The Spirit of the 76ers
By John Hareas,
One legendary Philadelphia institution is sadly closing its doors while another one is still thriving.
While the Sixers' fans are saying goodbye to the venerable Spectrum Friday night when Philadelphia hosts the Bulls, Harvey Pollack, the team's Director of Statistical information, will be at his familiar spot courtside tracking information much like he has done for the past 62 years.
Pollack, who celebrates his 87th birthday on March 9, first served as the assistant publicity director for the Philadelphia Warriors. He 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.
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. That's what landed him a distinguished place in 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 such statistics 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 includes 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) and which NBA players have the most tattoos.
Pollack spoke with NBA.com's John Hareas and discussed the nuances of his Yearbook, along with why Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest player he's ever seen (and the Big Dipper's critique of Michael Jordan), his all-time Starting Five and how he's about to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
NBA.com: What made you decide to publish your own Statistical Yearbook, now in 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.
NBA.com: 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.
NBA.com: 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 1967-68? 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 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.
NBA.com: You were close to Wilt after he retired. How often would you talk to him?
Harvey Pollack: All the time. Wilt was big on stats. One time he called me up and said, 'You know, Harvey, Michael Jordan can't hit a shot beyond 15 feet?'
I said, 'How do you know that?'
He said to me, 'Don't you watch the games?'
I said, 'I don't watch stuff like that. How do you know?'
He said, 'I watch it.'
So, during the height of Michael's career, I got the play-by-play of the first 20 Bulls games and I checked the distance of every shot Jordan took during the season and sure enough, he was shooting under 40 percent from 15 feet back.
Then Wilt said, 'Jordan doesn't take any shots from seven feet in, all of those shots are drives to the basket. He doesn't take five or six footers. He goes right to the hoop.'
I tried 20 more games and ended up looking at the entire season and got the same results. Wilt's analysis held up.
Wilt was a student of the game. People don't know that. He knew everything that was going on.
Another season, Wilt said that the refs never called any traveling violations on Jordan. Wilt was after Jordan for some reason. I checked the play by plays and Wilt was right. Jordan was called only for four traveling violations.
Whenever Wilt came out with a book, he always credited me with the stats. I'm referenced throughout his books.
NBA.com: The day of Wilt's 100-point game, did you have any idea he might set the single-game scoring record that night in Hersey, Pa.?
Harvey Pollack: I should have known Wilt was in for a special night. The owner, Eddie Gottlieb, always brought the team up early for road games. This game was in Hershey and they took the bus up and they left early in case there was a traffic jam or something.
The team arrived a few hours before game time so the team went to the arcade to play some games. Wilt was challenging everybody, shooting down clay pigeons, racking up the pinball machines. I should have known big things were about to happen.
As the game progressed, I had no idea when Wilt's scoring was going to end. When Wilt was at the 60-point mark, I told Dave Zinkoff, the PA announcer, 'Why don't you call every point and field goal he makes from this point in. So, every basket Wilt scored, Zink would boom into the microphone, 'That's 63 for Wilt! That's 65!' as only Zink can deliver.
When Wilt was in the 90s, Hershey Arena was at a fever pitch, thanks to Zink. By the way, I had to tell Zink about every basket during the game because Zink was no student of the game. He was lucky if he could tell the difference between Bill Russell and John Havlicek on the floor. He had trouble identifying players. So, I always sat beside him. He would always ask me, 'Harvey, who did that, who did that?'
When Zink announced 100 points, everyone flew out of the stands. They couldn't contain their excitement. They all gathered around Wilt.
When the game started, there wasn't one photographer in the building. It was a meaningless regular-season game between the Knicks and the Sixers late in the season (March 2). Even the normal contingent of New York writers was depleted. Not everyone made the trip . Neither team could make any ground in the standings as a result of this game.
At halftime, word spread of Wilt's night and the photographers showed up after hearing Bill Campbell's radio broadcast of the game. So, when the second half got under way, there were a lot of photographers at Hershey Arena.
First thing I did after the game was make the boxscore up. Then I went into the dressing room to see what was going on and the photographers were standing around. I said, 'What's the matter? Don't you guys want to take pictures of Wilt? The photographers said, 'Well, we just took pictures of him but nothing sensational.'
I said, 'Wait a minute, what happened here tonight?' They said, 'Wilt scored 100 points.' I said, 'Why don't you have something showing 100 on it and have him hold it.'
They said, 'What do you suggest?'
One of the photographers had a white pad of paper. So I grab the pen that was being used by the players who were signing the ball for Wilt and wrote '100' on the sheet of paper. The photographers then asked me, Will Wilt do that?'
I said, 'Don't worry about Wilt. He'll do it if I ask him.'
