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The Sage of Statistics at Every Sixers Game

March 11, 2010 By:
Jared Shelly
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The numbers guy: Harvey Pollack at his usual spot at Sixers games. Photo by Jared Shelly

 

It's easy to miss Harvey Pollack on TV, even though at this time of year, he's on almost every night.

If you've watched a 76ers home game this year -- or any year of your life, for that matter -- you may have noticed the white-haired fellow in the background, sitting at the center of the scorer's table -- so close that he can almost reach out and touch the players.

But who exactly is this guy?

Pollack is the director of statistical information for the Sixers, and on every play, the 88-year-old records all the applicable stats for the team -- and he's been doing it since 1946, when the NBA was called the Basketball Association of America and the pro basketball team in Philadelphia was called the Warriors.

But his contribution to the game goes much farther back than that. The blocked shot? Offensive and defensive rebound? The triple double? Pollack is credited with inventing all of them, and they're now commonplace in NBA box scores.

When Pollack started out, the league didn't keep sophisticated personal statistics, but he was busy recording every statistic imaginable for the Sixers games.

When the league started, he explained, officials didn't keep minutes played until three years later. "They didn't even keep rebounds! They came to me to get my system. Now, they have five or six people keeping stats at every game."

His innovations in scorekeeping not only helped NBA fans and coaches better analyze the game, they actually landed Pollack a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

He and his team also keep college football and basketball statistics for the "Big Five" schools -- Temple, Villanova, Drexel, St. Joe's and LaSalle -- as well as Philadelphia Wings professional lacrosse.

But it's not all sports for Pollack. He's been writing an entertainment column for years, these days for the County Press in Delaware County. (In fact, his office, in the lower level of the Wachovia Center, isn't draped with pictures of players like Allen Iverson, but wallpapered with press photos of actresses, including Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Natalie Portman.)

"In the wintertime, between those two lives, I'm only home about one night a week," he says.

Even with all his successes, Pollack keeps a rather low-key lifestyle. Consistency seems to be the name of his game. He's been the team statistician since 1946 and has lived in the same house in the Northeast since 1956.

He's Seen It All 
As for basketball, he's seen it all, from the Warriors championships in 1946-47 and 1955-56, to the Sixers dismal 9-73 season in 1972 -- the worst season ever played -- to the Sixers championship in 1983 and finals appearance in 2001.

Perhaps the busiest night of Pollack's career came on what was supposed to have been a negligible Warriors game at the end of the 1962 season. Pollack tallied the stats, but also served as the P.R. director for the Warriors, and was writing the wrap-up stories for The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press and United Press International.

But as the game went on, and Wilt Chamberlain began scoring more and more points, it was evident that he was not only going to break all existing single-game scoring records, he just might hit 100. Pollack hustled to send copy to the news outlets in real time, while still keeping score.

After Chamberlain got to 100 and photographers poured into the small arena in Hershey, Pa., they needed some kind of photo for the morning papers, something that could encapsulate the moment. Thinking quickly, Pollack scrawled the number "100" on a piece of paper, handed it to Chamberlain, and told the photographers to snap away. It would become one of the most iconic shots in basketball history.

Nowadays, plenty of people tell stories about watching Chamberlain's record-setting performance -- but many aren't true.

"There were 4,000 fans there, but 50,000" now say they attended, quips Pollack.

Pollack also saw his share of terrific Jewish pro ballplayers, especially in the 1940s and '50s. He says that none were better than Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals.

"He had the greatest set shot in the history of the game," relays Pollack. "If they had the three-point field goal in his day, he would have been a superstar."

Pollack's accomplishments have garnered him his own kind of fame. Earlier this year, when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town, Kobe Bryant made sure Pollack left with Bryant's game sneakers. When NBA superstar Rasheed Wallace is in town, he always shakes Pollack's hand -- after all, they're both in the Simon Gratz High School Hall of Fame.

Since 2003, Pollack started yet another project -- wearing different T-shirts every day. What started as a gimmick has caught on so much that he's received T's from Bryant, Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal and Sixers owner Ed Snider. Once they're worn, he donates them to charity.

Pollack could have retired 20 years ago, but he's continued to work into his 80s for one simple reason -- he loves what he does.

"I never had a job that when I left my house in the morning, I hated the idea of going to work. I'm driven by the fact that I have things to do. I have five interns in my office right now helping me. I have the same drive today as I did when I was 25."

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