA Europe and the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, USA (Massachusetts), eight years before it was used for the first time in the United States.
“This is a long process that is going to take time. The first thing that I will do is try to identify which is the right forum that recognizes this type of things. Therefore I have sent the documents all over the place, “ said Marchand in an interview with PRIMERA HORA. “I am completely convinced that Eddie was the first one [to use the three-point line]. The proof is eloquent, clear, simple and very-well documented,” said Marchand, who maintained that his goal is that the Puerto Rican teacher be including in the International Hall of Fame in Spain and the United States.
It was in 1962, while Ríos Mellado was director of sports for the Caparra Country Club, that he decided to create a league, Mini Basketball, for the small children from ages six to ten. As way to motivate to the smaller stature players, he invented a shot that counted for three points.
“I went to the center of the hoop and I made a line from ten feet and I tested it. From eleven feet, I tested it. From twelve, I tested it. And from thirteen I tested it and left it there. That was the birth of the three-point basket,” said Ríos Mellado, commenting on the history of his famous invention, 78 years; 58 of them as a physical education teacher. “I recorded it in the Mini Basketball League that we had the three-point basket and I have all those papers that prove it,” he added.
It was not until 1968 that the American Basketball Association (ABA) included a three-point line in its tournament, as a measure to try to compete with the most powerful league, the NBA, although they did not necessarily copy Ríos Mellado’s idea.
“It could have been a coincidence, but what we want to clarify is that the first one that used the rule in a tournament was Eddie Ríos, and the proof is there,” said Marchand.
Ríos Mellado, for his part, is still surprised to see that world basketball just wouldn’t be the same without the three-point line.
“I never thought about it [around the world], nor was it my intention. I didn’t invent it for Russia or the United States. I came up with it for the children of my country and for myself to enjoy the game with them using that new rule,” he said.
Mainstream Adoption of the Three-Point Line
The NBA adopted the three-point line previous to the 1979-80 season, three seasons after merging with the ABA, the rival, counter-culture league that popularized the shot.
The ABA had used the three-point shot all throughout the 1970s before merging with the NBA in 1976. Along with the slam dunk, the ABA used the shot as a way of creating excitement during the game, as well as differentiating themselves from the NBA.
Then in 1984, the International Federation of Basketball (FIBA) adopted a shorter three-point shot for international competition (at 20 feet and 5 inches, the line was 3 feet 3 inches shorter than the NBA). FIBA is set to extend the line to 22 feet, 2 inchs in 2010.
And in 1986, after 5 or 6 years of NCAA conferences adopting differing distances for the three-point arc, the NCAA introduced a standardized three-point line for college basketball at 19 feet and 9 inches, which will extend an extra foot out for the 2008-09 season.
The Decision is up to you
So then, who invented the shot? Well, it all depends on whom and what you believe.
Was it a high school player/coach in the midwest that had the idea in 1933, but never put into play? Or was it when it was actually introduced in a test game (1945), does that count? Did the invention become legitimized when it was permanently adopted by a little-known professional league (1961) or in an documented international tournament (1962)? How much does documentation count for you? Are you a believer that the idea counts as the invention or when the idea becomes tangible?
Whatever answer you go with, you better be ready for a nice discussion. And you better know Spanish.
Sources: Three-Point Field Goal (Wikipedia), When was the three-point shot added to basketball? (Wiki-Answers), Herman “Suz” Sayger Profile (Hoopedia), Naismith of the Three (IvyLeagueSports.com), El Inventor de loa “Manos Arriba” (PrimaAhora.com) — thanks to MVBlair for the article translation, So… Who Really Invented the Three-Pointer?? (Interbasket Message Board)
Also see: Who Invented the Slam Dunk?