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Thursday, October 29, 2009

USA TODAY Gives Proper Recognition to the ABA

I have argued for many years that ABA Numbers Should Also Count, so I am very pleased that USA TODAY's October 27 "Snapshots" graphic included ABA statistics; the chart listed the players who scored the most points in their first six seasons:

1) Wilt Chamberlain (1960-65) 18,837 points (40.6 ppg)
2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-75) 14,211 points (30.4 ppg)
3) Michael Jordan (1985-90) 14,016 points (32.8 ppg)
4) Oscar Robertson (1961-66) 13,998 points (30.4 ppg)
5) Julius Erving (1972-77) 13,432 points (27.5 ppg)
6) LeBron James (2004-09) 12,993 points (27.5 ppg)

Sadly, if the NBA compiled such a list Erving would not be included because he played his first five seasons in the ABA and the NBA does not "officially" recognize ABA statistics. It took the NBA three years to look past the bitterness of the NBA-ABA rivalry and begin using the three point shot (which was used in the old ABL prior to the ABA popularizing it during its nine season run, 1968-76). The NBA finally added the Slam Dunk Contest--created by the ABA for its 1976 All-Star festivities--to All-Star Weekend in 1984. It is more than past time for the NBA to bury any lingering resentment about the ABA, include ABA statistics in the "official" NBA records and take an active role to pressure the Hall of Fame to induct neglected ABA standouts like Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and Slick Leonard.

As for the list itself, a few things stand out:

1) Wilt Chamberlain lapped the field. "Stat gurus" and/or biased fans can try to find excuses to "normalize" or diminish Chamberlain's accomplishments but he set records that will never be broken or even seriously threatened. Can you imagine how much hype a player would receive today if he averaged 40 ppg for a season, let alone for the first six seasons of his career?

2) As I indicated in The Greatest Scoring Machines in Pro Basketball History, it can be misleading to compare scorers based purely on career ppg average, particularly if one of the players is active and the other player is retired. No one has come close to matching the scoring prowess that Chamberlain displayed during the first half of his career (40.6 ppg in his first six years as shown above--and 39.6 ppg in his first seven seasons as he won seven straight scoring titles, a record later matched by Jordan, who came out of retirement to notch three more scoring titles to set the record for most overall scoring titles). Despite Chamberlain's dominance, both Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan "broke" Chamberlain's career ppg record once they met the minimum qualifying standard of 10,000 points scored or 400 games played. Chamberlain finished with a 30.1 ppg average, spending the second half of his career focusing on rebounding, defense and passing--but neither Abdul-Jabbar nor Jordan came close to matching Chamberlain's early production, so calling them the career scoring average leaders after their first few seasons ignores the fact that Chamberlain was a much more dominant scorer during his first few seasons. Chamberlain eventually "passed" Abdul-Jabbar on the career scoring average list after Abdul-Jabbar's productivity declined, while after Jordan finished his second comeback he only led Chamberlain by .05 ppg.

3) James and Robertson are both renowned as great passers--all six players on the above list are excellent passers--but they both are also exceptional scorers. As I noted after Cleveland's 2009 playoff run, "LeBron James’ floor game is admirable and his ability and willingness to pass the ball are rightly held in high regard but he has already established himself in the record book as a tremendous scorer."

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:25 PM



At Friday, October 30, 2009 9:47:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

the nba takes aba players but cant take the stats from the aba. it makes no sense.

At Friday, October 30, 2009 7:39:00 PM, Anonymous Ilhan said...


What makes no sense is your being a regular visitor at this blog literally for years and writing as though you hadn't read one entry here. Agree or disagree, I don't care, but do present some form of reasoning for your convictions. How many pieces does David have to write exactly on this topic, in order for people like you not to dismiss the idea as "nonsense" without discussion. It makes sense, at least for some sensible people.

Either you're doing this on purpose, that is to say, you are being a troll, or you are 5 years old. In any case, it pisses me off for, in face of such obstinacy, David feels the need to reiterate every salient point, which, in my opinion, every so often diminishes the quality of his writing.


Thanks for the interviews from the Celtics-Cavs game. Great journalism as usual.

At Monday, November 02, 2009 9:49:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

llhan....what are you talking about? my comment doesnt warrant the idiotic statement that you made. you obviously arent sensible because you dont even understand what i said. how the hell do you know what ive read anyway? obviously, llhan, you cant read because i didnt criticize david at all here. im critizizing the nba. its flattering that you have seen my posts from afar. but now you want to comment on something that doesnt even warrant the response you made. david doesnt need to repeat any points to me. and it is "nonsense" to say that repeating points diminishes the quality of his writing. his writing is quality either way.

a five year old has no where near the basketball knowledge of me and im sure you dont either. im pissed i had to waste my time commenting on a clown like you, llhan, especially online.

At Monday, November 02, 2009 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous Ilhan said...


I mis-read your comment in a non-sarcastic way, to the effect that the NBA cannot/should not take the stats. I was reacting to what I took to be your refusal to even consider David's point. My bad, I'm sorry.

Too much repetition can indeed diminish one's writing by giving the impression that one is writing with a hammer. Pushing one's agenda via sheer repetition and aiming for inculcation. I know why David needs to reiterate in the face of the current state of journalism and the sort of fan that such "journalism" (ESPN etc.) has bred. To say nothing of the blogosphere.

My point is, it would be a better world (and a better reading experience) if he could write about Cleveland's tripartite formula of success ("LeBron James's brilliance...") or "going into gunfights with butter knives" only a couple of times, and move on. Instead, the B.S. prevails and David's work gets ignored. We, on the other hand, end up reading him making the same points for the umphteenth time. I personally don't enjoy constantly having to skip paragraphs from my favorite sports writer because I've already read them so many times before.

On being a clown: I embarrassed myself enough by misreading one short paragraph and overreacting, calling you a 5 year old. I am sorry for that. I have not, though, referred to your or my basketball knowledge at all. That is entirely besides the point. I couldn't care less and I don't consider myself particularly knowledgeable about sports. I am an academic and I am interested in how people reason about things that they are passionate about. I like David because he isn't Bill Simmons, he presents arguments, he systematically produces and "drops" knowledge. You can argue with him. Hence, I (over)react when people, who claim to discern what is special about David's writing and to be sick of the likes of ESPN, write with the exact same sense of entitlement, "This is what I think, ergo it must be true or must be the only sensible thing to believe". Not because I know more about basketball than anyone, rather because the attitude in question is anathema to genuine, fruitful debate on any topic. It is fundamentalism plain and simple, which needs to be contested as much in sports as in politics. "5 year old" was meant to convey this self-centered immaturity, which I was apparently wrong to attribute to you. Please consider that supposed insults such as "clown", "fag**t", "loser" might not have the intended effect on a -in the above sense- mature audience. Thanks for your time. Cheers.

At Tuesday, November 03, 2009 9:08:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

llhan.....apology accepted. clown may be harsh. so my bad on that one. i definitely agree that david is not bill simmons. david is so much better of a writer and not trying to win fans with senseless opinions. has anyone seen bills book? a little ridiculous.


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