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Friday, June 26, 2015

The One and Only Harvey Pollack Loved the NBA and Loved Numbers

Harvey Pollack, who passed away on June 23 at the age of 93, had been the last living person who worked continuously for the NBA since the league's first season (1946-47); he saw--and made major contributions to--the league's rise from obscurity to multi-billion dollar global success. Pollack is best known for his love of statistics (he invented the term "triple double"), embodied in the Statistical Yearbook that he produced annually for more than four decades. Pollack kept statistics from the sublime (including plus/minus, dunks, 50 point games) to the obscure (who won the most opening taps, who were the best left-handed players) but--unlike the "stat gurus" who followed in his wake--he did so without an agenda or bias; Pollack tracked the numbers, recorded the results and delivered the information to the public. Sure, he loved Philadelphia teams and players and he was perhaps the first person to assemble all of the Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell head to head individual statistics, showing that Chamberlain dominated that matchup individually even though Russell's more talented Boston teams won more games and championships--but Pollack did not distort the data or selectively pick data to make a point.

Pollack is the only person who was directly associated with each of Philadelphia's NBA championship teams: the 1947 Warriors, the 1956 Warriors, the 1967 76ers and the 1983 76ers. In 1980, the NBA honored its silver anniversary by selecting the greatest players and greatest single season team in league history; that 1967 Philadelphia team was voted the greatest single season team ahead of all of Bill Russell's 11 Boston championship teams and several other legendary squads. One could argue that the 1983 team led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving also deserves consideration for that honor if balloting were done today. In any case, Pollack had the privilege of seeing and working with all of the greats, from Chamberlain and Russell to Erving, Malone and a host of others.

Pollack, known as "Super Stat," was both hard working and quirky. In the early days, he wore several hats; when Chamberlain scored a record 100 points in the Philadelphia Warriors' 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962, Pollack was the game statistician, the Warriors' PR director and a reporter for the AP, UPI and Philadelphia Inquirer. Pollack took a sheet of paper and wrote "100" on it, handing it to Chamberlain to pose for one of the most famous photographs in sports history. Pollack also worked as a stat man for various Philadelphia colleges and he even spent 15 years as the head of the stat crew for the NFL's Baltimore Colts.

While doing all of those jobs, he never lost his sense of fun; Pollack set a Guinness World Record by wearing a different T-shirt for more than 4000 consecutive days. His Statistical Yearbook kept track of every single player tattoo in the league.

In 2002, Pollack received the John Bunn Award, the highest award given by the Basketball Hall of Fame other than enshrinement. He is also a member of more than a dozen Halls of Fame, including the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

I grew up as a 76ers fan, hoping that Julius Erving would win his first NBA title, cheering when he did and then hoping that he would win at least one more before retiring. The 76ers are one of the most storied franchises in league history. Pollack's life, legend and accomplishments are inextricably interwoven into the legacy of the 76ers, the city of Philadelphia and the NBA.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:22 PM

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