What if Wednesday: If the NBA Never Adopted the Three-Point Line


Chris Ford

The three-point shot was first initiated by the American Basketball League (ABL) in 1961 but didn’t last too long due to the ABL ending after one season. It then became re-introduced in the year of 1967 with the American Basketball Association (ABA). As the ABA started to take off and became more popular, the National Basketball Association began to pay more attention. Even though the NBA was around since 1946, they never considered changing their tradition — their views on the three-point shot was that it was a gimmick. However, ABA commissioner George Mikan was a huge supporter and saw how the fans reacted to it.

We called it the home run, because the 3-pointer was exactly that,” Mikan said in the book. “It brought fans out of their seats.

Mikan also saw how it would change the game,

The three point rule will give the smaller player a chance to score and open up the defense to make the game more enjoyable for fans.

In the following years, the ABA and the NBA would eventually merge as one, but even then the NBA wasn’t ready to change. It wasn’t until 1979 that the NBA adopted the three-point shot and Boston Celtic guard Chris Ford was credited for making the first three-pointer.

Threes Attempted
The number of threes taken in the NBA in the past four years via ESPN.com/NBA

In today’s game, the NBA is seeing more threes go up than ever before. The three-point shot is more relevant than ever and a lot of teams are making a concerted effort to make it part of their offensive strategy. The pace of the game is quicker and the floor is spread, and it has even gotten to the point where guys are stopping at the three-point line during 2-on-1 fast breaks. When Mikan first introduced it, he knew it would benefit smaller guards, but now even post players are taking advantage of it. A lot of inside guys are perfecting their shot to pose as an outside threat as well.

three pointers made -attempted top 5
A list of the top five teams in three pointers made and three pointers attempted. **Houston, Golden State, Cleveland, & Atlanta were the teams that played in the 2015 Conference Finals.

All four teams in the Conference Finals this year were top five in threes made with three of those four Conference Finals teams being top five in threes attempted. Three-point shots play a huge role in today’s game, and it makes you wonder, what if it never existed?


Everything about the game of basketball would be different if there wasn’t a three-point line. There would be a lack of excitement compared to what we see today. In today’s game, the three is just as exciting as a dunk sometimes and the noise level in some stadiums go through the roof when their best player hits a dagger from downtown. The game would slow down and we would see a lot of teams go back to looking for points inside. We would see less of the European stretch fours because more teams would scout for a Shaquille O’Neal rather than a Boris Diaw. Also, the scoring would decrease tremendously. With teams packing the paint and everything being focused on the interior, all the 100-point games we’re used to seeing now would be nearly instinct.

Would we still see the scoring outputs that we’ve witnessed?


Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points before the adoption of the three-point line, but at the same time, he was a 7-foot-1, 260-pound center that dominated the game like no other. Kobe Bryant gave the world the second best scoring output ever with an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors. He got to the free throw line 28 times and hit 7 threes. Carmelo Anthony put on a show in the world’s best arena, scoring 62 points in Madison Square Garden, beating Bernard King and Kobe Bryant’s record. He shot 6-for-11 from the three-point line while shooting 100% from the free throw line and grabbing 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson broke an NBA record, dropping 37 points in the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings this season, setting another record with 9 three-pointers in one quarter. George “Iceman” Gervin was asked about Thompson beating his record, and he felt it’s still his because he didn’t have a three-point line.

I said, ‘Wowwwww, that’s pretty impressive.

But I’d like to see him try to get 33 or 37 in a quarter when there wasn’t no three-point line.

“I don’t feel—and it’s funny, everybody laughs—I don’t feel he broke my record,” Gervin told Bleacher Report in a phone interview. “I feel he set a new record. He set a new record for the new NBA.”

Gervin makes a valid point because when you break down Klay’s quarter, without a three-point line, he really only scored 28, which is 5 short of George’s 33. So it makes you think, would some of these scoring outputs that we have seen still be possible without the three-point line? Would players like the Ray Allen and Reggie Millers of the world still have the careers they had?


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