“I just did it because I loved to play.”
There was no way around it; basketball during the early 1950’s had become excruciatingly stagnant. By the time Arizin was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, the object of the game was to get a two-point lead and then stall (since no shot clock had been created yet), with teams going to such extreme measures as to literally sit on the ball until they were fouled to kill time. As a result, NBA games were painfully slow and monotonous. It was a rarity for players to average over twenty points a game. It was considered a bad thing, for who knows what reasons, to let your feet leave the ground. The games had no style or pizzazz. The NBA, in danger of becoming obsolete, found the modification it needed in two radical changes in the 1950’s: the shot-clock rule and Paul Arizin.
The Jump Shot
Paul Joseph Arizin was born on April 9, 1928, in South Philadelphia. Surprisingly, after trying out all four years, Arizin never made his high school basketball team, La Salle High School. An optimistic youth, Arizin was determined to continue playing. During his senior year of high school, he was on seven teams at once, all church, intramural, or independent leagues. Two games a night was normal for him, and three was not uncommon. It was during these low-key games that Arizin would master a shot that would revolutionize basketball into the game we know today.
Arizin remembers the first time he ever made a jump shot. It was in the dance hall of a local church, where the ground was slippery because of a recent snowfall. It was all on accident; Arizin slipped off his feet and jumped into the air to avoid smashing his face into the ground. He released while in the air and discovered the ease with which the ball went in the basket. Arizin later commented on his new technique. "It came by accident. Some of our games were played on dance floors. It became quite slippery. When I tried to hook, my feet would go out from under me, so I jumped. I was always a good jumper. My feet weren't on the floor, so I didn't have to worry about slipping. The more I did it, the better I became. Before I knew it, practically all my shots were jump shots." The games would also develop his trademark low trajectory. Many of the venues had dangerously low ceilings. Arizin would jump and fire the ball in almost a straight into the basket; there is little doubt that Arizin had the quickest, most powerful shot in the history of the game.
Rise to Stardom
Although he did not make the basketball team, Arizin was an excellent student and was accepted to Villanova University, where he studied chemistry. He continued to play in his multiple leagues that were now stocked with heavier competition due to the influx of people returning from World War II. By chance, Villanova coach Al Severance saw Arizin play one night. Seriously impressed, he offered Arizin a scholarship to play for the basketball team his sophomore year. At center, Arizin would score a team-high 267 points during his first season of school basketball ever.
During his junior year, Arizin exploded with an average of 22 points per game. He amazed the nation when set a record with 85 points in a single game (only Frank Selvy has scored more against a non-Division I opponent). As a senior, Arizin scored 735 points, only five points short of the national record of 740. His 25.3 points per game average were also the second highest average ever at the time. He led the Wildcats to a 25-4 record, which earned him the honor of both being an All-American and being named the College Player of the Year by The Sporting News. In honor of the finest basketball player they have ever had, Villanova retired his number 11 jersey later that year.
“Pitchin' Paul” Revitalizes the NBA
Arizin was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors in the NBA draft of 1950. With his 17.5 points and 10 rebounds a game as a forward (you must remember that anything over 12 points a game was considered high at this time), he helped to turn around a slump in Philadelphia and returned them to the top of the Eastern Division. Arizin would have undoubtedly been named Rookie of the Year, but the award was not created until the next season.
During his second year as a pro, Arizin’s impact on the game of basketball was felt around the world. “Pitchin’ Paul” averaged a league-high 25.4 points a game and established himself as one of the top rebounders with 11.3 a game. In a triple overtime game against the Minneapolis Lakers, Arizin played for 63 minutes, a record that stood for forty years. For the second year in a row, Arizin played in the All-Star game, this time earning MVP honors. More important was the change in strategies he brought to the game. Within five years, Arizin’s nigh-unstoppable jump shot became the standard shot of the NBA. A Philadelphia sportswriter would write in awe about how he was "Flicking the ball on the crest of his leap like a man riding an invisible surf, this is Arizin's moment of expression." At only 6’4”, the greatest defenders of the day, including Dolph Schayes and Bob Cousy, seemed like high school players, helpless against his unconventional shooting. The skill and acrobatics involved in both his dribble and his shot mimicked modern day players.
North Korea and an NBA Championship
Arizin was recruited to the Marine Corps to fight in the Korean War before the start of the 1952-1953 season. His presence was sorely missed, with the Warriors posting abysmal records in the two seasons he was gone. Arizin returned, with much celebration, to Philadelphia in 1954. After a two-year reprieve from the game, he had much to prove. Any doubts were put to rest when Arizin averaged 21 points per game, second in the league behind teammate and future hall of famer Neil Johnston. The individual efforts were not enough, however, to earn Philadelphia a spot in the playoffs.
More balance was added to the team the following year. Arizin and Johnston were among the league leaders in scoring with 24.2 and 22.1 points per game, respectively. In addition, teammates Joe Grabowski and Jack George also placed within the top twenty scoring leaders of the league. The 45-27 record they posted was the best in the league. They went on to defeat their long-time rival, the Syracuse Nats, in the Eastern Division finals. The NBA championship was much easier; they massacred the Fort Wayne Pistons four games to one. Arizin had earned the most important honor any NBA player could receive.
With 25.6 points a game, Arizin won his second scoring title the following year an earned a spot on the All-NBA first team. For the rest of his career, Arizin would not drop below 20 points per game and would make every NBA All-Star team. He soon recorded 10,000 career points faster than any player up to that point, and became the third player to break 15,000 points behind Schayes and Cousy. If it were not for his two-year absence, he may have been the first player to break it. After three seasons of placing second in the division behind the Boston Celtics, Arizin retired in 1962 with the third highest amount of points scored in a career. Tired of the heavy competition, he played in the Eastern Basketball League three more years before quitting entirely.
Two time All-NBA First Team
Ten-time NBA All Star (every year he played)
NBA All-Star MVP (1953)
NBA Championship with Philadelphia Warriors (1956)
Two time NBA Scoring Title (1952, 1957)
Third all-time highest scorer at retirement
Averaged over 20 points per game every year since his rookie year
25th Anniversary Team (1970)
50th Anniversary Team (1996)
Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1977)
Points per game: 22.8
Rebounds per game: 8.6
Free throw precentage: .810
Field goal percentage: .416
"People ask me to describe how I feel, and I think the easiest way is to put the question back to you. How do you think being enshrined here with all these illustrious names feels to a guy who back in high school was only playing intramural ball?"