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Monday, September 14, 2009

Pro Basketball's 1000 Rebound Club: The Meek Need Not Apply for Membership

This article was originally published in the February 2004 issue of Basketball Digest.

Pro basketball's 1000 rebound club is the hard hat-wearing, lunch pail-carrying counterpart to the 2000 point club. Points can be scored from inside the paint, outside the arc and one at a time from the free throw line but in most cases there is only one way to get rebounds: venture into the lane, dodge the elbows of the giants and show total disregard for the bumps, bruises and loosened teeth that are sure to follow.

A few long rebounds fly out to the guards, but no one ever got 1000 rebounds by waiting outside the paint for such fortuitous bounces. In fact, no guard has ever grabbed 1000 rebounds in a season; Oscar Robertson, a point guard in a forward's body, came closest with 985 when he averaged a triple double for the 1961-62 season (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg).

Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals founded the 1000 rebound club in 1950-51 with 1080 boards (16.4 rpg), a very impressive total considering the shorter schedule and slow pace of that era. This is confirmed by the wide margin between Schayes and the second ranked rebounder in 1950-51, George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, who had 958 rebounds. No one grabbed 1000 boards in 1951-52.

Mikan became the first two-time member of the club with back to back 1000-plus rebound seasons in 1952-53 and 1953-54, while Harry Gallatin of the New York Knicks set a league record for single season rebounds with 1098 in 1953-54, his lone 1000-plus rebound campaign.

The introduction of the 24-second shot clock in 1954-55 sped up the NBA game, increasing scoring totals and rebounding opportunities. In 1955-56 Maurice Stokes of the Rochester Royals became the first rookie member of the 1000 rebound club. He snared 1000-plus rebounds in each of his first three seasons before a serious brain injury ended his NBA career.

The rivalry between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell took the 1000 rebound club--and the sport of basketball itself--to a whole new level. Chamberlain dominates the 1000 rebound club honor roll. He had the most 1000-plus rebound seasons (13), the top seven best single-season rebound totals and by far the best rebounding season by a rookie. In his 14 season career Chamberlain only missed qualifying for the 1000 rebound club once, when a devastating knee injury limited him to 12 games in 1969-70; he came back to average 22.2 rpg in that year's playoffs (his gritty return to action has been obscured by Willis Reed's heroics in game seven of that season's NBA Finals). Chamberlain's 11 rebounding titles are an all-time record.

Chamberlain's best rebounding seasons are listed in the accompanying chart, but his greatness is perhaps most clearly illustrated by looking at his worst complete regular season in historical context: in 1970-71, Chamberlain "slumped" to 1493 rebounds (18.2 rpg, first in the league); only Russell, Bob Pettit, Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Spencer Haywood, Artis Gilmore and Dennis Rodman have had better single season numbers than that. In fact, remove Chamberlain's other seasons from consideration and his worst season would rank among the 20 best ever!

Russell tallied 12 1000-plus rebound seasons, missing only in his rookie year, when he collared 943 rebounds in 48 games (he started the season late after leading the U.S. to the gold medal in the 1956 Olympic Games). His worst full season figure was 1451 (18.6 rpg) in 1967-68. He won four rebounding titles, two of which came before Chamberlain entered the league. During most of the years that their careers overlapped Chamberlain finished first in rebounding and Russell placed second. Chamberlain and Russell rank first and second in career rebounds (23,924 and 21,620 respectively) and career rpg (22.9 and 22.5 respectively) and lead everyone else in pro basketball history by a wide margin in both categories.

Third place on the career rpg list belongs to Pettit (16.2). He is tied for third all-time with nine 1000 rebound club seasons but he only captured one rebounding title, in large part because he spent most of his career competing against Chamberlain and Russell.

Two other players also posted nine 1000 rebound club seasons. Bellamy made a big splash in his rookie year with 2495 points (31.6 ppg) and 1500 rebounds (19.0 rpg) for the 1961-62 Chicago Packers (the franchise currently known as the Washington Wizards). Both of those totals rank third for rookies in pro basketball history, trailing only Chamberlain's 1959-60 heroics (2707 points/1941 rebounds) and 20-year old (!) Spencer Haywood's prodigious efforts in 1969-70 for the Denver Rockets in the ABA (2519 points/1637 rebounds).

Elvin Hayes is the third player who accumulated nine 1000 rebound club seasons. He finished fourth in the NBA in 1968-69 with 1406 rebounds as a San Diego Rockets rookie, the sixth best first year rebounding performance ever. That same year Baltimore Bullets rookie Wes Unseld ranked second with 1491 rebounds and won not only Rookie of the Year but also MVP.

They later became teammates and in 1977-78 Unseld and Hayes led the Bullets to the NBA championship, with Unseld claiming Finals MVP honors. Hayes averaged 21.0 ppg and 12.5 rpg for his career and his 16,279 rebounds rank sixth in pro basketball history.

Although Chamberlain, Bellamy, Unseld, Hayes and Haywood posted their great rookie seasons within a decade of each other, the 1000 rebound club is not frequently joined by rookies--14 NBA and nine ABA first year pros have made the cut, which works out to roughly one rookie for every three years of those leagues' combined existence. Since the 1976-77 NBA/ABA merger the only 1000 rebound club rookies are Buck Williams of the New Jersey Nets in 1981-82 and Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic in 1992-93.

