Dutch Dehnert: The Pivot Play, 1946

[The blog was experiencing technical difficulties the last few days, and all the “failed actions” made posting new material a head-scratching, hair-pulling challenge. Hopefully, all is well—and my hair is all still there. The next article up is a rare one pulled from a 1940s periodical called Sportfolio that was tucked away in Ray Lebov’s shrine to basketball magazines of yore. The great Dutch Dehnert of Original Celtics fame describes the night in Chattanooga that he dreamed up basketball’s pivot play. This brief article comes with no byline, but it does have a date: December 1946.]


Next to that boy of long ago who one day in England impulsively picked up the rugby ball and ran with it, thus giving birth to an entirely new sport, stands Dutch Dehnert who erected the structure on which all modern basketball offense is based. He is still building on that foundation as coach of Wisconsin’s Sheboygan Redskins. 

Probably the greatest guard who ever lived, in the years from 1917 to 1936 when he was the biggest name in pro basketball, Dutch originated the famous pivot play while playing for the world-renowned New York Celtics. 

“We were playing a team called the Rail-Lights in Chattanooga one night,” Dutch recalled, with a ready smile on his now broad features. “In those days, you remember, the teams would have what they called a back guard, who stationed himself in front of the goal like a hockey goalie, as a sort of last line of defense. 

“That night, I said to myself: ‘I wonder what would happen if I went there and stood right in front of that fellow?’ The discontinuous dribble had been just ruled out of pro basketball, and teams were going in for more passing. 

“I told Johnny Beckman the idea. So, they pass me the ball, and I slipped it to Johnny like a T-formation quarterback as he went by me for a basket. Then I said to Johnny, ‘Now, next time, I’ll fake it to you and see what happens.’ So, we worked it that way, and I pivoted around and shot when the guard picked up Johnny. 

“That’s the way it started, and they’ve been doing it ever since. Nothing could stop the play but the rule changes—first the five-second rule and then the three second rule. Even so, it’s still a good play. You just have to be a little quicker and more nifty with it now.”

Standing out as a lanky kid in games on the West Side of New York City, Dutch began with Nanticoke in the Penn State League in 1917. Bucky Harris. the famous baseball manager, was playing at Pittston at the same time. Dehnert also played in the New York State League and the New England League before joining the Celtics in 1919. After 10 years with the Celtics, during which they became known as the best team ever assembled, he went to the Cleveland Rosenblums in 1929 and helped them win two titles. When they disbanded, he joined the Celtics and played until 1936. 

The game, of course, has changed completely without the center jump. “On the Celtics,” Dutch says, “we had a play for every held ball, every out-of-bounds. We had good shots and accurate passing. 

“Today, while the teams have a number of offenses, shooting seems to be emphasized more than anything else now. The new running game has changed shooting from two-hand to one-hand shots, mostly. It’s a different game, and getting better every day. I don’t know whether you could say our old Celtic team was the best anymore or not.”

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