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Legendary statistician Harvey Pollack played a key role in recording Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images

Pollack forever a part of Chamberlain's historic night

By Fran Blinebury,
Posted Mar 1 2012 9:18AM

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PHILADELPHIA -- He had already filed stories for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press and United Press International and double-checked the box score statistics for the most bodacious performance in NBA history when Harvey Pollack walked into the noisy locker room at Hershey Arena and found A.P. photographer Paul Vathis at a loss about how to commemorate Wilt Chamberlain hitting the century mark.

Vathis was standing amid the jubilant throng of Philadelphia Warriors and wasn't quite sure how to capture the significance of what had just taken place inside the old barn.

Pollack wasted no time. He asked Evening Bulletin reporter Jim Heffernan for a blank sheet from his notebook and quickly scribbled out all that history needed to know.

Since the game was not televised and there is no surviving video of the night, it is the enduring image of March 2, 1962: A seated and smiling Chamberlain holding up the page with the hand-scrawled figure.


"From that night on, it was always Wilt's number," Pollack said with his trademark cackle. "But I can still tell people now that it was my number, too. I mean, it really was my number. I wrote it."

Through the years, the decades, closing in on three-quarters of a century, it is likely that nobody has written more numbers about more sports than Pollack, most especially the NBA. He was there for the founding of the Basketball Association of America in 1946, keeping the numbers for the Philadelphia Warriors, and is the only person continuously employed in the league through all of its 66 years, officially the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers since 1987.

Pollack has charted the dunks of Julius "Dr. J" Erving and the backboard smashing of Darryl Dawkins, coined the term triple-double in Magic Johnson's rookie year, dueled with the legendary Red Auerbach and compiled "Harvey Pollack's NBA Statistical Yearbook," which has grown to 332 pages and includes enough arcane facts to fill up every inch of a basketball court.

How many reverse dunks did Kobe Bryant throw down last season? Which player won the most jump balls in 2010-11? Who won the most taps to start an overtime period?

"As long as I can document it," said Pollack, who'll turn 90 on March 9, one week after the 50th anniversary celebration of the 100 point game, "nothing is out of the question or too far-fetched."

That is, not once he had sat at courtside and witnessed Chamberlain's 100-point explosion.

"We had already seen Wilt score more than 70 a couple of times earlier that season," Pollack said. "But nobody really was expecting 100. Well, not until he got to 69 by the end of the third quarter."

Pollack and Chamberlain was an odd couple pairing of Philadelphia natives, the small Jewish reserve guard on the Simon Gratz High city championship team in 1938-39 and the strapping 7-foot black giant who led Overbrook High to back-to-back city titles in 1954 and '55 and became the largest figure in the game.

By the time Chamberlain attended college at the University of Kansas, toured for a year with the Harlem Globetrotters and finally joined the NBA and the Warriors in 1959, Pollack was in his second decade of carving out a reputation as a numbers wizard. So legendary was he with numbers that he is nicknamed "Super Stat" and has a place in 13 different Halls of Fame.

"Wilt and Harvey were like Frick and Frack in the locker room," said 76ers Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham. "There were a lot of nights when (coach) Alex Hannum would come in at halftime to try to give us a talk and he'd have to wait for Wilt and Harvey to finish arguing over the box score. Wilt was always complaining that Harvey wasn't giving him all the rebounds he deserved."

Upon listening to Chamberlain's constant carping, one night Pollack recruited Wilt's boyhood buddy and best friend, Vince Miller, to independently keep track of rebounds. After the game, Miller and Pollack approached the big man in the locker room and asked him whose set of numbers he would prefer to enter in as the official count that night.

"Oh, I'll take my man Vince's, of course," Chamberlain said.

"'OK,'" said Pollack, laughing, "'But just so you know, he's got you down for less than me.' That kept him quiet for a little while."

There was the time at the told Boston Garden when Pollack said he wanted to confirm his suspicions that the Celtics' stat crew was padding the rebounding numbers for Bill Russell and stiffing Chamberlain. So he spent the entire game not just charting running totals, but also noting the time and the score at the point of each rebound for the two players. When he pointed out the discrepancy to the stat crew after the game and volunteered to go over the videotape to verify, word got to Auerbach, who immediately stopped his custom of giving Pollack a cigar upon each meeting and wouldn't speak to him for years.

