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In NBA basketball, TV commentators use the expression "shoot from downtown" when a player shoots beyond the 3-point line. What is the origin of this expression?

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  • It should be noted that the NBA adopted the 3-point shot rule in 1979. Prior to that the expression would not have had much meaning (even thought other leagues had 3-pointers earlier).
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 30, 2016 at 19:07

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Hunter S. Thompson claimed that it originated with Johnny Most, the Celtics announcer in the 60s. However, it wasn't until Brent Musburger started covering the NBA finals for CBS in the early 80s that the term gained traction. Thompson writes,

That is when Musburger changed the language of sports forever when he kept repeating this ignorant notion that any basketball player firing off a long 3-point shot is shooting from "downtown." (Celtics announcer Johnny Most might have coined the "downtown" trademark in the 1960s, but it was Musburger who beat it to death.) I still hear in my dreams his wild gibberish every time Michael Cooper or Dennis Johnson drilled one of those long flat-line 3-pointers. "From way downtown!" Brent would scream. "Another one from Downtown!" It drove me mad then -- & it still does every time some fool blurts it out. It was quickly picked up and adopted by a whole generation of half-bright TV commentators every night of the bloody season. It has become part of the Lexicon now, & it will not be easy to correct. In gyms & Coliseums all over America (even in Greece or Korea), wherever basketball as we know it is played, there will be some howling Jackass braying, "From way downtown! Another 3-pointer! Is this a great country, or what?"

It is the Curse of Musburger.

Thompson's beef seems to be that if downtown is going to refer to anyplace on the basketball court, it should be near the basket where most of the action is. As he puts it, "where you score."

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    Thanks. Hopefully, Thompson was a meticulous fact checker.
    – tylerharms
    Dec 9, 2012 at 18:40
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    If downtown is going to refer to anyplace on the basketball court, it should be near the basketball where most of the action is. With all due respect to Mr. Thompson, I thought downtown meant away from the basket, in other words, it's hyperbole for: he's so far away from the basket, he's off the court, outside the arena, past the parking lot, all the way from downtown! P.S. Thompson should be thankful that at least Brent didn't steal "fiddlin' & diddlin'" to mean "dribbling," as Most was wont to say.
    – J.R.
    Dec 9, 2012 at 18:53
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    @JR: I think what Thompson's saying is that downtown is usually an area in a a city with lots of action, not a place on the outskirts. So, his analogy would make the lowpost downtown, because that's where all the jostling, rebounding, and scoring occurs. As for fiddlin and diddlin, I'm gonna try that at in my league and see where it gets me. Probably ejected.
    – tylerharms
    Dec 9, 2012 at 19:26
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    @tylerharms: Oh, I understand that's what Thompson meant: down under the basket, that's where people get mugged – not out in the suburbs beyond the 3-point arc. Still, the O.P. asked about the origin of the phrase, so I thought it was worth mentioning what Johnny was meaning to infer when using it.
    – J.R.
    Dec 9, 2012 at 22:31
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Mr. Most may have been the first to use the term in broadcasting, but I first heard the phrase used in the mid 60s at Madison Square Garden in New York, to describe any long shot. MSG is located in an area considered the beginning of midtown Manhattan.

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It was Bob Blackburn, voice of the Seattle Sonics in the early seventies. "Downtown" Freddie Brown consistently scored from long range several years before the NBA established the 3-point line. The basketball arena was beyond the actual downtown portion of Seattle, up where the worlds fair had been, by the Space Needle.

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  • From the Wikipedia article on Fred Brown: "Brown graduated from downtown Milwaukee's Lincoln High School in 1967, where other high schools gave him his nickname 'Downtown Freddie' Brown. ... Due to his outside shooting skills, his high school nickname 'Downtown Freddie' Brown followed him for his entire career." If that summary is true, the nickname preceded his NBA career by four or more years—and Brent Musberger's NBA broadcasting career by at least seven years.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:39
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Yes, it is true. Brent Musburger hardly said "Downtown" before Fred Brown came into the league. When Fred Brown came into the league, ninety percent of the time it was Downtown "Freddy" Brown. It actually came from Bob Blackburn, the Seattle Supersonic announcer. Youtube.com will prove that.

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downtown freddy brown with the late 70's Supersonics was the first I heard it. However, I am open to earlier usages. I would offer that Blackburn's usage was the one that ultimately stuck.

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  • You could improve this answer by adding research links to back up when you heard it. Or writing the name as Fred "Downtown" Brown. Or a link to him on, say, Wikipedia.
    – rajah9
    Mar 23, 2015 at 1:49

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