Joe Hassett: A Sonar Salute, 1979 – 1981 

[Too bad in the early 1980s that Joey Hassett couldn’t have been cryo-preserved to return for NBA action today. They’d didn’t call him “Sonar” for nothing. Hassett could bomb with the best of them. His problem was there were relatively few fellow NBA bombers back then—and with good reason. Firing 25-footers, with a few exceptions, just wasn’t in the playbook. In fact, it terrified many coaches. 

To illustrate the point, Hassett tells the story of joining Golden State later in his career and being on the floor in the fourth quarter of a tight game against the Utah Jazz. He and a teammate raced down on a two-on-one fastbreak with 40 seconds left in the game, and everybody and their Uncle Bob expected a well-timed bounce pass and a layup to follow. Not this time. Hassett, vowing to himself to shoot when he was open, toed the three-point line. As he rose into the air for the trifecta, his coach Al Attles bellow from the sideline, “What are you doing?” The ball hit nothing but the net to tie the score at 105. Nevertheless, it took Attles some convincing to let Hassett pull that knuckle-headed stunt again. 

What follows are three newspaper articles that track parts of Hassett’s NBA career, which spanned just over five seasons. The first article tells the second-year tale of Hassett as a Seattle SuperSonic. Telling the tale is Steve Ballard, a talented writer with the Bellingham (WA) Herald. His piece ran on April 11, 1979.] 


When baseball’s Reggie Jackson became a free agent, that was big news. Likewise, Pete Rose and Catfish Hunter. Rick Barry and Jamaal Wilkes. And not to forget Marvin Webster (although most Seattleites already have, and most New Yorkers wish they could).

Now, the case of Joe Hassett, soon to be a free agent. That’s not big news. Not even to Joe Hassett. “Yeah, I think I remember reading something about that somewhere,” smiled the second-year guard of the Seattle SuperSonics when queried on the subject. “But it’s no big deal.”

Obviously, the thought of being able to write his own ticket is not uppermost on the mind of Joe Hassett. That’s because with a career scoring average of something under four points a game, finding a buyer for that ticket once it was written could prove difficult.

Hassett is an easy-going guy who sits when he’s told to and plays when he’s asked. So far in his brief career, there has been much more of the former than the latter. He jokingly refers to himself as “the best ninth man in pro basketball.” He is the fourth guard on a team which uses three.

He came out of Providence College with the nickname “Sonar” because of a shooting touch which seldom misfired from any distance. He could now be cold “Sun Dial” because once a game begins, he seldom moves.

But Hassett is not the type of guy to go around hollering “Play me or trade me.” To the contrary, his pleadings are more along the line of “Bench me, but keep me.”

It’s not that Joe Hassett is fulfilling a life-long dream by getting free admission to a season’s worth of NBA games. It’s just that when he does his playing, he wants it to be in Seattle. And for that to happen, he knows he’s going to have to bide his time.

“I look at it this way,” he explained. “I could probably pick out a few teams in the league where I would see a lot of playing time, maybe even start, but then I’d be an active player on a bad team. I’d rather be inactive on a good team.”

Hassett then recited the benchwarmer’s credo: “Practices are my games.”

Only he wasn’t kidding. 

“How many places in the NBA do you know of where a guy can test himself against the likes of Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, and Fred Brown every day in practice?” he asked. “I figure I’ve got a lot to learn before I’m ready to play regularly—and where am I going to find three better people to learn from?”

Hassett also listed among his tutors veteran Dick Snyder, who can draw upon 12 years of NBA experience, and none other than coach Lenny Wilkens, who was an All-Pro in his playing days. 

“As far as my future is concerned, I don’t see how I could be in a much better situation,” he said. “I’ve just got to work my way into the system, so that when my chance comes, I’ll be ready to jump on it.”

That chance came sooner than expected when an injury to Brown gave Hassett more playing time the final week of the season. He jumped on it, all right, but he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way he landed.

After a career-high 18 points in a 123-102 romp over the Detroit Pistons the night before Brown suffered a broken finger, Hassett posted totals of two, four, four, and zero points the next four games as he shared the third guard role with Snyder.

