Jerry Harkness: 67 Feet to Spare, 1967

[“DALLAS WINS!!” boomed the Dallas Chaparral’s radio announcer Terry Stembridge one second before the then-longest shot in the history of basketball, November 13, 1967. His words helped bring a lively start to The Lively League in the opening weeks of its inaugural season. But the game wasn’t quite over just yet. Here’s Stembridge remembering the record-setting last click of the clock that came next. It would be a fist-pumping preview of decades of game-winning three-point magic to come. Stembridge’s memory was printed in the ABA publication Cage Stars, which doubled as a game program. In this case, the program was printed by the Anaheim Amigos. No date, but clearly it’s from the 1967-68 season.] 


I had already called it a Chaparral victory that night in Dallas, a heartbeat before Jerry Harkness scored the longest shot in the history of basketball to give Indiana a 119-118 victory. It turned out to be the most-premature journalistic announcement since that Chicago headline in 1948 proclaimed: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Since history never hands you the script for its most-dramatic moments, no one in Memorial Auditorium thought that there could be anything beyond what had just taken place for 47 minutes and 59 seconds between the Dallas Chaparrals and the Indiana Pacers. No one dreamed there could be another stroke of fortune beyond John Beasley’s field goal in the final two seconds to give Dallas a 118-116 lead and apparent victory.

When I saw Beasley’s shot bury itself in the cords, I shouted over the deafening roar that Dallas had won. Even as I spoke, I saw the clock and Jerry Harkness. I was surprised to see that a second remained, but I knew it would make no difference. I watched Harkness, barely inbounds, drawing back to throw the ball. And then, suddenly, the red, white, and blue ball was gone on its 92-foot journey into history.

Harkness (left front) with arm later raised to celebrate The Shot. Standing behind him (l-r) are Oliver Darden, Ron Kozlicki, and Bob Netolicky.

In listening to the tape recording at the broadcast after I announced a Dallas victory, you can hear the crowd still cheering, and then a sudden gasping into silence, and then a stunned roar as the shot strikes the basket.

ABA official Joe Belmont made the fateful call. “I wasn’t watching the clock,” he said. “I was watching the play. The ball was in the air when the horn sounded.” With this, the other official Gene Moyers dramatically signaled the basket good and Indiana had won. When asked where Harkness had been standing, Belmont said, “Two feet inbounds.”

So, it passed into the record books as a 92-foot field goal.

Who was this player who at the very back edge of this storm delivered the fatal stroke? Jerry Harkness, 27, is a former All-American from Loyola, who in 1963 made a 15-foot jumper in the NCAA Championship Finals with three seconds left to tie Cincinnati and send the game into overtime.

Harkness recounts how [Indiana’s] Oliver Darden took the ball out of bounds expecting to throw it to someone open long, but tossed it to Harkness who was unguarded in the backcourt. “I took the ball, drew back, aiming as much as I could, and let it fly. When I saw it go in, I thought, ‘Well, if they count it, we get an overtime.” Harkness, like many other fans, had forgotten about the three-point play.

The stories of this night blur together. Some say Harkness dribbled before he shot (he didn’t). Some say the ball hit only the net (it didn’t). And many said they didn’t know where the ball came from (the Gods?).

Indiana coach Larry Staverman didn’t see the play or the ball go in. In dejection, he had started for the dressing room. “I walked off the floor twice,” he recalled, “as a loser and then as a winner.” Dallas player-coach Cliff Hagan, who had scored 30 that night to rally  Dallas, said he saw the ball going but didn’t see the shot.

That’s the way it was in Dallas that November 13th. Five points—two baskets—were scored in the space of two clock ticks. It was nice that the last basket was a record, but all that really mattered for Indiana and Harkness was that it counted three points and for that Jerry had 67 feet to spare.

[Here’s Pacer coach Larry Staverman on “The Shot,” as printed in the Indianapolis News on November 14, 1967.]

“It was a pretty good substitution. I knew he had it in him,” Indiana coach Larry Staverman laughed at his own facetiousness, but there was a measure of truth in the statement.

Speaking by telephone from Dallas, where the Pacers beat the Chaparrals, 119-118, in the last second last night, Staverman explained how Jerry Harkness was able to get off his 86-foot three-point field goal that gave Indiana its 12th victory in 15 games.

“Dallas scored on John Beasley’s basket to go in front, 118-116, and they started to jump up and down, I guess thinking they had won,” said Staverman. 

“They must have forgotten that the clock stops in the last two minutes after every field goal. Oliver Darden threw the ball in to Jerry, and he had a clear shot. The Dallas players didn’t even think about a shot.

“Jerry later said it felt good, and he thought it would go in. The ball banked in, and I’d estimate the shot traveled 86 feet. Jerry went in with seven minutes to go when Freddie Lewis got kicked in the chin.”

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