With the NBA season now underway, how about a fun Kentucky connection that has nothing to do with how many players UK has put in the pros? Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about “the NBA’s most stolen play,” which originated at Georgetown College in the 1980s and eventually ended up in the league through Brad Stevens, who was taught it as a senior DePauw and carried it with him to Butler and then the Boston Celtics. From there, it’s been passed around the NBA, with Steve Kerr using it most recently in the waning seconds of Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
The play at the center of this global heist involves all five players on the court and utilizes four deceptive elements that unfold with precise timing. It packs touch, skill, acting, salesmanship and trust into a few seconds.The misdirection begins with a reverse cross- screen underneath the basket. One player screens his own defender while the other player sneaks free. Next comes an inbounds pass to that open player in the opposite corner. That’s when things get spicy. As the cross court pass distracts the defense, there’s another screen at the top of the key. Then a shooter catches the last pass for what should be a clean 3 pointer. The play’s origins go back to Georgetown College, an NAIA school in Kentucky, where an inventive coach named Jim Reid liked watching the late West Coast basketball games and doodling observations. That’s how Reid, who died in 1996, discovered this set. The Seattle SuperSonics would run the play for layups, according to Seattle coach Lenny Wilkens and star Jack Sikma, and Reid’s former assistant Happy Osborne says the Sonics were Reid’s inspiration. But the play wouldn’t belong to Wilkens, Reid or anyone else for much longer. Mike Beitzel was the coach of Hanover College when he visited Georgetown in the 1980s to share beers and talk basketball in a basement with Reid and his staff. Reid sketched the play that he called “Zero”—without the 3-pointer at the end—and Beitzel studied it carefully.
Here’s the Warriors running the play at the end of Game 6, with DeMarcus Cousins setting a screen for Curry, who missed the three:
All of that stemmed from a conversation over beers in a basement in Georgetown, Kentucky. Very cool.
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