Shattering The Backboard
by ORTAK CALISMA on Apr 14, 2021
Shattering the backboard in a game of basketball is a rare occurrence. It can also be extremely dangerous, sending shards of glass flying over the players and fans. It’s a stunt that has caused games to be cancelled or delayed, serious injuries and expensive clean-up costs to be incurred. An act that can elicit a rapturous noise from the crowd or stun those in attendance in to silence as they stumble to find the words for what they have just witnessed. Always a mesmerizing sight that is sure to be burned into the memories of anyone lucky enough to have witnessed it live.
Backboard shattering is something that happens when a player slam dunks the ball hard enough to break the tempered safety glass of the backboard. You may be surprised to find out however that the first person to shatter a backboard in National Basketball Association history did not do so by dunking the ball.
In 1946 Chuck Connors of the Boston Celtics (who would later go on to greater fame as baseball player and actor) took a set shot during pregame warmups, hitting the front of the rim. This first instance of a backboard being shattered occurred due to an arena worker failing to place a protective piece of rubber between the rim and backboard earlier that day, leading to Chuck’s shot sending glass flying through the air in the Boston Garden.
Fast forward to the 1960’s and the first player to become famous as a backboard breaker. Nicknamed “Honeycomb” by his college coach and sporting a gold star embedded in one of his front teeth, All-star power forward Gus Johnson was one of the NBA’s first dunk shot artists. He was also one of the first forwards to frequently play above the rim, combining a blend of strength, jumping ability, and speed. He would later go on to have his jersey retired by the Baltimore Bullets but not before managing to rack up three backboard shatters during his impressive career.
In the early years of basketball, dunking was considered ungentlemanly, and rarely used outside of practice or warm-up drills. A distorted rim or broken backboard could delay a game for hours. During the 1970s, however, players like David Thompson and “Dr. J” Julius Erving of the American Basketball Association popularized the dunk with their athletic flights to the basket. This upswing in popularity of course led to an increase in broken boards from this decade onward.
The next athlete to be associated with multiple shattered backboards during their career was a charismatic Philadelphia 76ers star who claimed to be from the Planet Lovetron (where he also apparently spent his off-season practicing “interplanetary funkmanship”), Darryl Dawkins. Known by multiple nicknames including but not limited to “Sir Slam”, “Dr. Dunkenstein”, and last but not least a moniker given to him by soul music legend, Ray Charles, who christened Dawkins “Chocolate Thunder.” On November 13th, 1979 during a game against the Kansas City Kings , Dawkins shattered the backboard. Three weeks later he did it again, this time against the San Antonio Spurs and although his actions were highly entertaining, this was also incredibly dangerous with glass raining down on any player unlucky enough to be standing under the basket at the time. A few days later the NBA created a new rule that would see breaking a backboard become an offense that would result in a fine and suspension. These two incidents led to changes in the way backboards were made resulting in breakaway rims that are still used to this day.
In 1985 during an exhibition game in Trieste, Italy as part of a promotional tour for Nike, Michael Jordan would break a backboard. Wearing the black, white, and orange of Stefanel Trieste who were taking on Juve Caserta, “Air Jordan” put on a show, scoring 30 points and despite the glass shattering dunk taking place outside the U.S., against a non-NBA team, it still goes down as one of the best highlights in the career of an athlete that has so many. 30 years later Nike would release “Shattered Backboard” Air Jordan’s to commemorate the incident.
In the early 1990s, no backboards stood a chance against Shaq Attack. The 7ft 1in, 294 pound Shaquille O’Neal is probably the most infamous backboard breaker of all time. He didn’t just shatter the glass, he also managed to destroy the support systems holding up the backboard. During his rookie season with the Orlando Magic in 1993, Shaq’s dunk somehow damaged and deflated the hydraulic system that held up the backboard, causing it to fold up and lower to the floor as the crowd went wild. Later against the New Jersey Nets, Shaq nearly decapitated himself with the shot clock after pulling down the entire backboard during a dunk. This led to the NBA yet again vowing to increase strength of the backboards to try and avoid this happening again and leading to injuries.
Shattering a backboard is something that has long been connected to some of the most charismatic individuals ever to grace the court. Although still seen on occasion in high school and college basketball, over the years has improved the equipment they use resulting in a shattered backboard being almost non-existent in the league these days. However, it will always be remembered as an iconic act and a feat of strength that would without fail make jaws hit the floor due to the spectacle unfolding before those who were lucky enough to witness it.