Monday, March 9, 2009

The 76ers Spirit

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE

One legendary Philadelphia institution is sadly closing its doors while another one is still thriving. While the Sixers' fans are getting ready to say goodbye to the venerable Spectrum when Philadelphia host the Bulls on Friday night, Harvey Pollack, the team's Director of Statistical information will be at his familiar spot courtside tracking statistical information much like he has done for the past 62 years when he served as the assistant publicity director for the Philadelphia Warriors.

Pollack, who celebrates his 87th birthday on March 9, holds the distinct honor of being the only individual to work in the NBA in its inaugural season (1946-47) who is still employed by a team today.

Yet equally remarkable is not only Pollack's spirit and high energy level but the numerous jobs he holds. The Sixers' position is just one of many for Pollack, who overseas the stat crew for the Philadelphia Wings of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and recently completed his 63rd season as the lead statistician of Temple's basketball team, a responsibility he also holds for the school's football team. Pollack also writes a weekly syndicated entertainment column for a local newspaper.

Yet statistics is Pollack's claim to fame and that is what landed him a distinguished place into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 as a John Bunn Award recipient. No one in the field of statistics has had a greater impact in the history of the game than Pollack.

Pollack was keeping statistics for the Sixers such as minutes played, blocked shots, offensive and defensive rebounds, steals and turnovers long before the league made it part of the official boxscore.

Pollack's annual Statistical Yearbook was recently released and is an absolute must-have for anyone who loves the game, novel statistical analysis and trivia, producing such gems as the game's best clutch player, the distance of every field goal, who leads the league in every dunk imaginable (i.e. alley-oops, driving dunks, put-back dunks, etc) and which NBA players have the most tattoos.

Pollack spoke with's John Hareas and discussed the nuances of his Yearbook along with why Wilt was the greatest player he's ever seen (and the Big Dipper's critique of Michael Jordan), his all-time Starting Five and why he's about to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. What made you decide to publish your own Statistical Yearbook, which is now it its 15th year.

Harvey Pollack: In 1968, NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy made it a requirement that every team had to come out with a media guide. Up until 1968, there were very few media guides in the NBA and only the affluent teams put them out. The Sixers book started in 1968, it was a miniature book, focused only on Sixers. As time went on, I started putting in NBA stuff.

In 1994, the Sixers media guide consisted of half of my NBA statistical information and half of Sixers material. When the media guide surpassed 300 pages, the Sixers decided to make it two books -- the Sixers media guide and my Statistical Yearbook.

The first year my book was published was in 1994-95 and was 150 pages. This year's book is more than 300. I keep on adding new stuff every year. What is the one stat in this year's Yearbook that might surprise the most people.

Harvey Pollack: The category that everyone seems to love is the tattoos of NBA players. When the game starts, me and other members of my stat team at the Sixers games check out the opposing players as they wipe their feet on the traction mat in front of the scorer's table to see how many tattoos they have. We do the same when the subs enter the game as well.

At halftime, since we're not sure that everybody is going to play, we go to the team's trainer and ask about the guys who haven't played and whether or not they have any tattoos and how many. The trainer will then tell us. This way, we don't miss anybody.

Another popular stat is top clutch players. Recently, I heard Skip Bayless on ESPN say that LeBron James wasn't a good clutch player. I called up ESPN and said, 'If he reads Harvey Pollack's Statistical Yearbook and looks up top clutch players in the NBA, he'll find that LeBron James is No. 1.'

Four-point plays -- no one keeps that stat and I've kept that from Day 1. When the three-point shot was introduced in the NBA in 1979-80, I have listed every four-point play since then -- the player, the opponent and date of the game. We update that stat every year.

Another popular category is dunks. I break down all of the different types of dunks -- alley-oops, driving dunks, reverse dunks, slam dunks, put-back dunks. In the Statistical Yearbook, we list the top players in each of the different categories of dunks.

Plus Minus Ratings are also very popular.

There are so many different categories. I'm over three hundred pages and I don't believe in white space. You'll never find any white space on any page. I fill the pages with little fillers, such as what guys played on an NCAA championship team and then the next year, played on an NBA championship team.

The book is a mixture of trivia and facts and most of the trivia is used to fill the bottom of each page so I won't have white space. You've been with the NBA since day 1, 1946-47. Who is the greatest player you ever saw?

Harvey Pollack: Wilt Chamberlain is without a doubt the greatest and the NBA record book proves it. Wilt holds records for a minimum of 130 different categories.

People forget who he is because fans today never saw him play. For instance, a triple-double-double -- there isn't anybody since Wilt did this in 1968 that has come close to getting 20 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists in a game. No one has come close to Wilt's mark of 55 rebounds in a game. The closest someone got to Wilt's 100-point game was Kobe Bryant, who hit for 81.

Plus, name me a center who has led the league in assists like Wilt did in 1966-67? No one. Also, Wilt played every minute of every game in the 1961-62 season, including overtime, except one because he was thrown out of the game with three personal fouls.

That game was held in Los Angeles and Norm Drucker was the referee and he threw Wilt out with three technicals. The Lakers won the game by a point.

I was always curious why Wilt didn't play those seven minutes, which he would have played every minute of that '61-62 season, including overtimes.

So, sometime in the '80s, I looked it up and said 'Wait a minute, that's illegal.' So I wrote a letter to David Stern, NBA Commissioner and told him, 'I know you're interested in justice. When Wilt Chamberlain was thrown out of the game in 1962, three technicals were called and the Lakers made all three foul shots. You're already set a precedent in this category.'

The Commissioner wrote back and said great idea, we'll re-play the last seven minutes of the game, either before the All-Star Game or before the playoffs. All you have to do is get the players.

So, the first guy I called up was Wilt. Now remember, this is sometime in the mid-'80s, I said to him, 'As old as you are, you can still get up and down the court for seven minutes.' He said, "Harvey, do you really want me to do this? If you do, then I will."

Then I went around and I got everybody -- Paul Arizin, Tom Gola -- I got most of the guys but then some I couldn't find like Tom Meschery.

Then I called Jerry West and he said, "Is Wilt going to play?" I said yes, then he said, then I'll play.

I called him about a week later and Jerry said he talked to three, four guys who said they would play. But I never finished my mission in getting everyone. I was the PR Director of the Sixers at the time. But had I gotten everyone together for the last seven minutes, I would have made the Hall of Fame a lot sooner than 2002 (laughs).

A similar instance happened years later. In 1984, the Nets were playing the Sixers in Philadelphia and the officials called three technicals on Bernard King and head coach Kevin Loughery. The Nets protested because the rules state that the referees can only call two technicals on anybody and the other penalties have to come from the league.

So, they had to play the last seven minutes of that game before the next time both teams played again.

Incidentally, when they re-played the game from November to March, the two teams made a trade, so there were three guys on the Nets who were now on Philly and three guys on Philly who were on the Nets from when the first game was played. It was the only game in NBA history in which players were listed on both sides of an official box score. It's never happened since.

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