The year is 1997 and the NBA is throwing a celebration of its best players in history in Cleveland during the All-Star game. It was the first time Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan met. It didn’t take long for the two to start arguing who was the better player. The debate was won by Wilt.
“Just remember Michael. When you played, they changed the rules to make it easier for you to dominate. When I played, they changed the rules to make it harder for me”Wilt Chamberlain, BN
MJ didn’t have a comeback, and reasonably so. It’s difficult to argue there is a greater compliment from a change in the rules just so others would have a chance against you. Here are some of the most important rule changes caused by players.
Leroy Edwards – three-second rule
The three-second rule states that a player cannot remain in the opponents’ restricted area around the backboard for more than three consecutive seconds while his team had the ball and the game clock is running. This rule was implemented in 1936 to prevent big players from controlling the area and to prevent rough playing under the board.
History recognizes Leroy Edwards as the man that caused the rule change back in 1936. He was was a 6-5 center in the early days of professional basketball and a physical one at that. Edwards dominated so much that teams felt they had no chance if he was allowed to roam underneath the basket. Despite the rule change, Edwards was one of the best players of his era.
George Mikan – defensive goaltending
At 6-10, George Mikan was the most athletic big-man basketball had seen so far. His height and athleticism gave his team an unbeatable advantage – Mikan would swat balls away as they were going to the hoop. Mikan was able to do this as early as his college days at De Paul University, so the NCAA made goaltending illegal in 1945.
George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain – free throw lanes widened
In the NBA, George Mikan controlled the area around the basket to such a degree that in 1951, the league widened the free throw lane from 6 to 12 feet to give other players a chance.
Then in 1964 Wilt Chamberlain showed up and dominated even more, so the lane was widened a second time, from 12 to 16 feet
Wilt Chamberlain – free throw plane
OK, widening the lane for the second time wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t out of the blue. What Wilt did during free throws was a whole different story. Chamberlain was so athletic that he would throw the ball up toward the basket, take two steps, jump toward the rim and dunk the ball. No one could stop him.
Rumors of this got to the NCAA and NBA. Both organizations introduced a rule stating that a player cannot cross the plane of the free-throw line when shooting a free-throw.
Wilt Chamberlain – inbounding over the backboard
Another rule change courtesy of Wilt Chamberlain. Inbounders standing underneath the basket would routinely lob the ball over the backboard for Wilt. After teams found no way to defend this, the league created a rule that the ball cannot be inbounded over the backboard
Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – dunking ban
Zion Williamson got famous thanks to his dunking highlights in high school. If he had played in Kareem’s time, that would’ve cost him a suspension. When Kareem, Lew Alcindor at the time, arrive at UCLA, the heads of NCAA felt his ability to dunk the ball at will was such an unfair advantage they banned dunking. As in, any for of dunking altogether.
The Alcindor rule held from 1967 to 1975, when it was rescinded, and players were allowed to dunk again. The consequence of this decision? Alcindor had to find a different way of scoring in the post – he started working on a hook shot.
38,387 points later, Kareem and his skyhook are still no.1 on the all-time scoring list in NBA history. They wanted to prevent a dominant post move to give people a chance, and they got the skyhook. Talk about unintended consequences.
Trent Tucker – minimum shot time
The ’89/’90 season was the first year the league had used tenths of a second in timekeeping. In a tie game against the Bulls, the Knicks’ Mark Jackson inbounded the ball to Trent Tucker with 0.1 seconds left. The Bulls were preparing for an alley-oop, believing a shot couldn’t be released in such limited time, but Tucker caught the pass and made the game-winning 3-pointer. Though the play was upheld after review, the NBA later determined that a player couldn’t get a shot off in less than 0.3 seconds.
Charles Barkley & Mark Jackson – “The Booty Rule” a.k.a. the
five second rule
Sir Charles was surprisingly physical for his height. Barkley would match up against taller, stronger players and regularly win the duel. One of his favorite moves? Back down a player for 20 seconds, use his quite large behind to creates space and then shoot or pass.
Marck Jackson had the same penchant for backing guards down in the post, so the league created the five-second rule. The league stated that no player below the free-throw line could actually do this for longer than 5 seconds.
Shaquille O’Neal – zone defense
Before Shaq’s three-peat, zone defense wasn’t allowed in the paint and all coverage had to be man to man. There was no chance for teams to defend Shaq without double or triple-teaming him. Zone defense was allowed, changing the way every team in the NBA defends the lane nowadays.
Bruce Bowen – shooter landing area
The San Antonio Spurs are the model organization of the NBA. 20 years of 50+ regular-season wins and playoffs appearances. The Spurs do things the right way. Well, that’s why they tell us. Remember the fury of Gregg Popovich and the organization when Zaza Pachulia slid his foot under Kawhi in the playoffs? How could you forget? But do you remember the name everyone mentioned when talking about karma?
Planting your foot under a player while he was in the air wasn’t a Bruce Bowen original, but he mastered the move to such a level the NBA instituted a rule in 2006 that says players must have a safe space to land. What goes around, comes around.