But then at the end of the 1974-75 season, Boston's Dave Cowens and Washington's Wes Unseld were dueling for the rebounding title. The final day of the season had the Celtics playing at 1 p.m. and the Bullets playing at 4 p.m.. So Cowens' final totals were known before the Bullets began to play and, lo and behold, Unseld wound up finishing with just enough rebounds to edge out Cowens by .1 for the crown.

"After the game, the Boston writers called me up and asked me what I thought," Pollack said. "I told them it sounded a little fishy.

"The next day there's this story in the paper quoting Auerbach and he says, 'See, even the most honest statistician in the business, Harvey Pollack, confirmed that there was funny business.' And the next time we played Boston, Red walks up and gives me a cigar."

He began when he was a student manager for the Temple University basketball team in 1942 and decided he could keep far more stats than merely shots and points. He pitched the idea to sports information director Bob Geasey and a legendary career was born. After a stint in the Air Force during World War II, Pollack worked as a sports writer at the Evening Bulletin, kept stats at college doubleheaders and was hired by Eddie Gottlieb to join the Philadelphia Warriors and the BAA when it was founded in 1946. He worked for the Warriors until they moved to San Francisco in 1962, did publicity for the NBA in the one year that Philadelphia did not have a franchise and then joined the 76ers when Nationals moved from Syracuse in 1963.

Pollack has been the official statistician for Temple football since 1945. He also heads the official stat crew for six different Philadelphia area colleges and the Wings of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. He ran the NFL Baltimore Colts stat crew for 15 years and has also been the football numbers man of the Philadelphia Stars, Bell and Bulldogs.

"I like numbers and I never get tired of finding new ones," Pollack said.

It seems as though he never gets tired, period. Soon to be entering his 10th decade on the planet, Pollack still writes weekly reviews of movies, Broadway shows, concerts and restaurants for the Delaware County (Pa.) Press.

"What am I gonna do, sit around the house?" he asked.

It's a house that is filled with memorabilia from the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of celebrities Pollack has met, one where evidence -- photos with Dr. J, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Chamberlain -- shows that his first love was and still is basketball and numbers.

It is a home that he shared for 58 years with his wife, Bea, before she died in 2002, one where they struck a compromise. In the years before the Internet made gathering stats and information easier, Pollack subscribed to 28 different newspapers from around the NBA. That enabled him to gather insights and gossip that he published in a newletter he called "Pollack's Potpourri." Bea's payment for allowing her husband to fill the house with newspapers was the coupon inserts.

"Pollack's Potpourri" landed him in hot water with the league office when he published derogatory comments about the NBA from then-New Jersey Nets coach Stan Albeck. He was fined by commissioner David Stern.

Through the years nothing has stopped him. He's carried on debates and relationships with everyone from Michael Jordan to Shaquille O'Neal and, of course, Chamberlain.

"We had a good-natured, running duel while he was playing," Pollack said. "But after his playing career, every time Wilt would write another book or do a big interview with somebody and wanted stats to back up his claims, he'd be on the phone to from L.A. asking me to help him."

"Super Stat" himself is currently in the process of trying to set his own record and earn a place in the Guinness World Book, wearing a different brand new t-shirt every day since June 29, 2003. He's at more than 3,000 and counting.

"I'm trying to be the Wilt of t-shirts, set a record that nobody will ever break," he said.

The one number that Pollack could never verify was the second-most famous stat connected with Wilt after the 100-point game: the claim that he'd slept with 20,000 women.

"All I can tell you is what happened on the night when we (76ers) beat the Warriors for the championship in 1967," Pollack said. "After I finished with all my duties at the game, I finally got back to our hotel in San Francisco. I was staying on the same floor as Wilt. As I got off the elevator, all I could see was the hallway filled with women -- tall ones, short ones, every color, every shape you could think of, and they were lined up outside his room and down the hall.

"I made my way through the crowd and just as I got to his room, the door opened and there was Wilt. And all I heard him say was one word: 'Next.' "

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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