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The Rise of the Modern Game

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Several events in the 1930s spurred the growth of the game as a spectator sport and at the same time made basketball more exciting for the players. The first of these came in the 1932-33 season (basketball seasons tend to run from Autumn through to Spring) rules designed to speed up play were adopted. It became mandatory, under penalty of losing possession, to move the ball past midcourt in less than ten seconds. In addition, no player was permitted to remain within the foul lanes for more than three seconds. Then in 1934 a New York sportswriter, Ned Irish, persuaded the promoters at New York's Madison Square Garden, a large arena, to schedule doubleheaders between college teams. These events proved successful, and similar promotions followed in other cities. Before long, colleges began building their own arenas for basketball.

Another significant advance occurred in 1936, when a Stanford University team traveled from California to a Madison Square Garden promotion to challenge the eastern powers in the "cradle of basketball." Opponents and fans were stunned by the Stanford style of shooting--one-handed while jumping, which contrasted to the prevalent method of taking two-handed shots while standing still. One Stanford player, Hank Luisetti, was so adept at the "jump shot" that he could outscore an entire opposing team. The new style gained universal acceptance, and basketball scores rose remarkably.

In the 1937-38 season the center jump following each field goal was eliminated. At the end of the next season, Madison Square Garden brought in college teams from around the nation for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), a postseason playoff that was adopted (1939) on a wider scale by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Although the NIT is still held annually, the NCAA tournament serves as the official intercollegiate championship.

The University of Kentucky (coached, 1930-72, by Adolph Rupp), St. John's (in New York), the University of North Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kansas University, and Indiana University have been among the leading college basketball teams for years. From 1964 to 1975 the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), coached by John Wooden and led by the centers Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, dominated the intercollegiate play-offs, winning the title an unprecedented 10 times in 12 years. The 1,250 college teams in the United States now draw about 30 million spectators per season. Although women have played the game since the 1890s, and even though a few states (Iowa, for instance) have shown great participatory and spectator interest in secondary-school women's basketball for some decades, significant growth and serious recognition of women's basketball in the United States and elsewhere did not occur until the 1970s. Almost all U.S. states now hold girls' high school tournaments, and basketball is the fastest-growing women's intercollegiate sport.




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