In the season finale at Golden State, he managed 16 points, but was only 6-of-16 from the field and missed two shots in the last few seconds which would’ve put the Sonics ahead. “I blew it,” he muttered following the 89-86 loss. “Maybe this game didn’t mean much to the team, but it meant something to me. I really blew it.”

Hassett is not one to stay down in the dumps for a long, however, and the next day he was celebrating a two-day hiatus from workouts as the Sonics wait to see who they’ll facing the second round of the playoffs.”

“I had some great days in college and some not so great,” he said. “The trouble is that here when I have a bad one, I have to wait a lot longer to get another chance. I had one stretch this season where I didn’t play for two-and-a-half weeks. All I know is that the next time Lenny looks down the bench and points at me, I’ll be ready.”

One positive thing to come out of the Golden State game was Hassett’s 4-for-4 at the free throw line, which left him perfect on the season. Of course, with only 23 attempts, he was some 350 behind Jack Sikma, but 100 percent should allow him to keep the nickname “Sonar” for at least another year.

As for his soon-to-be free agent status, Hassett remains something less than awed. “I’m not even sure I know what it means,” he laughed. “I guess I’ll have to get my attorney to look into it.”

Should the ABA’s three-point shot ever make its way into the NBA rulebook, Hassett’s value on the open market would rise considerably. Or maybe basketball will borrow a page from baseball’s rulebook and thus make Hassett the league’s premier DFS.


Designated foul shooter.

[Hassett resigned with Seattle in September 1979, only to be cut a month later. Seattle’s backcourt was just too deep that season. But Hassett wasn’t finished. The NBA had adopted the three-point shot for the 1979-80 season, which was good news for him and his skillset. The other good news for Hassett was the Indiana Pacers signed him. The former ABA team, unlike most of the other NBA teams, loved the three-point shot and even ran plays for it. Hassett had a green light from three, reportedly connecting on more three-pointers that season than 14 three-point-resistant teams, which considered the shot a gimmick. 

The Indianapolis Star’s Dave Benner caught up with Hassett late in the season and bylined this story on March 20, 1980. It offers a nice snapshot of this NBA three-point pioneer.]

As a kid, Saturdays in Rhode Island were very simple for Joe Hassett. He’d be out the door at 9 in the morning and go play basketball until the streetlights went out. “My mother would come down and give me lunch or give me hell,” he says.

The playgrounds were where the foundation for Hassett’s career were laid. It was there and in the high school gym where he would shoot and shoot and shoot some more. Today, playing for the Indiana Pacers in the National Basketball Association, Hassett’s label is that of a shooter.

“My forte is to shoot,” he says. “I feel when I go into the game, I’m supposed to shoot.”

When he does peel off the warmups to go into the game, crowd noise begins to pick up. Joe Hassett, he of the fast flick and the long-range, is about to enter the game. “Sure, I hear them,” says the Providence graduate. “You feel as if everybody in the place is pulling for you. It helps me psychologically.”

It all started when the Indiana Pacers picked up Hassett on waivers from the Seattle Supersonics in October. And then, in his words, “I hit a couple of three-pointers one night, and all of a sudden, it picked up from there.” Indiana Pacer fans had fallen in love with Joe Hassett.

Why? To begin with, the three-point shot was being used for the first time in the National Basketball Association, and those fans remembered the old days of the American Basketball Association when the “home run” was commonplace, especially with the Pacers.“When (the NBA) put in the three-pointer, my friends in Rhode Island told me, ‘Hey, Joe, that’s going to make you golden,’” he said.

It didn’t at first because the Sonics waived him. But he got his chance with the Pacers and has become quite proficient with the “three.” He’s fourth in the NBA in total three-pointers (65) and sixth in percentage (.354), and he’s charitable off the court with the threes by donating $10 for each one to the United Way.

Another reason for his popularity is this infatuation among Hoosiers with shooters. And Hassett, in the truest sense of the word, is a shooter—from almost anywhere. So, it comes as no surprise that the fans urge him to shoot whenever he touches the ball. “The crowd has been fantastic to me here,” he said. “It’s easy to play here, because all the people are basketball fanatics and really know the game. They’re knowledgeable, and that’s fun. They’ve helped my game.”