Julius Erving's superb 1971-72 rookie season (2290 points/1319 rebounds) ranks eighth on both the all-time rookie scoring and rebounding lists; he joined Chamberlain, Haywood, Bellamy and Hayes as the only players to rank among the top ten all-time rookies in both categories. Erving retired as the third leading scorer in pro basketball history (he currently ranks fifth), but his presence on the rebounding list may surprise some fans. Erving's 1971-72 rookie campaign is his only 1000 rebound club season, but his total that year was not a fluke. He entered the ABA known more as a rebounder than as a scorer; the young Erving was like a Dennis Rodman without tattoos--undersized for an inside player (both are generally listed at about 6-7, 210) but able to compensate for this with quickness, tenacity and jumping ability.

Erving is one of only five players to average 20 ppg and 20 rpg in a Division I college career (Russell, Paul Silas, Artis Gilmore and Kermit Washington are the others). In the 1972 playoffs he increased his average to an ABA best 20.4 rpg, second in pro basketball that year to Wilt Chamberlain's 21.0 rpg for the NBA champion Lakers. Erving ranked in the top ten in rebounding in each of his five ABA seasons, averaging 12.1 rpg.

There is a temptation to deride Haywood and Erving's rookie numbers as inflated, particularly since neither player surpassed his ABA rebounding numbers during his NBA career. However, Bellamy, who played his entire Hall of Fame career in the NBA, also never equaled his spectacular rookie scoring and rebounding accomplishments. Rebounding is generally the province of the young and many of the great rebounders posted their best rebounding season within their first five campaigns: Chamberlain's came in year two, Moses Malone's in year five, Jerry Lucas' in year three, Shaquille O'Neal's in his rookie season. Russell is a bit of an exception, although his year nine career best rpg average was only marginally better than his year four rpg.

As a Sixer Erving split the rebounding chores at various times with George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley, each of whom tallied 1000 rebound seasons during their careers. As a 33 year old small forward Erving was the second leading rebounder (behind Malone) on the 1982-83 76ers championship team that is still widely considered one of the greatest squads ever.

Rodman possessed none of Erving's flair as a scorer, but he sustained a high level of rebounding prowess throughout his career. He won seven rebounding titles, second only to Chamberlain, but injuries and suspensions limited Rodman to five 1000-plus rebound seasons. Rodman's 1530 rebounds in 1991-92 were the most since Gilmore totaled 1538 in 1973-74 for the ABA Kentucky Colonels and the best NBA total since Chamberlain's 1572 in 1971-72.

The 1000 rebound club reached an NBA single season high in 1970-71 and 1971-72 with 13 members in each of those campaigns (the ABA's single season record was 11 members in 1969-70). In recent years the pace of the NBA game has decreased so much that even though field goal percentages have also been slipping there are still fewer rebounds available. In 1995-96 the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson was the only 1000 rebound club member and the 1996-97 season marked the first time since 1951-52 that not even one pro basketball player got 1000 rebounds.

In 2002-03 three players made the cut: Detroit's Ben Wallace (1126), Minnesota's Kevin Garnett (1102) and San Antonio's Tim Duncan (1043). Active players with multiple 1000-plus rebound seasons include Dikembe Mutombo (4), Ben Wallace (3), Shaquille O'Neal (3) and Duncan (2). While the records of sports immortals such as Babe Ruth and Jim Brown eventually fell, Chamberlain's rebounding standards appear to be out of reach--literally and figuratively--of today's superstars.

Note: the following lists accompanied the original article and thus were compiled prior to the completion of the 2003-04 NBA season.

Most 1000 Rebound Seasons

Player Seasons

Wilt Chamberlain 13
Bill Russell 12
Bob Pettit 9
Walt Bellamy 9
Elvin Hayes 9
Jerry Lucas 8
Nate Thurmond 8
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 8
Artis Gilmore* 8
Wes Unseld 8
Moses Malone** 8

*--5 ABA/3 NBA
**--1 ABA/7 NBA

Most Single Season Rookie Rebounds

Player Rebounds Season

Wilt Chamberlain 1941 1959-60
Spencer Haywood^ 1637 1969-70
Walt Bellamy 1500 1961-62
Wes Unseld 1491 1968-69
Artis Gilmore^ 1491 1971-72
Elvin Hayes 1406 1968-69
Jerry Lucas 1375 1963-64
Julius Erving^ 1319 1971-72
Dave Cowens 1216 1970-71
Mel Daniels^ 1213 1967-68
Moses Malone^ 1209 1974-75
Marvin Barnes^ 1202 1974-75


Most Single Season Rebounds

Player Rebounds Season

Wilt Chamberlain 2149 1960-61
Wilt Chamberlain 2052 1961-62
Wilt Chamberlain 1957 1966-67
Wilt Chamberlain 1952 1967-68
Wilt Chamberlain 1946 1962-63
Wilt Chamberlain 1943 1965-66
Wilt Chamberlain 1941 1959-60
Bill Russell 1930 1963-64
Bill Russell 1878 1964-65
Bill Russell 1868 1960-61
Bill Russell 1843 1962-63

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:44 AM



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