The Short Player is Doomed!

[Earlier today, the blog ran a 1949 profile of NBA pioneer Eddie Gottlieb. Now fast forward just one year. Gotty offered this bold prediction in the 1950 Dell Basketball Magazine: the demise of the 5-foot-11 and under player in basketball. Yes, the end of those scampering Lilliputians who once called the (set) shots in pro basketball. Gotty’s perspective alone—those 6 feet to 6-feet-5 represent abnormally tall figures, and this basketball demographic was growing more athletic by the year—is worth the read. Basketball history. of course, affirms that Gotty was definitely on to something. Gotty was also partly correct about the near-extinction of the little guy in basketball relative to yesteryear. Fortunately for the game, he may have overstated his case. Since this article appeared in 1950, Lord knows there have been plenty of scampering, undersized guards who have left their mark on the record books. And now, here’s Gotty.]

The day is not far off when the small man will be practically an unknown quantity in basketball. Day by day, the importance of the big man is becoming stronger, and coaches are concentrating on the biggest men they can get. 

Of course, you may ask, what is meant by a little man? As I see it, he is a player 5’ 10” or under. Basketball players of this size have been playmakers and “set” shots of their respective teams from time immemorial.

In recent years, however, the human race as a whole has been getting taller, and boys 6 feet tall and upwards to about 6 feet 4 inches have been developing themselves as outside shots and playmakers, so that the little man has lost his virtual monopoly on this style of play. 

In the pro ranks especially, where the coach can pick his material, he prefers the big man who can do these things to the little man, for a great number of reasons. Chief among these is the fact that all pro teams have four or five big men who can play the pivot, and whenever the opposition uses a small man, his opponent will immediately take the pivot position, and take advantage of his greater height. This can prove very disastrous and has often done so. 

Furthermore, the game today puts a premium on big men, because it is absolutely essential to get rebounds, and a small man has very little chance to do this against players four to eight inches taller. 

Of course, in college basketball, where the coach has a limited number of capable players, he will always use a good small man if he has one, because he may be the only good outside shot and playmaker on the entire squad. Also, the fear that the other coach may use all pivot men does not exist, as the colleges are lucky to have one or two capable pivoteers, let alone four or five. 

Speed and deception, once the sole property of little men, is now the stock in trade of the 6 footer and 6 foot 4 inch player. The bigger men can do everything the small man can do, and, with the added height, are more valuable, both offensively and defensively. So, the big question arises: why use a small man when you can get a bigger man to do the same job in a more capable manner?

What small man can outspeed or make better plays than 6’ 4” Howie Dallmar, former Warrior star, 6’ 1” Bob Davies of the Rochester Royals, 6’ 5” Jim Pollard of the Minneapolis Lakers, 6’ 1” Max Zaslofsky of the Chicago Stags, 6’ 1” John Logan of the St. Louis Bombers, and a host of others? And most of these boys are excellent outside shooters and great rebounders. 

These are the players the pro coaches and scouts are looking for, and the college boys know it. So the bigger boys are trying to develop their skill along the necessary lines. With their development, the coaches will always prefer the bigger men, until the small man is finally practically eliminated. 

It is my belief and conviction that in basketball, the same as every other sport—a good big man will always outplay a good little man. 

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