A Brief History of Basketball’s Three-Point Line

A Brief History of Basketball’s Three-Point Line

The NBA three-point line has completely revolutionized the game of basketball. Now, more than ever, players look to shoot from behind the arc as soon as they cross half court rather than run an offensive play for an easy layup.

It hasn’t always been this way, however. In fact, the idea of adding a three-point line was frowned upon for quite some time. Even after it was adopted, many players and coaches still despised it. To understand more about how the three-point line was introduced in the NBA, a brief history lesson is in order.

First Instance of the Three-Point Line

The three-point line was actually first tested at the collegiate level in 1945 in a game between Columbia and Fordham. The line, which was set at a distance of 21 feet, was not kept as a rule at the time. Fourteen years later in 1958, the three-pointer was experimented with again at 23 feet in a game between St. Francis (NY) and Siena.

Professional Basketball Adopts Three-Point Line

It wasn’t until three years after the last college experiment, that a professional basketball association integrated the three-point line into its official rulebook. In 1961, the American Basketball League (ABL) incorporated the three-pointer into the game. Unfortunately, the ABL folded halfway through its second season, taking the three-point line with it.

In an effort to set itself apart from the NBA through modern innovation, the American Basketball Association (ABA) adopted the three-pointer when it launched in 1967. The ABA also used a white and blue basketball and introduced the slam-dunk contest to the basketball community.

NBA Finally Adds Three-Point Line

After several bad business decisions by those running the NBA’s rival league, seven ABA owners agreed to a merger with the NBA in 1976. Initially, the three-point line was not incorporated into the NBA despite the success it saw in the ABA. The NBA wanted to stay true to the tradition of the game.

Just three years later, the NBA adopted the three-point line for a one-year trial during the 1979-80 season. The NCAA didn’t adopt the three-point line until seven years later despite being the first organization to trial the innovative concept.

The Impact on the Game

Many players and coaches did not care for the addition of the three-pointer initially. It forced them to completely change the way they ran their offense and how they played defense. It’s almost as if it was an entirely different game.

The players also had to learn how to incorporate an entirely new skill to their arsenal. Although taking a longer shot doesn’t seem like much of an adjustment, some of the greatest players during that era struggled to be consistent.

Fifteen years later, the NBA made another significant change involving the three-point line. In order to address the decreased scoring it was experiencing, the league shortened the three-point line from 23 feet nine inches to an even 22 feet.

At the beginning of the 1997-98 season, the three-point line was moved back to its original distance since players had learned how to adapt and were scoring more easily.

Three-Point Line Today

It’s nearly impossible to imagine professional basketball without the three-point line. At the end of the 20th century, the average NBA score sat at 183 points per game. Today, the average NBA score per game is currently 222 points (111 points per team).

With three-point sharpshooters like Warriors’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Kevin Harden from the Houston Rockets, this number is only going to increase. Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider moving the three-point line back before it becomes the modern-day layup.