For instance, last Tuesday night when Boston was in town, Pacer coach Bob Leonard inserted Hassett into the game in the fourth quarter. He responded by hitting five-straight shots (three three-pointers) and leading a 17-4 Pacer blitz that helped to defeat the Celtics.

Then, Wednesday night in the Pacers’ victory over New Jersey, he really put on a shooting display with a career-high 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. “I enjoy pressure situations,” he says. “I like playing in the fourth quarter, down the stretch. You feel like you’ve been a part of something.”

Whether or not Hassett will be a part of the Pacers next season remains to be seen. With Dallas getting an expansion franchise in the NBA, each team will be allowed to protect eight players. By Hassett’s calculations, he’s number nine. “If you can only protect eight players, how can they protect me?” he asks. “It doesn’t bother me. I realize I’m not a superstar, that I’m an average player who just gets the most out of what I’ve got.”

When he first joined the team, Hassett got about 20 minutes a game playing time. Lately, that total has decreased to where he now averages about 15 minutes. “I’ll miss my first two or three shots, come out, and not play again the rest of the game,” he said. “That’s tough to accept, but I feel you can’t give up on a guy when he misses a couple. My job is to shoot the ball, right? And I feel I come out quicker than anybody else.

“My minutes have dwindled considerably since the start of the season, and it hurts mentally. Sometimes you play, sometimes you don’t. But when I do play, it’s a do-or-die situation. If I don’t produce right away, I’m gone for the game. You just have to deal with it mentally.”

But it’s something Hassett accepts and says he’ll “play ball as long as I can.” If not, he has a variety of options, including public relations or life insurance. And within the next two or three weeks, he and his expectant wife Paula will have their first child to take care of. 

[The Pacers wanted to keep Hassett, but the team had eight players with guaranteed contracts. Indiana reportedly offered the Mavs a second-round draft choice and some cash to pass on Hassett in the expansion draft. No go. Dallas drafted Hassett, then inexplicably waived him early in the season. He was out of work for a while, until Golden State finally called about a contract through the end of the 1980-81 season. 

Hassett found a good NBA home with Golden State. Here’s Zander Hollander’s 1981-82 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball on Hassett as a Warrior, “The original One-Trick Pony, the man from the bullpen with one pitch . . . When he walks onto the court, saturate the outer limits with defenders, because a three-point try is sure to be coming shortly . . . Has survived four years in the pros on the basis of this one gimmick. Thank you, ABA . . . a nice guy who can take orders, which is why he’ll have a job as long as he has a shooting arm.” 

And he did have a job until the unexpected reached up and grabbed him. Hassett accidently ran into teammate Mike Gale one day during practice, and the two went hurtling into the air. When they landed, Hassett dislocated his right shoulder and fractured his wrist. He eventually went on the IR. But his shoulder just wouldn’t mend properly. It kept popping out of its socket, and Hassett realized he was finished. But before he quit for good at age 27, this column from the Oakland Tribune’s Ralph Wiley captures Hassett, the One-Trick Pony, at his best. Wiley’s column ran on November 19, 1981.]

My first impression of Joe Hassett was not much of an impression at all. It was 1977. I knew Hassett as a Providence guard. He fit in somewhere behind Jimmy Walker and Ernie D. I knew Providence guards could “see,” as they say, and that Providence guards had a common fault. They all played defense like something that had been left on the beach at Easter Island.

My second impression of Hassett came at the end of a 1979 regular-season game between the Warriors and the Indiana Pacers. Lonely seconds remained, and the Warriors led by eight. Joe Hassett checked in. He stood away from the ball, his enemies, even his friends, like a weak boy at recess. I said to myself, “Oh yeah. Joe Hassett.”

I looked elsewhere. So did the Warriors. Big mistake. Some guy inbounded the ball to Hassett. He shot it with a flick, as it were a free-throw. Only it was a 28-footer, and was quite good. Any flies on the rim slept undisturbed.

Hassett hit two more, and the Pacers won.

I never forgot. Neither did the Warriors.

