Leo Ferris: The Forgotten Inventor Of The Shot Clock

Many people, including the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame, as well as the NBA Encyclopedia, credit Danny Biasone with creating the idea for the shot clock. In fact, they have a display of the clock crediting him in the Hall, even though Biasone himself has not been admitted as of yet.

“Danny Biasone invented the 24-second clock by himself, alone,” said Red Auerbach, longtime executive of the Boston Celtics. “I was at the meeting when he introduced it. He should get all the credit in the world for it.”

However, there is a different story that has been lost throughout the ages, one of which that brings a different character into the light who you may be less familiar with: Leo Ferris.

Back in the 1940s, there were two separate rival pro basketball leagues. The larger, more established, Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the smaller upstart league, the National Basketball League (NBL). Kind of like the Flint Tropics with Jackie Moon, but maybe not quite as comical. Ferris was the co-founder and general manager of an NBL team, the Buffalo. later Tri-Cities, Bisons.

The NBL realized that their league wouldn’t be able to survive much longer, so they devised a plan to merge with the BAA, and Leo Ferris was the guy to lead the charge, becoming president of the NBL in 1946.

One crucial move sealed the deal. Ferris thought of various creative ways to attract college athletes to the NBL, but the best one of all might be giving an entire team their own franchise. During this time, the University of Kentucky had a team that they called the Fabulous Five, and Ferris made a deal with them that if they came to his league, they could all join the Indianapolis franchise. I can’t even imagine the type of NCAA violations that would happen nowadays, but that sure was a way to get the BAA’s attention, and the merger took place.

Leo Ferris (second from left) and representatives of the NBL and BAA shake hands after agreeing to a merger in 1949. (John Lent/AP)

Ferris and other members of the NBL meeting to merge with the BAA, creating the NBA

Once the merger happened to create the NBA, there was one issue that still needed to be resolved. The game was moving much too slowly, and once a team got up by a good margin, they simply held the ball for the remainder of the game. This prompted of the two men, Biasone and Ferris, to come up with the idea for the shot clock. The real question was, how much time should be on it?

Leo Ferris was the one who came up with the math. Looking over box scores from games that had been hard-fought and exciting, he and Biasone counted an average of 120 shots, roughly 60 by each team. The game is 48 minutes long. Forty-eight minutes equals 2,880 seconds. Divide that by the 120 shots per game, and you’ve got the 24-second shot clock.

Original 24 second shot clock that was created

To really shine a light on the importance of this achievement, Bill Himmelman, the NBA historian for many years once said, ‘There are two moments of importance in basketball history. There’s the moment when Dr. Naismith nails a peach basket to the wall. And there’s the moment when they turn on the 24-second clock.”

The first NBA game to use the 24-second shot clock was Oct. 30, 1954, when the Rochester Royals beat the Boston Celtics 98-95. Scoring increased during the first season of the shot clock from 79.5 points per game to 93.1 points per game. The addition of the shot clock saved the NBA in the eyes of many players, coaches and executives.

Monument in Syracuse dedication the 24-second shot clock, giving Ferris credit as well as Biasone

The story has been forgotten, but Ferris’s family have continued to fight for his recognition, and he may soon get it. Ferris has a monument now in Syracuse noting the accomplishment. For the past two years, Leo Ferris has been nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame, and although he didn’t get in this year, it will only be a matter of time before he is remembered for his significant achievement in basketball history.

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