This new era of analytics in some respects seems to have taken over sports, the way teams are almost measured at times in their commitment to formulas and mathematics. There’s no evidence yet it produces champions or even winners. And that’s back to Bill James’ findings in baseball. But it’s been adopted as something of a newly discovered method of success.
Except Harvey Pollack was doing it in basketball for some 40 or 50 years.
Pollack is the legendary NBA and Philadelphia statistician who died last week at age 93. Though it’s fairly low tech, Harvey’s annual statistical yearbook is probably the most enjoyable trivia read in basketball. It’s sad that there won’t be another, at least not by Harvey. I have Harvey’s last one from the 2014-15 season and it’s the best “Bet you didn’t know” book in sports, which also details every dunk of each season by type and the meaning of players’ tattoos. Among other curiosities is Tom Thibodeau’s annual player efficiency ratings, the league leaders in finger roll baskets, the most points scored in a game by country of birth (Luol Deng is No.1 for Sudan) and their points and rebounds in every game between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
So as a tribute to Harvey, from his yearbook, bet you didn’t know:
- Nat Hickey was the oldest player to play in the NBA at 46. Kevin Willis was second and Robert Parish third. Andrew Bynum was the youngest at 17.
- Derek Fisher has been in the most playoff games in NBA history. Robert Horry was second.
- There have been four NBA players in history with the surname pronounced McMillan and each spelled differently: Nate McMillan, Tom McMillen, Jim McMillian, Shellie McMillon.
- The most common NBA name in history is Williams.
- More NBA players went to high school in California than any other state.
- Four players were traded while they were the reigning league leader in scoring from the previous season: George Yardley, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob McAdoo and Tracy McGrady.
- Former Bulls assistant Frank Hamblein is the all time leader in seasons as an assistant at 39.
- The last regular player/coach was Dave Cowens in 1978-79.
- The tallest ever NBA players were Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan at 7-7.
- The most reluctant shooter in NBA history (shots per minute with at least seven years in league) was former Bull Michael Ruffin, one shot attempt for about every 10 minutes played.
- The longest NBA game was six overtimes in 1951.
- Steve Nash played the most playoff games without a title at 120 followed by Kenyon Martin with 112 and Richard Jefferson with 105.
- Michael Jordan failed to score in double figures 13 times in his career, 12 in his two seasons with Washington. Jordan scored in double figures in all his 179 playoff games. Jordan has the longest double figures scoring streak at 866 games.
- In his last full season counting in 2013-14 there were 254 NBA players with visible tattoos. Allen Iverson is believed to have had the most at 23, though figures were not available for Dennis Rodman.
- The most popular uniform number for the last full season counting in 2013-14 was No. 8.
- The only player ever in the 800/800 club for assists and rebounds was Oscar Robertson.
- There have been 19 NBA players whose first, middle or last names began with the letter Q.
- Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been in the NBA the longest with one team with never missing the playoffs, 14 years for Parker and 13 for Ginobili.
- Shaquille O’Neal holds the record for most points scored on his birthday with 61.
- The Phoenix Suns actually have the longest NBA streak without a title at 47 years. Cleveland and the Clippers are tied for second
- Lenny Wilkens coached in the NBA the longest at 30 ¾ seasons, 15/100ths longer than Don Nelson. George Karl is third.
- Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld are the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.
- The latest starting time for a game was a Boston Celtics game in 1962 starting at midnight followed by an ice capades performance.
- There have been just short of 4,000 different players in NBA history.
- Wilt Chamberlain has the most 50-point games at 122 followed by Michael Jordan at 37 and Kobe Bryant at 24.
- During the years 1966-1984 for the coin flip for the No. 1 draft pick, heads came up seven times and tails 12 times.
- The most traveled NBA player was one time No. 1 overall pick Joe Smith with 15 different teams and three teams twice.
- Dolph Schayes had the first triple double in 1951 with 18 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds.
- The lowest drafted player to be Rookie of the Year was Woody Sauldsberry picked 60th in the eighth round in 1967.
- The shortest NBA career was onetime Bulls draft pick JamesOn Curry with 3.9 seconds with the Clippers.
- Wilt Chamberlain famously scored 100 points March 2, 1962 against the Knicks. No pair of teammates ever scored 100 combined. The closest was Kiki Vandeweghe and Alex English 98 in a triple overtime game. Kobe and his personal favorite Smush Parker combined for 94.
- The Bulls had the most shot clock violations the last season of his full record keeping in 2013-14.
- Wilt had the only triple double 20 with 22 points, 21 assists and 25 rebounds in 1968.
- The Indianapolis Olympians in 1951 and Baltimore Bullets in 1952 were the only teams ever to use just five players in a complete game. In the case of the Olympians, the commercial airplane they were flying after cancellations had just five seats left. So the starters went and the rest of the team arrived after the game ended. They lost 83-79 after being outscored in the fourth quarter 25-14.
- Jamal Crawford has never fouled out of a game in 1,021 regular season games. The record is Wilt at 1,045 regular season games. Crawford was ejected from a game for the first time ever this past season.
- There has never been an NBA player with a name that is a palindrome like football’s Jim Otto, spelled the same way backward and forward. There have been several in baseball like Dick Nen, Toby Harrah and Mark Salas.
- The alltime technical foul leader is Jerry Sloan with 435.
- Neil Johnston and Paul Arizin in 1955 and Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe in 1983 were the only teammates to finish first and second in the league in scoring.
- Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Henry Bibby and Billy Thompson were the only players to go from NCAA champions to NBA champions the following season.
- Derek Fisher, Mickey Johnson, Damon Jones, Lindsey Hunter and Jarrett Jack played 82 games for three different teams in three straight seasons. A.C. Green and Luis Scola did three straight full seasons but had labor shortened seasons in one.
- The Bulls hold the record in the shot clock era of zero field goals in a quarter in 1980, scoring 11 points all on free throws.
- The Van Ardsdales in 1965 and Morrises in 2011 were the only brothers to be selected with consecutive draft picks.
- The NBA has played on 260 of the 366 calendar days.
- The Celtics are the winningest team on leap year days at 7-1. The Timberwolves are the worst at 0-4.
Those are just some among the arcane ingredients of statistical soup, almost 400 pages annually, stirred during Harvey Pollack’s tenure in the NBA that goes back to the league’s first season in 1946-47. His yearbook has been one of the most fun reads in the NBA and will be missed almost as much as Harvey.