The devil you say. If the Warriors had the fourth-best guard in the NBA, half the teams wouldn’t bother to show up. It would be embarrassing. Because Larry Smith, His Meanness, is back, the Warriors’ frontline resembles the high side of the Sierra. If the Warriors had the fourth-best guard in the NBA setting the table, they would have to be reckoned with before any championship business could be settled by the Lakers or the Bucks or the 76ers or even the Celtics themselves.

Well, don’t look now, but a man from Houston named Lloyd Fons devised an intricate rating system, which claims the Golden State Warriors do have the fourth-best guard in the NBA. Fons’ system rewards scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, assists, and “clean play,” which I assume is getting away with fouls. Fons’ system punishes missed shots, turnovers, goaltending, and excessive fouling. It ignores minutes, defensive intensity, and the ballhandling skills.

But nobody’s perfect, not even Arnold Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics. We’ll come back to him later.

The top four guards rated by Fons are Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, and . . . Joe Hassett. Now what makes Hassett so valuable all of a sudden? Isn’t this the same guy cut by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979, let go by the Indiana Pacers in the expansion draft of 1980, and given the pink slip by the trudging Dallas Mavericks, an expansion team, in the middle of last season?

Yes, it is. But there was a rule change at the beginning of the 1979-80 season, something about a half-moon circle and shots beyond it and three points instead of two. And not even Magic can turn two points into three like Joe Hassett.

Hassett shot six three-pointers Wednesday night against New Jersey. He made three. He made 69 three-pointers for the Pacers in 1979-80. He made 43 in a half-season with the Warriors last year. This year, bombs away! He’s made 14 of 39.

The last one he hit Wednesday cut off the last thing the Nets had resembling a rally. It made a 10-point lead 13. Hassett made the shot with two shoulders hurting so bad it was a wonder he could get the ball up. Mike Gale landed on the right one in a practice, and a Dan Issel pick served as the brick wall that bummed up the left one. Still, Hassett had one turnover, for assists, and nine points in 13 minutes. Compute it over a full game, and it comes out 29 points and 13.5 assists.

Hassett is a very engaging conversationalist, possibly because he harbors no suspicions. He doesn’t talk like a man trying to get away with something. He speaks more in the manner of a friendly guy on a subway than an egotized athlete or a paranoid coach. And when he talks, the “ahs” are so pronounced, you can see Boston. All in all, speaking with Sonar is not bad duty at all.

“It’s mostly legs and wrist,” he said of his three-point jumper. “When I speak it camps in the East, I tell them, one, feet straight. Two, shoulders straight. Three, balance. Four, forearm perpendicular to the basket. Five, follow through, with the ball off the index and middle fingers. I shoot with the same motion if it’s a 15 or a 25-footer. Most guys will change out there.

“When I was released by Dallas, it was almost two months before an NBA team contacted me,” Hassett said. To reflect, I must say I will never understand how Red Auerbach let this one get away. He must have been lighting up a cigar. Chris Ford isn’t bad, but he isn’t Hassett either.

“Then the Warriors contacted me,” Hassett said. “The Lakers and San Diego had shown interest. But it turned out to be great here. I felt the shot would benefit my career, no question.”

When the three-point rule was put into effect, Joe Hassett became the Jed Clampett of the NBA. He never changed his shot. He just happens to strike oil with it now. The irony that both he and I like is that the Warriors were the only team in the league to try to ban the shot. Owner Franklin Mieuli ranted and raved about the principle of the game being sullied. Now he grabs the bananas like everyone else when Joey goes downtown.

“Al (Attles) never tells me not to shoot it,” Hassett said, pridefully. He is, on form, the most accurate three-point shooter in the league, statistics (he’s slightly over 35 percent for the year) be dragged. He hits them when it counts.

“Al’s got plays for it. The reason my percentage is so bad (?) is sometimes it’s a blowout and everybody knows I’m going to shoot it, so I’ll miss a few that way. That’s the only way.”

The Warriors have a ballhandling problem that’ll turn your stomach, but at least they don’t have to worry about home runs, zone defenses, or points. Sonar will sniff them all out. 

My third impression of Joe Hassett is that he is a pleasant, well-intention man who ended up being a more valuable pro than either Walker or DiGregorio. And that’s why odd folk say you should always throw out the first two times you meet someone.

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