by Bill Monson


Well, college basketball managed to last until the opening day of professional baseball; and the NBA "real season" – the playoffs – will go into June. And meantime, hockey rattles along with its own playoffs and I don't even know who's playing. I don't watch much basketball on the tube. It seems to me if you watch the last five minutes, you get the part that really matters – and that, unfortunately, is marred by strategic fouling and time-outs and substituting. There's tension, but it's a caricature of the game. One-and-one free throws and three-point shots. And too many commercials. If I sound sour, maybe it's because the earliest games I saw had a jump ball at center court after every score! Most of the players shot two-handed. Final scores in the teens were common.

The three-second area was narrow and shaped like a keyhole. Hence its name "keyhole" until it was widened and called "the key." When they decided to paint the area, it became "the paint." Now, in international play, the area is a kind of rounded pyramid.

The old-time game was played in quarters, and each began with a jump ball. There were no possession arrows. Every tied ball was jumped at the nearest jump circle; and every team had a play for a jump ball by its opponents' basket. I've even seen jump balls tipped into the basket. (On one of them, I was the jumper who got scored on!)

The backboards were also called bankboards – and players actually banked the ball off them for scores. UCLA's John Wooden was the last coach to teach bankshots, I think. The boards came in all shapes and sizes – fan-shaped metal at Steele Gym, wooden rectangles at Lombard Gym, and they also varied in bounce. Some were dead, some were lively. As I remember, one local area high school gym had one of each – a real advantage to the home team. This variety contributed to the demise of the bank shot.

The size of the floors varied, too. Some were the size of barn lofts. There used to be a line about three feet inside the perimeter line which a defender could not cross while guarding an inbound pass. Otherwise, the passer could be backed right up against a wall or the scorer's table or a team bench. This was also the area where the referees ran up and down court. As late as 1969, I remember colliding with a cheerleader who strayed into it during a fast break at a game I was refereeing in a small gym. Happily, she wasn't hurt – even though she wound up in the second row of the school pep band. My fellow ref in that game got one of the trombonists! The prime shot during my playing era was a jump shot between eight and fifteen feet. Lay-ups were still banked in, not dunked. A majority of teams played a 2-1-2 zone defense or 2-3, which would protect a less agile big man from foul troubles as well as lead to fast breaks. There were no TV time-outs or shot clocks. You did not slam-dunk, hang on the rim or roar or beat your chest. Trash talk was "sotto voce" and poor sportsmanship. Flashy moves were "hot-dogging." You could not palm the ball while dribbling or take three steps on a drive to the hoop. The emphasis was on ball movement, screens, pick and roll, and getting the open shot. Making free throws. Teamwork. Winning was still just as important, but so was winning with class. For me, basketball has lost a lot of class. As a result, it's also lost me as a regular viewer. But since I don't drink a lot of beer or gorge myself on snacks while watching, TV and the sponsors could not care less.

I'm in the grumpy demographic, the

curmudgeon bracket. The pinch-penny, tight- pocket type. But I guess other people agree with me because I constantly hear about

declining ratings for TV sports. Well, turn a sport into a business and you better be careful what product you're selling. People may stop buying.