Sports

Karl Lindholm: Of jump shots and heroes

SHOWING BEAUTIFUL FORM on his jump shot, Middlebury College All-American Matt St. Amour hits a three-pointer in a win against Bates in 2017. A consummate jump shooter, St. Amour is third on the Panther all-time scoring list with 1,700 points.
Photo courtesy of Middlebury Athletic Communications

I’m so old, I predate the jump shot.

It’s true. When I first learned to play basketball, the two-hand set shot was a staple of the game and the first shooting technique we all learned and practiced endlessly.

It’s still the way kids first contrive to get the ball up to the 10-foot hoop. It’s natural. The ball is big and meant to held with both hands. The one-handed shot is learned. It requires that you place your dominant hand underneath the ball, elbow in, and the off-hand on the side to guide it. It’s tricky, not at all intuitive.

Dolph Schayes was a terrific player in the 1950s in the early stages of the National Basketball Association. He had a deadly outside shot, a two-handed set shot that he got off quickly. If he were closely guarded, he would use his 6-foot-8-inch height to drive to the basket and score that way.

To shoot a one-handed shot, I copied the form of Celtics great Bill Sharman: both feet stationary on the floor, one foot forward of the other (the foot on the side of your shooting hand). You aimed over the top of the ball and released from your chin a nice high spinning orb. Swish.

Sharman’s backcourt mate, the immortal Bob Cousy, had a shot that Celtics announcer Johnny Most called a “running one-hander,” a variation of the layup and likewise shot on the run. A maestro of the fast break, Cousy lifted off his left foot and released the ball right-handed 15 to 20 feet from the hoop (after a Bill Russell blocked shot or rebound had ignited the break).

After winning four NBA championships together, the Cousy-Sharman all-star backcourt gave way to the Joneses, KC and Sam, who then won five more titles with Russell, under their irrepressible coach, Red Auerbach. The Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years (1957-69).

My favorite Celtics player was Sam Jones. He played with a cool detachment. KC would push the ball up the floor on the break and pass it to Sam on the wing for a jumper that he would (get this!) bank in off the glass! The bank was always open for Sam, and he made lots of deposits.

Sam Jones had a jump shot to die for, a thing of beauty, what we call a mid-range jump shot today, as there was no three-point shot then. At 6-foot-4 Sam was tall for a backcourtman in the ’50s and ’60s and his shot was actually a “jump” shot — he “elevated” as he released the ball.

Jerry West was the quintessence of a jump shooter! He had beautiful form. West was leader of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics main rivals in the 1960s.

Oscar Robertson, “The Big O,” was another great jump shooter from the NBA’s early days. Like Sam Jones, he too was big for a guard (6 foot, 5 inches), and muscular, and could take smaller defenders into the paint and shoot a jumper. He seemed never to miss.

Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks was a frontcourt player with a deadly accurate jumper, generally from short range. He was 6-foot-9 and released the ball high over his head, averaging 26 points a game for his career.

By the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, I knew I had to have a jump shot (even then, I knew running fast and jumping high would never be my game).

I had to learn to be square to the hoop, feet parallel, release the ball over my head, and jump at the same time. It took me a long time to get it, but I had a hoop in my driveway and time on my hands (and no competition from screens).

My shot was more like Larry Bird’s than Sam Jones’s. No, I am not delusional: I am not comparing myself to the great Bird. I’m contending that our shots did not feature a high vertical leap, more a flick of the wrist from the top of the head.

So what has provoked this nostalgic disquisition on the jump shot?

A couple of weeks ago I watched the NBA All-Star Game with son Peter, a genuine hoop maven. The game itself was a cavalcade of dunks and long range three-pointers: ho hum. However, the halftime ceremony was wonderful! That’s when the league’s 75-year history (1947-2022) was celebrated and its 75 greatest players were introduced (actually 76, as there was a tie in the selection committee’s deliberations).

Forty-five of those greats were present in the arena, including Pettit at 89 and West, 83. Others appeared on video, including Cousy (93), Russell (88) and Bird (65). A number had died, inevitably — Schayes, who passed on at 87 in 2015, and Sam Jones, just two months ago at 88, among them.

In 2011, I was thrilled to meet Dolph Schayes. It was at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend in Springfield, Mass. Through the generosity of a friend, Peter (then in high school) and I were given tickets to the dinner the night before the induction ceremony, when many of the Hall of Famers gathered. Our neighbor in Cornwall, Alex Wolff, was being honored with a big award for his writing on basketball.

Peter and I eschewed pen and paper, and camera, taking a page from the playbook of Bill Russell, who would often decline to sign autographs, offering instead: “I’ll shake your hand — or have a conversation with you.” At the very next table to ours were 75th Anniversary team members Rick Barry and the magnificent Laker, Elgin Baylor.

The first hand that Peter shook was Julius Irving, “Doctor J” himself, and the longest conversation he had was with Bill Walton, who seemed to take a real interest in this 15-year-old fan. We were in hoop heaven.

Eleven years later, Peter still plays as much basketball as he can — pick-up. He has nice long-range jump shot

. . . of the Larry Bird variety.

Contact Karl Lindholm at [email protected].

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