The '80s and '90s were dominated by players who had a low-post presence and lived on the 15-foot-jumper. Maybe it was the fact that you could get away with much more on the defensive end at the perimeter, or just the way guys were coached coming up through college, but the three-ball wasn't nearly as formidable a weapon as it is in today's game.
The role of the three-point specialist has really emerged over the last decade or two, with guys being signed to contracts just for their long-range skills. Look no further than Steve Novak, Mike Miller, and the greatest, Ray Allen, for proof of the trend. Honestly, it makes for great entertainment. A team is never out of it if they have a guy who can rattle off three or four straight threes to swing a game.