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Please begin with an informative title:

Four years ago, I wrote a diary in response to something that the Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote that I found trite (concerning a high school student dropping out after failing to pass a required algebra course). The part that troubled me was his implying that (for a man-of-letters) high-school mathematics was unnecessary: "Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note".

The comments on the diary I wrote went off into a heated discussion about education standards (which is why I won't link to it here). But my point was that (1) while computation of already-stated formulas are certainly easy via electronics: actual problem-solving that simply conclude with math calculations ... requires some thought.

And (2) - the story I related (about a high school graduate's famous algebra formula) was lost in the shuffle - and which I wish to recount here, in a much more fleshed-out way.

(more after the jump).........

Intro

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

A businessman named Danny Biasone in Syracuse, New York (who owned a bowling alley as a primary business) also owned another entertainment business back in the spring of 1954. This was a fledgling business in a fledgling industry, which seemed on the verge of collapse (due to a particular flaw in the operation of this part of the entertainment business). Several had tried other solutions, but none had worked. And since this industry had only come into existence after WW-II, it did not have a shared history with the public to guide it through these difficult times. Paying customers had started to abandon patronizing this industry, and its future was far from certain.

And then Danny Biasone devised an algebra equation whose solution was to become legendary. And he was not a professional mathematician: instead, a high school graduate (and a childhood immigrant from Italy). The answer to this problem was (ultimately) not enough to save his own individual business, as we will see later on. But it did save the industry as a whole: which is today quite lucrative and is known ... around the world.

On April 22, 1954, Danny Biasone proposed this solution to his partners in the industry at a meeting in New York City. They liked enough of what they saw in order to accept Mr. Biasone's invitation to visit Syracuse that summer for a full-scale demonstration of results of his algebra problem, which was held at Vocational High School. They were once again pleased, and agreed to implement it in their industry (on a test basis) at the end of the summer.

Oh, the formula in question? Here it is and (spoiler alert) - after this the industry will be revealed ...

   48 x 60
    --------   =   X
    60 x 2
=========================

The industry in question ... is the National Basketball Association as you may have realized.

There was an infamous game played just a few years earlier in 1950 in which the final score was: Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons 19, Minneapolis (now LA) Lakers 18. Yes, a high school-like score. Many teams simply went into a stall for long parts of the game if they had the lead, and the fouls committed were starting to become - in the words of Hall of Fame player Bob Cousy - "worse and worse: guys would really hit you". And unlike college basketball - which had a much-longer shared history and relationship with its fan base - pro basketball was a post WW-II creation, without a long sense of loyalty among its fans. In fact, so many ticket-buyers had been walking out that the league (which had lost 9 of 17 franchises in four years) seemed headed for oblivion.

And then Danny Biasone - the owner of the Syracuse Nationals - re-examined a concept that had previously been proposed (but never enacted) of requiring each team to attempt to score within an allotted time.

But what time? He said, "I was just looking for a number, any number." After examining the box scores of NBA games that he thought were entertaining: he surmised that each team would take 60 shots apiece 'if nobody screwed around' over the course of a game.

And so to find that optimum number - "X" - he divided his 60 x 2 estimate into the total length of the game (converted into seconds). 48 minutes multiplied by 60 seconds, divided by 60 shots per team multiplied by 2 equals..........24. Not a rounded 24, but 24.00000000 - which may have seemed like an omen (I know it would have been for me).

So the advent of the 24-second clock was neither (a) involving a trial-and-error method, nor (b) a compromise between two committees, nor even (c) devised by a professional mathematician. The sportswriter Frank Deford believes today, "they'd spend four years testing stuff out with computers, and at the end of the day: it wouldn't work as well as what Danny dreamed up on a scratch pad".

The NBA voted to test Biasone's idea in its pre-season games before the 1954-55 season, with plans to iron out the bugs (off the court) during the following season and - if all went well - perhaps to implement it during the 1955-56 season, a year later.

But when in fact no bugs appeared: and the experiment drew praise from players, the referees, coaches and - especially - ticket managers: the NBA decided not to wait, and just implemented it immediately for the 1954-55 season. And in perhaps some sort of poetic thank-you: Danny Biasone's Syracuse Nationals team won the NBA title several months later.

Ultimately, though, Danny Biasone became a largely forgotten figure. The main reason: his "Nats" franchise failed over time due to its small-market location (as did some others). After the Philadelphia Warriors franchise moved to San Francisco in 1963, Biasone sold his team (that he had paid $1,000 for in 1949) to some Philadelphia businessmen who re-christened the team as .... the Philadelphia 76'ers.

Danny Biasone died in 1992 at age 83 with his only fanfare having been inducted into the Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame - but his concept of a shot clock was later adapted by college basketball and professional leagues around the world (often as a larger figure of 30 or 45 seconds). Eight years after his death, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 2000, and a monument to his clock was dedicated in Armory Square in downtown Syracuse.

                               

The moral of this story? If kids ask why they need to learn mathematics, tell them this parable........

48 x 60
--------   =   X
60 x 2
A calculator to compute X: Less than $5.00
The time to compute the equation manually (by simply canceling the 60's and divide 48 by 2) - seconds

Knowing how to set-up the equation...and save an industry...... priceless.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Ed Tracey on Mon Apr 19, 2010 at 10:18 AM PDT.

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