Enough of that dunk bunk: Let's try raising the basketball hoop

An experiment on Saturday in Seattle will see what a game with 11-foot rims would be like.
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An experiment on Saturday in Seattle will see what a game with 11-foot rims would be like.

Early this week a dozen-odd basketball players got together here and shot at standard backboards, deliberately missing on the high side by about a foot. They were practicing for Saturday afternoon, June 16, when, at the University of Washington's Hec Edmundson Pavilion, they'll play an exhibition game using what some would call heresy and others would call high time: an 11-foot rim instead of the traditional 10-footer. The Big Game, as it could accurately be called, was dreamed up among the three principals of Family Sports Life Today, a group devoted to quality coaching and, since January, to staging a public experiment about the efficacy of raising the bar, so to speak, for men's college and pro basketball. Tom Newell, director of the group, said Tuesday, June 12, that he remains open-minded as to whether (as many have suggested during an era of larger, stronger, springier basketball players) the rim should be raised. He said the goal, so to speak, is simply to have players and spectators participate in the spectacle and decide for themselves. This will be enabled by live coverage of the 1 p.m. event on Fox Sports Northwest, with sports-talk radio KJR-AM (950) also airing the action. Admission is free, though Newell would like attendees to bring non-perishable food items for Northwest Harvest. He'd also like them to bring their willingness to imagine a game played at an elevation the inventor might actually have intended. Historians, that is, have said that James Naismith's rim standard might easily have been 10 feet 6 inches, or even 11 feet, were it not for the limitations posed by the wooden overhang at the field house in Springfield, Mass., where Naismith devised the game first played in 1891. In any case, Newell, 59, a long-time mentor (he was an assistant coach for the Sonics from 1986 to 1990), observed that the game has undergone a lot of changes, including shot clocks, three-point arcs. and modified floor dimensions. For the Saturday contest. dubbed "For the Love of the Game: An Elevated Look at Basketball," a 30-second shot clock will be used and three-pointers will be restricted to the final 12-minute quarter. Players include a lot of college veterans and several from other countries. Jim Harrick, who led UCLA to a national championship in 1995, will coach one squad. Newell said recently released Sonics coach Bob Hill was supposed to be the other mentor but had to cancel because of the birth of a grandchild. The rim-height experiment isn't without precedent. Newell's father, Pete, for example, staged a 1961 game with hoops raised to 11 and a half feet. The novelty came on the heels of the elder Newell, a 1979 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, coaching both a collegiate national champion team at Cal and a U.S. Olympic gold-medal winner. Despite the prestige of Pete Newell, the 10-foot standard prevailed and continues to, except on rare occasions when backyard players raise or lower an adjustable apparatus as a diversion. Tom Newell insisted that he and his associates, while serious about trying to present an upgrade to the basketball status quo, have no designs on challenging established standards for other sports. This will come as a relief, no doubt, to those worried about, say, modifying pitching mounds or redesigning curling stones. Does anybody think the basketball hierarchy would seriously contemplate raising the rim? Jeff Hawes, a member of Seattle's first family of hoops (he, his brother, Steve, and his son, Spencer, have played for the Huskies), said, "maybe someday, but not in our generation." Hawes noted that a lot of modern players could easily dunk the ball at the elevated height, although, he hastened to add, "not me." He said he's actually shot at a higher hoop and, technically, success can be just a matter of making an adjustment. Fans will find out Saturday. As for the logistics of setting up higher standards at Hec Ed, Newell said it merely required building materials, nail guns, and "a coupla cases of Corona." The latter remark might have been facetious. If so, perhaps it should have been accompanied by a rim shot.


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