Sure enough, The Associated Press photographer took the picture of Wilt holding the sheet of paper with '100' on it and shortly after it was transmitted all over the world. That picture is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
That particular night, I was covering the game for the AP, UP and thePhiladelphia Inquirer, so I was the one who let the world know about Wilt's game. I had to go to the phone and call the AP and the UP first. During the game, I was sending an X copy, which is a detailed play-by-play of the game, to the Inquirer.
Then I had to write a completely new story that appeared on page 1 of the Inquirer. The byline didn't read Harvey Pollack. It read, Special to the Inquirer, but everyone knows that I wrote it.
The night Wilt scored 100 points was by far the busiest night of my 62 years in the NBA.
NBA.com: Who is your NBA All-Time Starting Five?
Harvey Pollack: Point Guard: Oscar Robertson --- Averaged a triple double for one season -- 1961-62 -- and the first five years of his career. No one is even close.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan -- Obviously, he was such a great scorer.
Small Forward: Julius Erving. This was a difficult choice but I'm picking Julius over Larry Bird. Julius was such a spectacular player, elevated the Sixers franchise and was such a dominant player in the ABA.
Power Forward: Elgin Baylor: Too few know how great of a player Elgin was. He was a beast on the boards and a heavy scorer throughout his career. It was a shame he retired before the 1971-72 Lakers team won the NBA title.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain. There isn't any doubt how he dominated the game. I got a kick how Elliott Kalb wrote in his book that Shaquille O'Neal was the greatest player of all time. I told Elliott, 'I don't believe you wrote this nonsense.'
Head Coach: Red Auerbach. You have to give it to Red due to winning eight titles in succession. Even though he had talented players -- 15 guys that went to the Hall of Fame -- he still had to coach them and still had to keep their interest up to win each year. There are some great coaches in NBA history but no one did what Auerbach did.
Sixth Man: John Havlicek: The best sixth man I ever saw. Before he became a starter, he sparked the Celtics and everyone was wondering why Auerbach kept him on the bench. But the Celtics had so many great players and he had to wait his turn to start.
NBA.com: You've won four rings with the Warriors and Sixers. Which one is the most meaningful?
Harvey Pollack: I have a ring from the very first year of the NBA when the Warriors defeated the Chicago Stags and a ring from the 1955-56 season when the Warriors defeated the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Finals. Then I have one when the Sixers defeated the Warriors in the 1967 Finals and then 1983 when the Sixers swept the Lakers.
My most memorable ring has to be '83 when the Sixers swept the Lakers. That was unbelievable we did that. Moses [Malone] almost predicted it before the playoffs when he said, 'Fo, Fo, Fo." The Sixers lost one game that postseason to the Bucks on the road.
When I go out to speak, I wear these four rings and these rings indicate the progress of the NBA. The first ring was a little gold ring with a diamond that you needed a magnifying glass to identify the diamond. The league didn't have any money back then. Then in 1955-56, the ring got a little bigger. It was still a little gold ring with a round basketball near the diamond. Then in '66-67, Irv Kosloff owned the team and he said, 'Wait a minute, let's make a real ring.' The ring had a ruby, big diamonds in the middle, your name on the side plus the team record. Then in 1983, the Sixers' owner, Harold Katz, made the ring bigger with a bigger ruby and had Moses Malone's prediction inscribed on the side -- 'Fo, Fo, Fo.'
NBA.com: The Guinness Book of World Records has tracked the number of consecutive days that you've worn a different T-shirt. You started your streak in June 2003. What number are you up to?
Harvey Pollack: I'm up to 2,089. I contacted the Guinness Book of World Records and asked them, 'What is the record for consecutive T-shirts worn? They said, no one ever did that. I said, 'So, you mean, when I wore the second T-shirt, I broke my own the record?' [Laughs]
So, for almost six years, I've been breaking my own record every day. When I reach 2,130, which I have enough shirts to reach that mark, which will be sometime in April, I will break Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games. I'm going to get a T-shirt made that reads, 'I broke Lou Gehrig's record.'
NBA.com: At 87, you still maintain a challenging work schedule. What keeps you so driven?
Harvey Pollack: I love it. I enjoy every game. It's a new experience. You get new faces every year plus you never know what's going to happen, new situations always arise.
I also keep stats for indoor lacrosse here in Philadelphia. I've kept stats for every lacrosse home game since 1971. I also did the Colts for 15 years when Johnny Unitas was there until Bob Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis.
My stat team has been doing Temple football and basketball since 1945. I just finished the season on Thursday, completing my 63rd year in that job.
When I was in high school, I thought I would retire at the age of 55 and sit in a rocking chair in my living room. Well, I still haven't found that rocking chair at 87.
To order the 2008-09 Harvey Pollack Statistical Yearbook, please send a check for $15 to:
3601 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Attn: Harvey Pollack