He played college basketball, but wasn’t a star. He never reached the “big-time” as a coach, but there’s no mistaking the impact Ken Mahoney has had on the sport.
As a contributor, the now 85-year Mahoney is second to none although his name is often overlooked when those who have made a difference in the game of basketball are listed.
“Ken’s contributions to the game of basketball have been singularly critical to the development, progress and safety of the sport that has been my life,” said former UCLA All-American Bill Walton. “Newcomers to the world of basketball would not recognize the game played prior to the changes Ken has instituted.”
Indeed, basketball would not be the game it is today without the genius and ingenuity of Kenneth James Mahoney of Dorrance, Kansas.
“His contributions to the game are unmatched when it comes to equipment,” said former Kansas State head coach and fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Fame member Tex Winter.
One of sport’s most respected and accomplished innovators, Mahoney helped invent the “Toss Back” training device used throughout the world to train players at all levels. He came up with the idea while helping Winter with summer basketball camps.
The Toss Back ball return allowed players work on their hand-eye coordination and to practice drills individually. The Toss Back continues to be used at the professional and collegiate level, as well as driveways across the country.
“You’ll probably find one of those in every gym in the country,” Winter said.
The rise of the slam dunk in the late 1970s and the backboard-shattering Chocolate Thunder Tour of Darryl Dawkins led the National Basketball Association to ask Mahoney to develop breakaway rims to prevent the shattering of backboards from dunking.
In 1981, the NBA began using snap-back rims designed by Mahoney and his late brother, Elmo and continue to be use them today.
“Ken’s innovation of the Snap-Back rim also made the game safer for the players, and encouraged them to take full advantage of their outstanding athletic ability in making powerful plays around the rim without fear of injury or damage to the equipment,” said current UNLV head coach Lon Kruger, a native of Silver Lake and also a member of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. “Through various forms of technology, Ken Mahoney has had a significant impact on the game of basketball at all levels of play.”
Mahoney also redesigned the backboard to its current configuration at the request of NBA and NCAA. The redesigned backboard helped to prevent players from banging their heads on the bottom of the backboards.
“He was also one of the first basketball manufacturers to use the padded backboard on the underneath side of the board,” said former Marymount College coach Ken Cochran, also a member of the KSHOF. “I can think of few basketball innovators and inventors who have contributed more to the sport of basketball than Kenneth Mahoney.”
Mahoney was also a good basketball player himself. He played three seasons at Kansas State and was a member of the Wildcats’ 1948 Final Four team, which was coached by fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Famers Jack Gardner and Tex Winter.