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Changing the Game (Part I)


How a few legends shaped the game we know today


The game of basketball has evolved tremendously since its early days. Various rule changes have resulted in a faster-paced, more exciting brand of basketball, built to illustrate and maximize talents. Some of these have been instituted due to the dominance of legends, who were simply too unstoppable under existing rules.


One of the earliest significant changes was in the width of the lane, which was a miniscule six feet originally. With no one able to contend with the size of 6-foot-10 George Mikan from the Minneapolis Lakers, the lane was extended to twelve feet in an attempt to restore parity, before being extended again to today’s sixteen feet due to Wilt Chamberlain’s later dominance.


Mikan was responsible for other changes, with his size advantage. Goaltending was established in his collegiate days to prevent him from blocking every attempt near the basket, and the shot clock was partly attributable to teams playing keep-away just to deny him the ball on offense. Following in the tradition of big men altering the game, Chamberlain contributed through the offensive interference rule to stop him from tipping in shot attempts. Inbounds over the backboard were also banned as these gave the supremely-athletic Chamberlain many easy baskets. 


Similarly, the NCAA outlawed dunking for a decade to give lesser talents a fighting chance against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, although ironically it made him even more dominant by forcing him to perfect his renowned skyhook. Charles Barkley’s strength contributed to the five-second rule in the post, although this was attributed to the great point guard Mark Jackson as well. Many of these rules have resulted in lasting impact beyond their early intentions, fundamentally changing and improving the way we play the game today.