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Monday, March 06, 2023

"The Basketball Maniac's Almanac" is a Great--but Sloppily Executed--Concept

The Basketball Maniac's Almanac has a bold front cover declaration (capitalization and emphasis replicated from the original): "The ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, and WITHOUT QUESTION GREATEST BOOK OF FACTS, FIGURES, and ASTONISHING LISTS EVER COMPILED." That is quite a mouthful (and eyeful).

Before purchasing this 542 page behemoth, I skimmed through to see if ABA statistics are included--I would never purchase a basketball statistics book that ignores ABA statistics--and I was pleased to note that on page four the list for "Most Points, Career" includes Julius Erving with his correct total of 30,026 points. On page 202, Erving is correctly listed as a four-time regular season MVP winner, with Erving's three ABA regular season MVPs rightly given equal status with his one NBA regular season MVP.

Unfortunately, after I bought the book, brought it home, and inspected it more thoroughly, I found numerous errors and inconsistencies. It appears that the editors were well-intentioned, but just not quite up to the task that they set for themselves. I look forward to the publication of a basketball almanac that matches this basketball almanac's self-proclaimed hype.

Here are just a few errors that I found in The Basketball Maniac's Almanac (referred to subsequently here as TBMA):

1) On page 3, the "Most Points by Decade" list for 1970-71 through 1979-80 omits every eligible ABA player even though the list purports to include ABA statistics. The correct list is included in the chapter that I wrote about pro basketball in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond.

In my list, I defined the 1970s as the seasons 1969-70 through 1978-79, because the 1969-70 season mostly took place in 1970 and would correctly be referred to by shorthand as the 1970 season (that is also the season that crowned the 1970 NBA champion); I did not include the 1979-80 season in the 1970s using the same reasoning that I applied regarding why I included the 1969-70 season: the 1979-80 season mostly took place in 1980 and would correctly be referred to by shorthand as the 1980 season (that is also the season that crowned the 1980 NBA champion). TBMA chose to begin the 1970s with the 1970-71 season and end the 1970s with the 1979-80 season, but under either criterion Julius Erving's point total easily cracks the top 10; he scored 16,763 points during the 1970s under my criterion, and he scored 18,863 points during the 1970s under the criterion used in TBMA. Rick Barry, Dan Issel, and Artis Gilmore also qualify under either criterion, while Spencer Haywood makes the cut under the criterion I used.

Erving's omission is baffling: he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the two best pro basketball players of the 1970s, so even without looking up Erving's statistics any informed fan or historian knows that Erving ranked among the decade's top 10 scorers--and on page 29, TBMA included Erving on the list of players who had the highest scoring averages during the 1970s. How did the editors figure out to include Erving on the scoring average leaders list but not realize that he also belonged on the most points by decade list?

2) On page 6, the "Most Times Leading League in Scoring" list is, at best, deceptive. The NBA ranked the seasonal scoring leaders by total points scored until 1969-70, when it changed the rules and began ranking the seasonal scoring leaders based on points per game (minimum of 70 games played). Thus, in 1969-70 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the NBA in points scored (2361) but he did not lead the league in scoring; Jerry West won the scoring title with a 31.2 ppg average, while Abdul-Jabbar finished second with a 28.8 ppg average. TBMA credits Abdul-Jabbar with leading the league in scoring three times (incorrectly including the 1969-70 season), but he officially led the league in scoring twice. Similarly, TBMA incorrectly credits Michael Jordan with leading the league in scoring 11 times; Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times (based on ppg average), while in 1984-85 he ranked third in scoring even though he led the league in points scored.

TBMA should have used a more clearly worded label to distinguish between leading the league in points scored versus leading the league in scoring, which are two different things by rule since 1969-70 in the NBA (the ABA determined the scoring champion by average in each of its nine seasons from 1967-76). This is an issue throughout TBMA, as there are numerous lists referencing players who led the league in scoring but who were not the official scoring leader/scoring champion; to cite just two examples, on page 43 Larry Jones (1968 ABA) and Trae Young (2022 NBA) are erroneously included in the list titled "Point Guards Winning Scoring Title," while Jones and Kevin Garnett (2004 NBA) are erroneously included in the list titled "Fewest Turnovers for Scoring Champion." Jones did not lead the ABA in total points or scoring average in 1968, so TBMA editors completely lost their way with that list (and several other lists).

