100 days of hoops, hardwood

100 Day of Hoops: Day 64, The Lane Widens Again

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Center Wilt Chaimberlain throws down a thunderous dunk during his time with the Philadelphia Warriors.

Since its birth in 1891, the game of basketball has grown and changed over time to become the multi-billion-dollar sport we know today. The game Dr. James Naismith invented has been impacted by dominant players that altered the way the game is played. This includes changes to rules, regulations and court dimensions.

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For starters, the lane wasn’t always 16 feet wide.  In reality, the lane was originally six feet wide until George Mikan’s dominance in the paint in the mid-1940’s through the early-1950’s. He was 6-foot 10-inches but his wingspan was what caused the changes to the lane in 1951.  The lane was widened from six feet to 12 feet to make things more difficult for him and easier for the competition because of his dominant play.

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George Mikan during his collge playing days with the DePaul Univeristy Blue Demons of Chicago.

This would not be the last time the lane would be widened due to the dominance of a stellar big man.

Enter Wilt Chaimberlain.

Chaimberlain was a physical specimen who dominated every level he played, from high school all the way to the NBA. With his 7-foot-1 frame and even longer wingspan, it was easy for the center to dominate the competition. His incredible athleticism, skill, and god-given physical gifts made the game easy for him. He earned Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors his first year in the league in 1959.

Chaimberlain would set up shop in the low post and use his streangth to punish his opponents in towards the hoop and put the ball in the basket with a smooth finger-roll.

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Wilt Chaimberlain during his high school playing days for the Overbrook Panthers in Philadelphia.

Fast forward five years when the league decided to make the game more difficult for Chaimberlain. To prevent him from scoring at will, the leauge decided to widen the lane from 12 feet to 16 feet in 1964.

How did Chaimberlain respond? By developing a consistent jumper. There was nothing that the NBA could do to prevent him from doing whatever he wanted to do on the court.

Celtics Hall of Fame head coach Red Auerbach once said, “You can’t teach height” but you can widen the lane. He would continue to be as dominant as ever. If anything the NBA did him a favor by forcing him to develop other areas of his game.

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