3) On pages 9-10, the "Players Scoring 1500 Points in Each of Their First Five Seasons" list omits Julius Erving, who scored at least 2000 points in each of his first five seasons. There are at least two weird things about this list: The list purports to include ABA players but omits Erving (who played the first five seasons of his pro career in the ABA), and Erving scored at least 1500 points in each of his first five NBA seasons, so he should have been included even if ABA statistics were not used.

4) On pages 12-13, the "Scoring 2000 Points in a Season With Multiple Franchises" list omits Julius Erving, who scored at least 2000 points in a season with the Virginia Squires, New York Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers. Erving is the only player to accomplish this feat at least twice with three different franchises, so he deserves a list of his own! This is yet another list that purports to include ABA statistics--and Rick Barry's tenure with the ABA's New York Nets is included in this list--but fails to completely include ABA statistics.

5) On pages 14-15, the "Players with 5000 Total Points in First Three NBA Seasons" list omits Julius Erving, who scored 5101 points in his first three NBA seasons. It is not clear why this list excludes ABA seasons, or why the editors failed to accurately add up up Erving's scoring totals from his first three NBA seasons.

6) On pages 146-147, the "Players with 10 Rebounds in Each of First Two Career Games" list omits Julius Erving, who had 19 rebounds in his rookie debut followed by 17 rebounds in his second game. This list purports to include ABA statistics, and in fact several ABA players are included, so the Erving omission is baffling--and inexcusable: if the editors do not know about Erving's rebounding numbers, all it takes is a quick online check of his game logs to find them.

7) Starting on page 160, TBMA includes various lists about steals. Julius Erving is correctly credited with 2272 career steals, which means that TBMA editors included all of his ABA statistics dating back to 1972-73, the first season that the ABA officially kept track of steals and blocked shots (one season before the NBA began keeping those records). However, TBMA did not include Erving on the list for players with most steals in the 1970s despite the fact that his 1361 steals from 1972-73 through 1979-80 should have been ranked first. Erving is credited in TBMA with having four straight seasons with at least 150 steals, but he actually had five if his 181 steals in the 1972-73 season are counted--and those steals are included in the 2272 total, so they should have also been included in the list of consecutive 150 steal seasons.

8) On page 171, the "Most Blocked Shots by Decade" list omits Julius Erving from the 1970s despite the fact that his 1098 blocked shots from 1972-73 through 1979-80 should have ranked him fifth on the list--well, actually he should have ranked sixth, because TBMA editors also left out Artis Gilmore. Again, it must be emphasized that these lists have footnotes stating that ABA numbers are included. This is just as deceptive as not counting ABA numbers at all, because a reader who lacks historical knowledge is going to assume that the numbers of the ABA's greatest players did not measure up for inclusion, when in fact the TBMA editors just dropped the ball throughout this error-riddled book.

9) On page 182, the "Players with 150 Blocks, 150 Steals, and 600 Rebounds, Season" list omits Julius Erving, who accomplished that feat three seasons in a row (1973-76). Side note: The 100/100 Club for steals and blocked shots has fascinated me for a long time; here is the most recent article that I wrote about that topic: The 100-100 Club Revisited (I plan to do an updated version after this season ends).

A true historian would know a lot of the information missing from TBMA without even looking it up, while a diligent and thorough editor would have double-checked the manuscript before submitting it for publication.

There are probably more errors in TBMA than the selection listed above, but I have made my point: a reference book with that many errors and inconsistencies is useless. The editors made so many mistakes regarding easy to verify information that it is difficult to have any confidence in the information in the book that is less easy to verify.

The book provides an email address for submitting corrections, and I will send a link to this article to that email address with the hope that the publisher will produce a second edition that corrects all of the first edition's errors.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:06 PM



At Monday, March 13, 2023 9:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Giannis' stat-padding for a triple-double. Morrant with his gun. KD demanding a trade from a team that paid $40-50m while he set out recovering for a year -- after demanding a trade to the team that beat his OKC team, after OKC collapsed. LBJ's focus more on individual records than team success (or defense/rebounding). The best players today don't have Dr J's mindset. I don't care for Curry's personality, but among the current superstars, perhaps he is the least flawed? Or Djokic, if you include him despite lack of playoff success yet?


At Tuesday, March 14, 2023 12:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Giannis' stat-padding (which the NBA did not allow) is disappointing, but it is also an aberration for a player who generally focuses on playing the right way at both ends of the court.

That said, I agree with your general contention that today's players lack Dr. J's mindset.


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